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Ingram v. Crown Reef Resort, LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

July 29, 2016

MARCUS INGRAM, Individually, Plaintiff,
CROWN REEF RESORT, LLC, a South Carolina Limited Liability Company, Defendant.

          Marcus Ingram, Plaintiff, represented by Vanessa Ann Richardson, VAR Law Firm & John Paul Fuller, Fuller Fuller and Associates PA, pro hac vice.

          Crown Reef Resort LLC, Defendant, represented by Carrie Appleton Fox, Aiken Bridges Law Firm & Preston Bruce Dawkins, Jr., Aiken Bridges Law Firm.


          R. BRYAN HARWELL, District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on Defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint [ECF #13]; Defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's supplemental complaint [ECF #22]; and Defendant's motion to stay entry of scheduling orders and certain deadlines [ECF #25]. Both parties have had the opportunity to extensively brief the issues raised in the motions to dismiss, and this Court has thoroughly considered all pleadings filed in this case.[1]

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         On August 26, 2015, Plaintiff Marcus Ingram originally filed this civil action against DJEWL, LLC, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. (the "ADA"). [ECF #1]. On September 23, 2015, Plaintiff amended his complaint to name Crown Reef Resort, LLC ("Crown Reef Resort") as a defendant. [ECF #5]. Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed DJEWL, LLC on September 25, 2015. [ECF #7]. After Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on January 20, 2016, [ECF #13], Plaintiff supplemented his amended complaint on February 8, 2016. [ECF #17]. On February 22, 2016, Defendant filed a subsequent motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction that is also currently pending before this Court. [ECF #22]. Defendant raises the same issues in both motions to dismiss filed in this case.

         The facts alleged in the supplemental amended complaint are as follows: Plaintiff Marcus Ingram is a Georgia resident who is paralyzed as a result of a spinal cord injury and relies on a wheelchair to ambulate. [ECF #17, p. 2]. Plaintiff visits the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area and surrounding areas approximately once every quarter with family and friends. [ECF #17, p. 2]. Plaintiff alleges he has been visiting "this area" for approximately ten to fifteen years. [ECF #17, p. 2]. Plaintiff initially alleged that he visited the Crown Reef Resort as a guest on March 10, 2015 and had plans to return to the property from December 21 through December 23, 2015. [ECF #5, p. 2]. Thereafter, Defendant filed its first motion to dismiss for lack of standing, pointing out that in the same time frame Plaintiff alleged to have visited the Crown Reef Resort, he filed other lawsuits alleging he was at other hotels during the same time frame. [ECF #13, p. 3]. Plaintiff then filed the supplemental complaint to allege that he did, in fact, return to Defendant's property on December 21, 2015. [ECF #17, p. 2]. Plaintiff acknowledges in his supplemental complaint that besides visiting public accommodations, including the subject resort as a bona fide patron, he also visits for the purpose of advocating for disabled rights and ensure public accommodations are in compliance with the ADA. [ECF #17, p. 2].

         Plaintiff alleges that he has encountered architectural barriers at the subject property which have impaired his ability to safely enter the premises at some arrival points, navigate the premises, park in accessible parking spaces, enter certain spaces, and use certain restrooms and amenities. [ECF #17, pp. 4-5]. Plaintiff's lawsuit alleges that he has a realistic, credible, existing and continuing threat of discrimination from the Defendant's noncompliance with the ADA. [ECF #17, p. 3]. Plaintiff provides specific examples, though not an exclusive list, in the supplemental complaint of the violations he claims he encountered during his visit to Defendant's premises. [ECF #17, pp. 4-5]. Plaintiff seeks a permanent injunction requiring Defendant to remedy any ADA violations found on the premises, in addition to attorney's fees, costs, and expenses and a declaratory judgment that Defendant has violated the ADA. [ECF #17, p. 10].

         In response, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, alleging Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this lawsuit as required by Article III of the United States Constitution. [ECF #22-1, p. 4]. Defendant argues that Plaintiff lacks standing to sue the Crown Reef Resort under the ADA because Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that he will suffer an "injury in fact" of the alleged violations of the ADA at the premises. [ECF #22-1, p. 2]. In part, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's status as a "tester, " an individual with a disability who travels to public places to determine compliance with the ADA, calls into question whether he legitimately suffered an "injury in fact." [ECF #22-1, pp. 7-8]. Defendant also questions the likelihood that Plaintiff will suffer future harm. [ECF #22-1, p. 8].

         Standard of Review

         Defendant files its motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for "lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, " which is the court's "statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a case." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998). The plaintiff has the burden of proving federal jurisdiction is proper. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982). Dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) is proper only if the claim is "so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy." Growth Horizons, Inc. v. Delaware County, Pa., 983 F.2d 1277, 1280-81 (3d Cir. 1993) ( quoting Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 666 (1974)). "The threshold to withstand a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) is thus lower than that required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Lunderstadt v. Colafella, 885 F.2d 66, 70 (3d Cir. 1989).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In considering a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations in a complaint are accepted as true, and the plaintiff is afforded the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the allegations contained within the complaint. Mylan Laboratories, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). Moreover, materials outside the pleadings which relate to jurisdiction can be considered on a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 (1947); see also White Tail Park, Inc. v. Stroube, 413 F.3d 451, 459 (4th Cir. 2005) (when a defendant raises standing as its basis for a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the district court may consider evidence out side of the pleadings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment).

         The doctrine of standing focuses on whether the plaintiff initiating the action is the proper party to bring suit. The constitutional minimum of standing requires three elements: (1) the plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact"-an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) "actual or imminent" and not "conjectural or hypothetical;" (2) there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of-the injury has to be "fairly... traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not... the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court; (3) it must be "likely, " as opposed to merely "speculative, " that the injury will be "redressed by a favorable decision." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife,504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992); see alsoFriends of the Earth, Inc. v. Gaston Copper Recycling Corp.,629 F.3d 387, 396 (4th Cir. 2011). The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proving these elements exist as they are an indispensable part of the party's case. Id. at 561. Each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e. with the manner and degree of evidence required at the ...

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