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LeClair v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 5, 2018



          F. Dennis Saylor IV 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 (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 (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 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). 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 Matsuhita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Epstein, 516 U.S. 367, 379 (1996)). However, courts have stated that claim preclusion ...

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