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Bernadin v. Marriott International Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 4, 2019



          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court Southern District of Indiana

         This matter is before the Court on Partial Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Filing No. 51), filed by Defendants Marriott International Inc.'s, Host Indianapolis I LP's, HST Lessee Keystone LLC's, and Keystone Hotel Propco LLC's (collectively, “Defendants”). Also pending before the Court is Plaintiff Emmanuel Jackson Bernadin, Jr.'s (“Bernadin”) Motion for Leave to File Surreply in Opposition to Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss (Filing No. 63). Bernadin filed this lawsuit, asserting claims for disability and race discrimination as well as a claim for negligent training. The Defendants seek partial dismissal, asserting the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the disability discrimination claim because Bernadin lacks standing, and there are no viable claims against Defendant Keystone Hotel Propco LLC. After the Motion was fully briefed, Bernadin requested leave to file a surreply in opposition to the Defendants' Motion. For the following reasons, the Bernadin's Motion for Leave to File Surreply is granted and the Court has considered the surreply in its analysis. The Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss is also granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as required when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of Bernadin as the non-moving party. See Bielanski v. County of Kane, 550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Bernadin is a combat veteran from Fort Worth, Texas, and we are grateful for his service to our country. He served in a Naval detainee camp in Iraq and as a Naval technician in Afghanistan. Bernadin survived a massive suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed fourteen of his brothers-in-arms. As a result of this experience, Bernadin suffers from extreme post-traumatic stress disability (“PTSD”) and depends on Bronze—his service animal—to help mitigate his disability. Bernadin qualifies as an individual with a disability because he suffers from PTSD that substantially limits one or more major life activities. (Filing No. 31 at 2-5.)

         Bronze was individually trained and certified to assist Bernadin in coping with his disability and functioning in his daily activities. Bronze performs specific tasks to help detect the onset of psychiatric episodes and minimize their effects. He does this by creating a barrier between Bernadin and unwanted individuals. Bronze creates a block from behind Bernadin, thereby covering his back and not allowing anyone to approach Bernadin from behind. He also helps Bernadin with mobility tasks and other day-to-day activities. Bernadin relies on Bronze both to cope with his disability and to function in his day-to-day life and he accompanies Bernadin at all times. Bronze was trained to function in any location that Bernadin visits, including restaurants, stores, and hotels. Id. at 3-6.

         Defendant Marriott International Inc. is a Delaware corporation in the hotel industry and does business in Indiana. Defendant Host Indianapolis I LP is a Delaware limited partnership that formerly owned and operated the hotel and Keystone Café and Lounge (the “Café”) that are at the center of this lawsuit. Defendant HST Lessee Keystone LLC, doing business as Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing (“Sheraton Hotel”), is a Delaware corporation that formerly owned and operated the hotel and Cafe. Defendant Keystone Hotel Propco LLC (“Keystone Hotel”) is a Delaware corporation, and it currently owns and operates the hotel and the “Café”. Id. at 4-5.

         On October 23, 2016, the Sheraton Hotel was operated by Sheraton License Operating Company, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, LLC, which in turn was a wholly owned subsidiary of Defendant Marriott International, Inc. On September 6, 2017, the Sheraton Hotel was sold and is no longer operated or managed by Sheraton License Operating Company, LLC or any other entity owned by Defendant Marriott International, Inc. (Filing No. 52-2 at 1.)

         In October 2016, Bernadin and Bronze were visiting Indianapolis, Indiana for the premiere of a documentary film at the Heartland Film Festival (the “Festival”). Bernadin and Bronze are featured in the documentary film about soldiers with PTSD and their challenges when they come home from war. The Festival arranged for Bernadin and Bronze to have accommodations at the Sheraton Hotel while they were in Indianapolis (Filing No. 31 at 6).

         When Bernadin (who is African American) attempted to check into the Sheraton Hotel with Bronze, he was prevented from doing so until he signed a waiver, which was required of guests with pets, not service animals. Bernadin's co-star in the film, Spencer Milo (“Milo”) (who is Caucasian), checked into the Sheraton Hotel with his service dog without signing a waiver. Milo's stay at the Sheraton Hotel fully overlapped Bernadin's stay at the Sheraton Hotel. Milo experienced no trouble bringing his service dog into the cafe at the Sheraton Hotel. Id. at 6-7.

