Captioned Movie Access Advocacy – Cases

Oregon –

Cornilles v. Regal Cinemas, Inc., 2002 WL 31469787 (D.Or.). Case against Regal, Century, Carmike, and Cinemark theater chains.

2000 – Complaint filed.
2001 – Coalition for Movie Captioning (CMC) filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief.
2002 – Case dismissed.

“. . . defendants need not install Rear Window Captioning Systems in all of their movie theatres to comply with Title III of the ADA. . . . anticipated costs of $6 million to $36 million per defendant is unreasonable as a matter of law.”

Texas –

Todd v. American Multi-Cinema, Inc., 222 F.R.D. 118 (2003 S.D.Tex.) and 2004 WL 1764686 (S.D.Tex.).  Case against (1) “movie theater operators” – AMC, Cinemark, Regal, and Century; and (2) “motion picture defendants” – MGM, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Universal City Studios, Miramax, and Buena Vista.

2002 – Complaint filed.
2003 – Case against motion picture defendants dismissed.
2004 – Case against movie theater operators dismissed.

“The plaintiff has failed to refute the defendants’ evidence that the remedies sought here would not constitute an undue burden under the ADA.”  “Equal access does not mean equal enjoyment.  . . . Although section 36.303 [of the ADA regulations] includes in its definition of ‘auxiliary aids and services’ open and closed captioning, the plaintiff has not offered any or significant rebuttal evidence that precludes summary disposition of this case on the basis that access has been granted as a matter of law.”

Washington, DC –

Ball v. AMC Entertainment, Inc., 246 F. Supp. 2d 17 (2003 D.D.C.) and 315 F. Supp. 2d 120 (2004 D.D.C.).  Case filed against AMC and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corporation; class action for deaf or hard of hearing people in the Washington DC metropolitan area.

2000 – Complaint filed.
2001 – Court certified matter as a class action.
2002 – Defendants moved for summary judgment, to dismiss the case.
2002 – CMC filed amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief.
2003 – Court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

Summary:  (1) requiring exhibition of closed captioned films was not explicitly excluded from ADA; (2) rear window captioning (RWC) was auxiliary aid or service that could be required as a reasonable accommodation; (3) exhibition of RWC films would not change nature or mix of services provided by defendants; and (4) fact questions existed regarding degree of burden that requiring installation of RWC would impose on defendants.

2003 – Plaintiffs and defendants requested the Court to approve a proposed settlement.
2004 – Court preliminarily approved the Proposed Settlement Agreement and held a Fairness Hearing.  CMC, DHHCAN, NAD and others participated in the Fairness Hearing.
2004 – Court approved the settlement.

Result – Added RWC caption display systems to 6 AMC and 6 Loews theaters (50% of existing AMC and Loews theaters in the Washington DC area); about 5% of their screens would be equipped to show captions.

New Jersey –

2004 – The Attorney General (AG) learned about lack of movie access at disability law conferences held in the spring.  In August, CMC learned the AG was taking action; with possible lawsuits against movie theater chains.  CMC sent a letter to the AG and met with AG representatives, but it was too late.  In September, the AG announced agreements (consent orders) with 4 theater chains.

Result – 4 theater chains (AMC, Clearview, Loews, and National Amusements) with 35 theaters in New Jersey, about 383 screens, will have 39 RWC systems (about 10% of screens).
Note – no provision to increase the number of screens equipped to show movies with captions at all over any period of time . . . “choice” of movie limited to one.

2004 – In September, the AG announced filing a New Jersey Law Against Discrimination lawsuit against Regal.
2005 – In February, CMC, NJAD, and Ms. Rainone requested the Court’s permission to participate in the lawsuit.  The AG opposed the request; Regal did not.  In March, Regal filed its Answer to the lawsuit, announcing its plan to install DTS-CSS caption display equipment (on 1 screen in 8 theaters and on 2 screens in 3 theaters) and began showing movies with captions at least 12 times a week (2 times on Sun-Thurs; 1 matinee Fri & Sat).  In April, CMC, NJAD, and Ms. Rainone withdrew their request to participate in the lawsuit.
2006 – In March, the AG settled the lawsuit against Regal.

