Monday marked the latest development in a legal battle between Starbucks and its California customers. In a battle that has been waging on and off for over a decade, the coffee giant has been accused of using delay tactics to impede a final resolution and instead pick off consumers one by one instead of waging war in a class action. On Monday, Plaintiffs argued that Starbucks’ motion to dismiss their state law claims was just another effort to delay resolution of the case, which had originally been removed to federal court on their request. If the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 51) claims are dismissed, those claims will have to be filed in state court. Due to the similarity and overlap between Unruh Act and Americans with Disabilities Act violations, at least one Ninth Circuit case has held that federal court is the better venue in which to resolve both claims. The resolution of this motion may dictate the ultimate result in the case.
The lawsuit initially began in 2012 with plaintiffs suing in California state court and having their case removed to federal court pursuant to a motion in June 2012. The case generally alleges that Starbucks stores built in California before 2005 do not adequately accommodate patrons in scooters and wheelchairs as accorded by the ADA and California state law. The plaintiffs allege that since the counters are used to pass hot beverages, they discriminate against disabled customers and pose safety risks. However, as the lawsuit has proceeded, Starbucks has attempted to dog the class action by both introducing a lower-height hand-off plane and fixing counters in stores where alleged violations occurred. Class certification has not yet been accomplished as well, also complicating the lawsuit. Only time will tell how big of an effect this violation has on Starbucks stores in California and nationwide.