A.L. v. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts US, Inc., 081718 FED11, 16-12647

Docket Nº:16-12647, 17-10143, 17-10144, 17-10148 through 17-10154, 17-10193 through 17-10196, 17-10198, 17-10199, 17-10200, 17-10202, 17-10203, 17-10205 through 17-10209, 17-10212 through 17-10214, 17-10216 through 17-10218
Opinion Judge:HULL, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:A.L. by and through D.L., as Next Friend, Parent and Natural Guardian, S.J.K, by and through S.L.K. as Next Friend, Parent and Court-Appointed Guardian, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS US, INC., Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before NEWSOM and HULL, Circuit Judges, and ROYAL, Judge.
Case Date:August 17, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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A.L. by and through D.L., as Next Friend, Parent and Natural Guardian, S.J.K, by and through S.L.K. as Next Friend, Parent and Court-Appointed Guardian, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

WALT DISNEY PARKS AND RESORTS US, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 16-12647, 17-10143, 17-10144, 17-10148 through 17-10154, 17-10193 through 17-10196, 17-10198, 17-10199, 17-10200, 17-10202, 17-10203, 17-10205 through 17-10209, 17-10212 through 17-10214, 17-10216 through 17-10218

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 17, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 6:14-cv-01544-ACC-GJK, et al.

Before NEWSOM and HULL, Circuit Judges, and ROYAL, [*] Judge.

HULL, Circuit Judge.

This is a consolidated appeal of 30 separate lawsuits. Most plaintiffs-appellants are individuals with severe autism. Defendant-appellee is Walt Disney Parks and Resorts US, Inc. ("Disney"), a division of The Walt Disney Company.

In separate lawsuits, plaintiffs filed claims alleging that Disney, at six of its theme parks, fails to accommodate their disabilities, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12182. Plaintiffs allege that their severe disabilities include an inability to comprehend the concept of time, defer gratification, and wait for rides, as well as strict adherence to a pre-set routine of rides in a specific order. Plaintiffs therefore contend that access to all of Disney's rides must be both nearly immediate and in each plaintiff's individual, pre-set order to accommodate fully their impairments.

Disney responds that it accommodates plaintiffs' disabilities because its current Disability Access Service ("DAS") program allows cognitively disabled guests like the plaintiffs (1) to enter immediately all rides with waits of less than 15 minutes, which is most rides, (2) to schedule appointment times for rides with longer waits, and (3) to never have to stand in a physical line for any ride. In each case, the district court granted Disney summary judgment and concluded that the DAS program already accommodates plaintiffs' disabilities and that revising the DAS program is not necessary for plaintiffs to have equal access and enjoyment of Disney's parks. Our opinion is organized as follows.

CONTENTS

I. DISNEY THEME PARKS .............................................................................. 4

A. General Background .................................................................................. 4

B. FastPass System ......................................................................................... 6

C. Re-admission Passes .................................................................................. 8

D. Disability Access Service Program (DAS) ............................................... 9

E. Individualized Accommodations ............................................................. 13

F. Advance Planning .................................................................................... 14

II. AUTISM AS A DISABILITY ...................................................................... 15

III. PLAINTIFFS' EVIDENCE ........................................................................... 20

A. Testimony of Plaintiffs' Parents .............................................................. 20

B. Day-in-the-Park Narratives for Plaintiffs A.L., A.B., S.M., and J.M. .... 25

C .Expert Dr. Joette James ........................................................................... 28

D. Scientific Studies ..................................................................................... 30

IV. DISNEY'S EVIDENCE ................................................................................ 32

A. Expert Dr. Jill Kelderman ........................................................................ 33

B. Expert Dr. Jack Spector ........................................................................... 35

V. PROCEDURAL HISTORY .......................................................................... 36

VI. STANDARD OF REVIEW ........................................................................... 39

VII. DISCUSSION ................................................................................................ 40

A. Title III of the ADA ................................................................................. 40

B. Definition of Disability ............................................................................ 41

C. Blanket Policy .......................................................................................... 42

D. Claims Based on § 12182(b)(2)(A)(ii) .................................................... 46

E. Necessary Modifications ......................................................................... 48

F. Analysis of "Necessary" .......................................................................... 54

G. Reasonableness and Fundamental Alteration .......................................... 59

H. Intentional Discrimination Cause of Action ............................................ 62

VIII. CONCLUSION .............................................................................................. 65

I. DISNEY THEME PARKS

To evaluate plaintiffs' claims that Disney's DAS program does not adequately accommodate their disabilities, we discuss Disney's parks, its pass system for accessing rides, and how the DAS program works in that context.

A. General Background

Disney's six theme parks at issue include Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, both located in California; and the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom, which are all part of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

These parks are popular vacation destinations. In 2017, the Magic Kingdom in Florida received over 20 million guests. This works out to an average of almost 55, 000 visitors per day, every day of the year. The same year, Disney California Adventure, the least visited of Disney's parks in the United States, received over 9.5 million visitors or around 26, 000 per day.[1]

Each theme park contains rides and other types of attractions. For simplicity, we use the term "ride" to refer collectively to the rides and attractions that may require waiting in line before boarding. Disneyland has 46 rides; the Magic Kingdom has 40; Animal Kingdom has 39; Epcot has 29; California Adventure has 24; and Hollywood Studios has 11. The numbers of rides vary over time so these are approximate numbers. The density of the rides varies between theme parks because the parks vary greatly in geographic area.2

The parks offer activities with no lines or short lines, including parades, shows, concerts, characters, stores, and restaurants. Many rides also have no wait times. A guest can walk up and get on many rides within 5 to 10 minutes. Some popular rides, however, have wait times from 10 to 30 minutes. The newest or most popular rides may involve wait times ranging from 30 to 90 minutes or more.

To reduce wait times, Disney introduced a mobile app, called "My Disney Experience." The app contains a map of the park and shows the location of each ride by name. Using the map, a guest can see what rides are available and the location of each ride in relation to the guest's current location. The map shows in "real time" the wait time, if any, for every ride.

Wait times for rides depend on a number of factors, including: the popularity of the ride; the day of the week; the time of day; the time of year; the weather conditions; whether the ride is running at less than full capacity; whether a nearby ride experienced an unexpected shutdown; and whether a nearby parade ended recently. When guests wait for rides, they do so in one of two lines: (1) the Stand-By line; or (2) the FastPass line.

The Stand-By line operates this way. A guest joins the line at the end and moves up to the front as the people ahead board the ride. If a ride has a 60-minute wait, the guest waits physically in the Stand-By line for 60 minutes. Anyone wishing to board the ride with the guest must also wait physically in the Stand-By line. A guest cannot hold a place in line for his group.

B. FastPass System

To reduce wait times, Disney developed the FastPass system, which allows guests to enter immediately at least three rides and avoid Stand-By lines. All guests have access to the FastPass system, which has evolved over the years.

Disney's...

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