         On the morning of October 23, 2016, Bernadin and Bronze (wearing his service animal vest) entered the Café, located in the Sheraton Hotel, for the breakfast buffet. After going through the buffet line and preparing a plate of food, he was confronted by a hotel employee who refused to allow him to sit at his chosen table. She insisted that Bernadin sit away from the other guests. When he questioned the employee's actions and displayed an ADA card, Sheraton Hotel management asserted that it was a health and safety violation to have Bronze so close to the food and other guests. When Bernadin pointed out the inaccuracy of this assertion, Sheraton Hotel management conferred with the employee, and then they explained that a complaint was made about Bronze being too close to the buffet. Bronze had been permitted to accompany Bernadin on his trip to the breakfast buffet to collect his food, and ADA regulations specifically allow service dogs to accompany their owners in all areas of the restaurant open to other patrons, which would include the breakfast buffet. Id. at 7-8.

         As the situation escalated, security arrived to intervene. Bernadin and Bronze were asked to leave the premises, and Bernadin ultimately complied with the request. Less than a week after this incident, on October 28, 2016, Jennifer Bauchner (the general manager of the Sheraton Hotel) sent an apology email to Bernadin. She assured Bernadin that she recommunicated to her entire team the importance of service animals. Further, she explained that Bernadin could be assured that he could be comfortable staying at the Sheraton Hotel if he returned to Indianapolis. Id. at 8; Filing No. 31-1.

         Bernadin is employed full-time as a software engineer for a nationally recognized company. He frequently gives presentations on veterans' issues and represents the veteran community. He is a sought-after public speaker, who has been invited to provide presentations for STEM Radio and TedxHerndon. Bernadin also serves as the vice president of education for LM Toastmasters. Because of these roles and activities, he travels at least ten times a year. Bernadin has previously traveled to the Midwest and expects to continue to travel to the Midwest, including the Indianapolis area, for these public speaking engagements (Filing No. 31 at 9-10).

         Bernadin also continues to travel to promote his film. The film which raises awareness regarding combat veterans' struggles with PTSD, is promoted wherever military personnel are located. Bernadin's co-star in the film lives in Indiana, and thus, the film is actively being promoted in Indiana and in the Indianapolis area. Bernadin expects to return to Indianapolis to promote the film. Id. at 10.

         Additionally, Bernadin has four military family members who live in the Indianapolis area, and he has visited these military family members twice in the past five years. He plans to visit them in the Indianapolis area at least two times in the next two years. Bernadin explains that he would stay at the Hotel for these visits if the Hotel corrected its violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Filing No. 79 at 1-2).

         On August 11, 2017, Bernadin filed a Complaint against Marriott International Inc., asserting a claim for disability discrimination under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12182, (“ADA”) (Filing No. 1). On November 20, 2017, he filed his Amended Complaint, adding three new defendants: Host Indianapolis I LP, HST Lessee Keystone LLC, and Keystone Hotel Propco LLC, and two new claims: race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and negligent training under Indiana state law (Filing No. 31). The Defendants then filed a partial motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The burden of proof is on the plaintiff, the party asserting jurisdiction. United Phosphorus, Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946 (7th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds by Minn-Chem, Inc. v. Agrium, Inc., 683 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2012) (en banc). “The plaintiff has the burden of supporting the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint by competent proof.” Int'l Harvester Co. v. Deere & Co., 623 F.2d 1207, 1210 (7th Cir. 1980). “In deciding whether the plaintiff has carried this burden, the court must look to the state of affairs as of the filing of the complaint; a justiciable controversy must have existed at that time.” Id.

         “When ruling on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the district court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Furthermore, “[t]he district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move to dismiss a complaint that has failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Bielanski, 550 F.3d at 633. However, courts “are not obliged to accept as true ...

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