Court asked to 'transform' class actions in Disney case

Settlement included a nationwide waiver of legal claims

By Pat Murphy
The Daily Record Newswire
 
BOSTON — A disability rights organization has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a class action settlement that bars Segway vehicles from Walt Disney theme parks and hotels.

The settlement kept secret a national waiver of state and local legal rights by all Segway users, denying them notice and due process, according to a petition for certiorari filed this month by Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (DRAFT).

The case holds major implications for all class actions, according to DRAFT’s attorney, David Ferleger of Philadelphia, Pa.

“If the Supreme Court hears our case, class action lawsuits will be transformed,’’ said Ferleger in a statement. “Right now, someone who receives a $25 gift certificate in a broken toy class action settlement has a right to notice and to object to the dollar amount. However, a class member in a case involving a multi-million dollar injunction to change a state’s or a company’s policies has no right to notice of a settlement. That’s wrong and we seek to change those rules.”

The disability rights organization seeks review of the 11th Circuit’s decision last year in Ault v. Walt Disney World. The three named plaintiffs in the case had alleged that Walt Disney World Company violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by maintaining a policy that bans the use of two-wheeled vehicles, including Segways, by customers within its parks and hotels. A U.S. District Court in Florida certified a settlement-only class and found that a settlement reached between the class representatives and Disney was fair. The 11th Circuit affirmed that decision.

According to the terms of the settlement, while Disney will maintain its ban on Segways, it will provide four-wheeled, electric stand-up vehicles for those for whose disabilities require a stand-up conveyance. The settlement agreement also included a nationwide waiver of declaratory or injunctive claims relating to Disney’s policy.

DRAFT was among a number of disability organizations and individuals who objected to the settlement. In its petition before the Court, DRAFT alleged that absentee class members “received no notice that the settlement waived ‘any and all claims’ of absentees under any ‘state or local law or similar disability rights statute or regulation.’”

Jerry Kerr, a founder and president of DRAFT, complained that the settlement was unfair to absent class members.

“It is shocking that in our great country three people can reach a settlement binding millions of others and deny them protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Kerr said in a statement.

In its petition seeking review, the organization asked the Court to decide whether “Due Process requires notice to absentee class members of a Rule 23(b)(2) settlement in all cases or, at least, where the class’ rights are waived.”

The Court was also asked to decide whether “a class can be certified under Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes where disability necessitated reliance on a mobility device varies immensely among class members, and no single injunction can resolve a claim.”

A third question presented by the organization’s petition asks the Court to address the ability of named plaintiffs in a settlement-only certification to impose a national waiver of legal rights on absent class members.

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