By Dani Meyer
Law360, New York (September 16, 2015, 5:22 PM ET) — Relying on a recent U.S. Department of Justice brief to the Ninth Circuit, a California federal judge has refused to dismiss a disabled driver’s suit accusing a Lexus dealership operator of violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to install hand controls so he could test-drive cars.
U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz said that after reviewing the DOJ’s amicus brief earlier this month in a Ninth Circuit appeal, he’s convinced that RNL Automotive LLC’s argument that the ADA doesn’t require it to install hand controls is meritless.
“The Department of Justice has weighed in on this issue, and made it clear that an automobile dealership that offers tests drives must install vehicle hand controls to allow test drives by individuals with disabilities if installation is readily achievable,” Judge Lorenz said in his Monday opinion.
The judge added that Scott Schutza, who launched the suit in June, pled sufficient allegations about the availability of such hand controls that their installation is readily achievable, rejecting RNL’s argument that Schutza didn’t establish it was easy to accomplish without too much difficulty or expense.
Mark Potter, an attorney for Schutza, told Law360 in a Wednesday email this is the first time the court has tested if the DOJ’s position is sound.
“It is great to have a very respected judge issue a well-reasoned opinion in our favor after four courts in a row ruled against us,” Potter said, adding that “hopefully this is a sign that the tide is turning our way.”
Schutza, a paraplegic who drives using a vehicle equipped with hand controls, said in his June complaint that he was denied a chance to test drive a vehicle at RNL’s Lexus El Cajon dealership because it doesn’t install hand controls in its vehicles due to liability reasons.
Schutza said he didn’t expect the car to come with hand controls and knew he would have to outfit any car he purchased with them, but that RNL discriminated against him by refusing to install temporary, inexpensive hand controls so he could test drive the car.
RNL asked the court to dismiss the suit in July, arguing that the district has repeatedly decided in other cases, including another suit brought by Schutza, that dealerships needn’t provide hand controls for test drivers.
But Judge Lorenz disagreed in Monday’s opinion in light of the DOJ’s amicus brief earlier this month in John Karczewski’s similar ADA suit against California Toyota dealership K Motors Inc.
In the brief, the DOJ said that the ADA dictates that automobile dealerships cannot refuse to install hand controls that would allow disabled consumers to test-drive their vehicles, as long as the installation is readily achievable.
“Under the plain language of Title III, a test drive of a vehicle is a service provided by an automobile dealership, the full and equal enjoyment of which the dealership cannot deny to individuals with disabilities,” the DOJ said.
Because Schutza sufficiently pleaded that the installation is readily achievable, Judge Lorenz on Monday denied RNL’s motion to dismiss.
A representative for RNL didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Schutza is represented by Mark D. Potter of Potter Handy LLP.
RNL is represented by Victor P. Danhi of Arent Fox LLP.
The case is Schutza v. RNL Automotive LLC et al., case number 3:15-cv-01405, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
— Editing by Ben Guilfoy.