Result – Regal will show movies with DTS-CSS captions at least 8 times a week on 1 screen in each of 10 of its 12 movie theaters in New Jersey.
Note – if a non-Regal theater within 10 miles of a Regal theater has a DTS-CSS system and shows movies at the same rate Regal is required under this agreement, Regal may eliminate its DTS-CSS system and captioned movie showings in that Regal theater.
Note – no provision to increase the number of screens equipped to show movies with captions at all over any period of time . . . “choice” of movie limited to one.

New York –

2004 – In September, the New York AG’s office contacted the NAD and inquired about captioned movies.  NAD provided information and contacts for many New York deaf and hard of hearing associations.
2005 – In December, the AG announced agreements with 8 movie theater chains.

Result – Agreements made with 8 theater chains in New York with about 129 theaters and 1,132 screens.  New York will have 38 theaters/screens with some caption access:
Note – 20 RWC systems, 9 DTS-CSS systems, and 9 locations with Insight Cinema showings.  This represents about 30% of these 129 theaters and about 3% of their 1,132 screens.
Note – Theater chains with RWC systems (AMC, Carmike, Clearview, Loews, and National Amusements) must monitor and report to the AG about RWC use for several years.  The AG may negotiate with those theater chains to add more caption display systems if the AG thinks more are needed.  This suggests that some significant number of people need to attend and use RWC at the one movie shown with captions at these theaters to indicate a need for access to other movies or a choice of movies.

Connecticut –

2005 – In September, the Connecticut Association of the Deaf (CAD) filed complaints with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) against 32 movie theaters for not providing closed captioning on the movie screens.  A few local theaters provide captioning in only 1 out of 8-16 movie screens.  According to CAD:

CHRO failed to meet the reasonable cause standard because they did not investigate the merit assessment review within 190 days.  They failed to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.  They did not have all reliable and probative proof to evaluate to make a cause finding.  They ignored several critical and material facts thus violating the reasonable cause standard.  The CHRO investigators did not interview witnesses.  They failed to apply the proper standard of proof for ADA Title III Disability Discrimination.  CAD, in cooperation with attorneys from the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, decided to rebut and withdraw [the] CHRO [complaints] filed against local movie theaters because CHRO investigators did a very poor investigation and applied the wrong standard of proof for Title III ADA violations.

Result – CAD withdrew the complaints filed with CHRO.

Arizona –

2006 – Arizona ex rel. Goddard v. Marquee Holding Co., NO. CV2006-017546 (Ariz., Nov. 15, 2006).  After exhausting administrative requirements, the AG filed a lawsuit based on Arizona disability discrimination law against AMC theaters in Arizona (8 theaters / 163 screens).  Each of the AMC theaters has one (1) RWC system (about 4% of screens).  The lawsuit seeks a “sufficient” number of caption display systems.  This lawsuit is significant because it is the first to suggest that movie patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing should have a choice of movies.  This matter is pending.

2006 – Arizona ex rel. Goddard v. Harkins Amusement Entertainment, Inc., NO. CV2006-019198 (Ariz. Dec. 15, 2006).  After exhausting administrative requirements, the AG filed a lawsuit based on Arizona disability discrimination law against Harkins theaters in Arizona (22 theaters / 262 screens).  Harkins provides only limited showings of InSight Cinema films.  The lawsuit seeks a “sufficient” number of caption display systems.

2008 – Arizona ex rel. Goddard v. Harkins Amusement Entertainment, Inc., 548 F.Supp.2d 723 (D. Ariz., Mar. 28, 2008) (holding that ADA Title III does not require movie theaters to provide auxiliary aids and services to display captions and transmit audio descriptions for its customers with sensory disabilities; changing audio elements to a visual format or visual elements to an audio format alters the content of a movie theater’s services and is not required under the ADA).  Motion to dismiss granted.  Plaintiffs appealed.

12/01/08 – Appellants’ opening brief filed.
12/10/08 – 5 Amici Curiae (friend of the court) briefs filed:  (1) NAD with TDI, DSA, NCSA, ASDC, CSD, NCHDHH, AAA, CEASD, and AADB; (2) ACB with AFB, AAPD, DRA, DREDF, SAG, and Popper; (3) Wash-CAP with HLAA, HLA-WA, ACDHH, HLAA AZ chapters, and ALDA WA chapter; (4) AG Bell; and (5) NDRN.
2/26/09 – Amicus Curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice urging reversal of the lower court’s decision.
1/13/10 — Oral argument was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

This matter is pending.