PHILADELPHIA – A federal appellate court will allow an expansive Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit to proceed against Steak 'n Shake restaurants, but ruled the plaintiff did not yet achieve class action status.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed a lower court's decision certifying the class action lawsuit and sent the matter back to the lower court.
Disability rights advocates Christopher Mielo and Sarah Heinzl filed the lawsuit over alleged problems with two Steak 'n Shake restaurants' sloped parking facilities. Mielo and Heinzl said the restaurants' parking lots made it difficult to maneuver their wheelchairs.
They sought to allow all other handicapped customers who may have had the same experience at 417 restaurants across the country to join the suit.
In his opinion, Chief Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote that interpretation was too broad without giving sufficient evidence.
"Plaintiffs point to a large number of disabled persons living in the United States," Smith wrote. "Yet they have presented no evidence that would permit us to use 'common sense' to determine -- rather than speculate about -- the portion of those disabled individuals who have actually patronized a relevant Steak 'n Shake restaurant, let alone the portion who have experienced or will experience an ADA violation at one of those restaurants."
Smith called the plaintiffs' interpretation of the ADA "novel," but noted the restaurant only appealed class certification and not the issues in the lawsuit itself.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania will now decide if the case will eventually be certified a class action.
Smith offered some advice on that point.
“Although determining the proper boundaries of a revised class definition is an issue better left to the district court after remand, it seems to us that a class definition limited to slope-related injuries occurring within a parking facility would present a class definition much more likely to meet the commonality requirement of Rule 23a," he wrote.
Judges Thomas M. Hardiman and L. Felipe Restrepo joined in the ruling.