The latest example of how far America has drifted from regulatory and judicial sanity was sealed on Monday with the Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal of a verdict against Chipotle Mexican Grill.
The far-left 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, by far the most overturned federal Appeals Court, had its way this time when they ruled that Chipotle's near-four-foot high wall between their food preparation area and the customer line infringed on the "right" of a wheelchair-bound customer (and I use that term very loosely in this case) to see his potential meal and its preparation.
This quote from the 9th Circuit's decision, referencing a ruling from a lower court, says all you need to know about the plaintiff:
The court found that Antoninetti had failed to show irreparable injury because he had not revisited either restaurant after Chipotle adopted its written policy and because his “purported desire to return to the [r]estaurants is neither concrete nor sincere or supported by the facts.” It also stated that Antoninetti's “history as a plaintiff in accessibility litigation supports this Court's finding that his purported desire to return to the [r]estaurants is not sincere. Since immigrating to the United States in 1991, Plaintiff has sued over twenty business entities for alleged accessibility violations, and, in all (but one) of those cases, he never returned to the establishment he sued after settling the case and obtaining a cash payment.”
Chipotle already had a policy in place allowing various ways to accomodate disabled customers who wanted to see their food ingredients and/or their meal preparation.
The District Court had awarded the plaintiff about $136,000 in legal fees -- one quarter of the amount he had requested because he had originally succeeded on one quarter of his claims The plaintiff had also been awarded $5,000 by a District Court for "parking lot violations." The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration of all of these amounts.
If a court were a place of justice, this plaintiff -- an obvious shakedown professional -- would have been found liable for Chipotle's attorney's fees rather than the other way around, and he should be banned from going to restaurants. He's nothing more than the restaurant equivalent of an ambulance chaser and a perfect example of why this nation is now paralyzed by fear of litigation, along with the higher business insurance costs -- and thus higher costs passed along to consumers -- that come along with a society which tolerates behavior like Mr. Antoninetti's.
Really, in America there is a defendable-in-court right to look at your food just because someone else can look at his?
I don't want to sound overly glib or harsh, but it's called a "disability" for a reason. Someone with a disability is presumably less able than someone else to do a particular thing. It's sad, often even tragic, depending on the particular case, but the costs to society to cater to the tiny minority of the population are out of control. The nation has spent and continues to spend billions of dollars to offer "accessibility" to the minuscule percentage of the population which uses a wheelchair and goes to office buildings, hotels, or restaurants.
How much are Americans supposed to spend to subsidize the ability of someone in a wheelchair to see his food being prepared, or other such conveniences? Changes at these restaurants could easily amount to a six-figure number per location. Given that restaurants are a very low margin business in most cases, it's likely that between these direct costs plus the knowledge that a shakedown artist will likely beat them in court one day in the future, restaurants will have to raise prices for the thousands of customers, almost all of whom are not disabled to cover the costs of compliance and legal risk. Chipotle might be able to just absorb the costs but they're the exception rather than the rule.
It's time for a return to sanity. It's a fact of life that not all people are equally capable in all things. We can't and shouldn't spend huge sums on trying to change that. Restaurants should voluntarily make reasonable accomodations. To the extent that there must be a federal law, its interpretation should be restrained to prevent the travesty of justice and the incentive for shakedowns with the 9th Circuit has allowed and encouraged by their ruling. It's one thing to say that people in wheelchairs should be able to get into a restaurant or use a bathroom. It's another thing entirely to say they need to be able to see everything that standing customers can see.
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