Cubs ADA Lawsuit Narrowed but Can Continue, Judge Rules

A lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be allowed to continue, a federal judge ruled. 

In December 2017, David Cerda filed a lawsuit alleging that the Cubs violated the ADA by failing to provide enough seating for wheelchair users at Wrigley Field. Cerda, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and needs a wheelchair for mobility, claimed that the ADA requires the Cubs to offer 217 accessible seats and that the Cubs only offered 42 seats in 2018. Cerda also argued that the location of the existing wheelchair-accessible seats was insufficient.

The Cubs sought to dismiss Cerda’s lawsuit, arguing that Cerda lacked standing for failing to suffer harm and that there were ongoing renovations. The Cubs claimed that they would meet ADA requirements after renovations, though the exact number of accessible seats the Cubs will have is uncertain.  

On August 30, 2019, U.S. District Judge Jorge Alonso refused the Cubs’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit, stating that it is possible that Wrigley Field does not meet ADA requirements. Judge Alonso stated, “the Cubs contend that Cerda’s calculation of 217 seats is incorrect because the renovations are still ongoing. But in making this contention, the Cubs do not say what the number should be and whether the Cubs have satisfied this number.”

As we reported earlier, Cerda’s lawsuit is one of many ADA suits against MLB teams in recent years. While ADA guidelines regarding stadiums were finalized in 2010, it remains unclear what interpretation of these guidelines MLB stadiums must follow.

Under the ADA, the 2010 guidelines do not specifically designate where accessible seats are to be located. Cerda argued that seat placement has gotten worse than in previous years, being moved several rows farther from the field of play and facing view obstructions when other fans stand.

Judge Alonso rejected Cerda’s arguments regarding vertical dispersion of seating, stating that the ADA does not require the Cubs to “place ADA seats in the front row.” The Cubs had sufficient evidence to show that vertical dispersion requirements were met, even if the locations were not ideal for Cerda.

Judge Alonso allowed Cerda’s lawsuit to continue regarding horizontal dispersion. The only wheelchair-accessible seating at Wrigley Field is behind home plate, in the bleachers, and along the third base line. However, since Cerda argues that the third base line seating is obstructed, the only unobstructed views are in the former two sections. As a result, Judge Alonso found that Cerda has shown an injury since there is no accessible seating along the first and third base lines.

Cerda also alleged personal discrimination since they did not offer accessible seating in Wrigley Field’s 1914 luxury suite. Judge Alonso rejected this claim because Cerda did not place his name on the waiting list for this suite.

Judge Alonso also rejected Cerda’s claims under the Rehabilitation Act. Cerda argued that, by accepting a National Park Service federal tax credit, the Cubs were forbidden from engaging in intentional discrimination. Judge Alonso disagreed, finding that a tax credit is not enough and that a direct subsidy would be necessary.

We will continue to monitor this situation.

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