Leclair v. Mass. Bay Transp. Auth.

Decision Date05 January 2018
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 17–11111–FDS
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Megan N. Shaughnessy, James E. Neyman and Associates, P.C., Boston, MA, for Plaintiff.

Andrew Kim, Goodwin Procter LLP, Washington, DC, Sarah K. Frederick, Goodwin Procter LLP, Boston, MA, for Defendant.


SAYLOR, United States District Judge

This is a claim for disability discrimination and negligence arising out of an accident at the South Station Red Line subway station. Plaintiff David LeClair, who is disabled, was exiting the subway car in his wheelchair when the front wheel wedged in the gap between the car and the platform, throwing him to the ground. The complaint alleges that defendant Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ("MBTA") failed to take measures to help disabled persons use the subway in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. It further alleges that the MBTA was negligent in failing to provide plaintiff with safe and reasonable access to the subway.

Defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The principal question is whether plaintiff is bound, in whole or in part, by the 2006 settlement of a class action brought against the MBTA for failure to provide disabled persons equal access to the transit system. For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted in part, and the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claim.

I. Background
A. Factual Background

The facts are set forth as described in the complaint.

David LeClair is a disabled person who requires a wheelchair to move because of a double leg amputation in 2013. (Compl. ¶ 11). On June 25, 2014, he was traveling to visit his mother. (Id. ¶ 12). He boarded the Orange Line at the Back Bay station and took an inbound train to Downtown Crossing, where he transferred to a southbound Red Line train. (Id. ¶ 13). When the train reached South Station, LeClair attempted to wheel himself onto the subway platform. (Id. ¶ 19). However, the front wheel "went into the gap" between the car and the platform, causing him to be thrown forward onto the platform. (Id. ¶ 21). The Red Line train conductor did not leave the subway car to offer assistance, although several passengers helped LeClair get back into his wheelchair. (Id. ¶¶ 22–23).

After getting back into the wheelchair, LeClair pushed an emergency button at the station platform. (Id. ¶ 23). However, according to the complaint, no MBTA employee assisted or spoke with him until he located a MBTA inspector to report the incident. (Id. ). At Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, and South Station, LeClair was unable to locate MBTA employees who could provide assistance to disabled passengers and help them enter and exit subway cars. (Id. ¶¶ 14–15). Nor were there any signs or warnings posted about the risk gaps between subway cars and platforms posed to wheelchair-bound individuals. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 20).

The complaint alleges that the injuries sustained from LeClair's fall required surgery that removed a remaining portion of both legs. (Id. ¶ 24). The surgery also prevented him from ever being able to use prosthetic devices. (Id. ¶ 25).

B. Procedural Background

The complaint asserts two claims against defendant: a claim for violation of the ADA (Count 1) and a state-law negligence claim (Count 2). Count 1 sets forth six alleged violations of the ADA. Defendant has moved to dismiss Count 1 on the grounds that the injunctive relief sought is barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion (also known as res judicata ) and release and that money damages may not be awarded in the absence of intentional discrimination. Defendant has also moved to dismiss Count 2 on the basis of sovereign immunity.

II. Legal Standard

On a motion to dismiss, the court "must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give ... plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom." Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp. , 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Rogan v. Menino , 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir. 1999) ). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a claim that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). In other words, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citations omitted). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). Dismissal is appropriate if the complaint fails to set forth "factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory." Gagliardi v. Sullivan , 513 F.3d 301, 305 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc. v. Feliciano de Melecio , 406 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2005) ).

III. Analysis
A. Count One—Violation of the ADA

In Count One, plaintiff seeks both injunctive relief and money damages arising out of alleged violations of the ADA. The equitable and legal aspects of the claim require different analyses, and will be addressed separately.

1. Claim Preclusion

Defendant contends that plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief under the ADA is barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion, or res judicata. "Res judicata is a valid defense to a later suit if (1) there is a final judgment on the merits of an earlier action, and (2) there is identity of the parties and (3) identity of the claims in both suits." Reppert v. Marvin Lumber & Cedar Co. , 359 F.3d 53, 56 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing United States v. Cunan , 156 F.3d 110, 114 (1st Cir. 1998) ). "In appropriate circumstances these rules are applicable to class actions." Id. (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Epstein , 516 U.S. 367, 379, 116 S.Ct. 873, 134 L.Ed.2d 6 (1996) ). However, courts have stated that claim preclusion "must be applied carefully in the class action context." Hiser v. Franklin , 94 F.3d 1287, 1293 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Ferguson v. Dep't of Corr. , 816 P.2d 134, 138 (Alaska 1991) ).

Eleven years ago, the MBTA entered into a settlement agreement with plaintiffs in a certified class action entitled Daniels–Finegold v. Massachusetts Bay Transp. Auth. (Docket No. 10, Ex. 1 at 2).1 The plaintiffs in that case had sued the MBTA on behalf of a class of disabled persons for failure to provide equal access to the public transportation system.2 In the consent decree, the MBTA pledged to make several hundred million dollars in new capital investment that would be used, among other things, to train employees, install elevators and escalators, acquire new buses, close platform gaps between subway cars and platforms, and install announcement and electronic message boards.

The parties in this litigation do not dispute that the settlement in Daniels–Finegold constituted a "final judgment on the merits" for the purpose of claim preclusion. Rather, the parties dispute whether there is sufficient "identity of the claims" and "identity of the parties."

The first question is whether plaintiff's claims here are sufficiently identical to those of the plaintiff class in Daniels–Finegold. It is clear that the complaint in Daniels–Finegold encompassed all types of ADA claims that disabled persons, particularly those with mobility impairments, could have against the MBTA. The Daniels–Finegold complaint alleged that the MBTA system was not "readily accessible" to persons with disabilities. (Docket No. 10, Ex. 2 ¶ 17(a) ). That complaint further identified a variety of ADA violations, including ones that are at the heart of plaintiff's claims in the present suit, such as "failure to respond to calls from riders with disabilities seeking assistance in accessing a train," "failure to provide accessible telecommunications access, "failure to employ a [subway car-to-platform] gap filler," and "failure to adequately train and supervise employees." (Id. ¶ 17(b), (d) ). The claims are therefore sufficiently identical to those in Daniels–Finegold to satisfy the standard.

Plaintiff contends that Daniels–Finegold never contemplated the specific injury he suffered here and thus the claims are not identical. (Pl.'s Opp. at 5–6). However, the inclusion of this particularized injury does not "compel a different result." Blunt v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 767 F.3d 247, 277 (3d Cir. 2014). See also Dubuc v. Green Oak Twp. , 312 F.3d 736, 751 (6th Cir. 2002) ("[R ]es judicata would become meaningless if a party could continue to relitigate the same issue ... by merely positing a few additional facts that occurred after the initial suit."); Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 25 cmt. b (1982) ("A mere shift in the evidence offered to support a ground held unproved in a prior action will not suffice to make a new claim avoiding the preclusive effect of the judgment.").

The second question is whether there is sufficient "identity of the parties." Class action settlements may cover both present and future class members. Muhammad v. Warithu–Deen Umar , 98 F.Supp.2d 337, 340–41 (W.D.N.Y. 2000). Cf Juris v. Inamed Corp. , 685 F.3d 1294, 1302 (11th Cir. 2012) (affirming district court's application of res judicata to settlement covering "present and future claims"). As relevant here, there was a certified class in Daniels–Finegold covering "[a]ll individuals with ... disabilities, as defined by Title II of the [ADA] ... who use, will use, or would use the bus, light rail, and heavy...

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