Ninth Circuit overturns judgment in a legal battle over the wheelchair accessibility at a Seattle baseball park | Courthouse News Service
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Ninth Circuit overturns judgment in a legal battle over the wheelchair accessibility at a Seattle baseball park

The appeals panel said the federal court did not properly explain how the T-Mobile Park was in compliance with all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements regarding their wheelchair vantage points.

(CN) — The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday found that a judgment entered in favor of the owners of the T-Mobile Park in Seattle, home of the Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball team, did not fully explain how the stadium has accessible sightlines for visitors in wheelchairs.

The case began when a group of baseball fans made up of Clark Landis, Robert Barker, Grady Thompson and Kayla Brown, all of whom use wheelchairs for mobility, alleged that the Seattle stadium built in the late 90s was not fully compliant with regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In their federal lawsuit against the owners and operators of the park, the plaintiffs claimed the park does not have accessible sightlines that makes it possible for folks in wheelchairs to see all of the game, such as the playing field and the scoreboard.

The lawsuit eventually went to a bench trial in December 2019 where a judge determined the T-Mobile Park was in fact in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act and was providing guests who used wheelchairs with proper viewing options.

But following a lengthy appeal that landed before the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday, the appellate court reversed the judgment issued by the bench trial.

In a 27-page opinion, Judge Danielle Forrest, a Trump appointee writing for the majority, said that while the lower court properly used the correct interpretation of the stadium-related guidelines adopted by the Department of Justice nearly three decades ago, they incorrectly applied those standards regarding wheelchair sightlines.

During the bench trial, the court only analyzed the requirement that an individual should be able to see the game between the heads and over the shoulders of whoever is immediately in front of them. But according to the Ninth Circuit panel, the federal court did not consider the requirement under the law that a person in a wheelchair must be able to see over the heads of whoever is in front by at least two rows, not just between their heads of whoever is immediately in front.

The Ninth Circuit panel stressed, however, that they are not taking sides regarding the overarching question on if the T-Mobile Park maintains proper sightlines for wheelchaired guests. Rather, they stated that the lower court did not review all the needed components to determine if the park is up to date on their Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and ordered the federal court to complete a more comprehensive analysis.

Conrad Reynoldson, who argued for the plaintiffs, said he is hopeful Wednesday’s ruling will help all future guests at the park enjoy a more inclusive experience.

“We are pleased with today's ruling from the Ninth Circuit. Everyone deserves an accessible and inclusive experience and baseball fans with disabilities simply wish to have a comparable view of the game when they go out to enjoy America's pastime. We are hopeful that this decision will lead to positive changes going forward,” he said.

In a separate and unpublished opinion, the Ninth Circuit did rule in favor of the stadium owners on some of the other claims.

In a four-page memorandum, the court reviewed allegations from the plaintiffs that the park does not have proper wheelchair-accessible seating in general and that they don’t provide fair proportional ticket pricing for wheelchaired guests. But the appeals panel found that the stadium was clearly offering the same categories of tickets to wheelchair-using guests as they do the general public and that the price of accessible seating options is never more than a nearby non-accessible seat.

Forrest was joined in the opinion by Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, a Bill Clinton appointee. Circuit Judge Patrick Bumatay, a Donald Trump appointee, dissented.

Representatives for the owners of the T-Mobile Park did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Courts

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