EXCLUSIVE: It’s kind of 69 steps forward and 95 steps sideways in the American With Disabilities Act lawsuit against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Late last week, a Florida federal judge decided that dozens more families of children with developmental disorders can join the discrimination case first filed in April, but now they must file individually. An amended compliant of August 27 sought to add 69 new plaintiffs to the suit first filed by 26 plaintiffs over allegedly horrific experiences they had at Disney World and Disneyland.
“Given the unique factual circumstances underlying each family’s experience with DAS (Disability Access Service) and Disney, the Court finds that the individual claims of each family must be severed, and each family must file a separate complaint,” U.S. District Judge Anne C. Conaway ordered on October 30 (read it here). “Continuing this case as a single action would present additional problems: trial would be a logistical nightmare, and the Plaintiffs would have a more difficult time maintaining their privacy. For these reasons, severing each family’s claims best serves judicial economy and the interests of justice.”
With this latest judicial move, the number of plaintiffs fully in the legal action has grown, but their collective heft against the House of Mouse is diminished. And the plaintiffs’ lawyers — Andy Dogali of Tampa, FL’s Dogali Law Group and Hermosa Beach, CA, attorney Eugene Feldman — probably will need to bring in extra arms, eyes and brains to help out with the paperwork.
Now the first plaintiff in the original case and his family will remain with that case. The other 13 families of the original filing and the 30 families included in the amended complaint have until November 21 to file new and individual cases. “Each of those cases shall consist of only one family, and a filing fee shall be paid for each case,” Conaway said. All new cases will be assigned to Conaway and her Middle District of Florida colleague Magistrate Judge Gregory J. Kelly.
The original families in the case accused Disney Resorts of violating the ADA and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. The violations occurred, they say, because of the introduction in October 2013 of the new Disability Access Service at the company’s theme parks and resorts including Disneyland. As the original 57-claim complaint details, the DAS left the children and their families treated harshly by park employees, stuck in long lines to which their conditions are unsuited, and caused unsettling “meltdown behaviors.”
This is the second recent twist in a case that already could leave Cirque du Soleil’s best and most flexible sore.
In mid-September, Disney was victorious in its motion to have case moved from federal court in California to federal court in company-friendly Florida. “All but two of the Plaintiffs complain of actual discrimination that occurred at Disney World,” said the order from Judge Manuel Real moving the venue (read it here). “Allegations relating to events or Plaintiffs in California occupy less than 10% of the 574 paragraphs of the Complaint,” the judge added. “Accordingly, because of the overwhelming presence of Florida law in the present case, this factor strongly favors a transfer to the Middle District of Florida.”
Of course, you can add “strongly favors” to another context. Justice may be blind, but it surely knows that Disney is one of the largest employers in the Sunshine State. Next move, plaintiffs.