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Miraglia v. Board of Directors of Louisiana State

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 14, 2017

MITCHELL MIRAGLIA
v.
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM, ET AL.

         SECTION: "A" (5)

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          JAY C. ZAINEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a civil action brought by Mitchell Miraglia against The Board of Directors of the Louisiana State Museum and Robert E. Wheat, in his official capacity as the chief executive of the Louisiana State Museum. Plaintiff's claims arise under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and pertain to barriers to access for the disabled at the historical Lower Pontalba Building in the New Orleans French Quarter.

         The case was tried to the bench on September 11, 2017. Having considered the testimony and evidence at trial, the deposition submitted in lieu of live testimony, the arguments of counsel as presented in their memoranda, and applicable law, the Court now enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). To the extent that any finding of fact may be construed as a conclusion of law, the Court hereby adopts it as such. To the extent that any conclusion of law constitutes a finding of fact, the Court adopts it as such.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Plaintiff Mitchell Miraglia is a quadriplegic afflicted with cerebral palsy. Plaintiff uses an electric wheelchair for mobility. Plaintiff has been unable to walk for 25 years.

         Plaintiff is a lifelong resident of New Orleans and he uses public transportation for the disabled in order to travel throughout the City. Plaintiff enjoys going to the French Quarter and he goes there about once a month. Plaintiff has visited Jackson Square numerous times in the past and will return.

         The Louisiana State Museum owns the Lower Pontalba Building. The Lower Pontalba borders the downriver side of Jackson Square in the French Quarter. The doors and front wall of the building are original from its construction centuries ago.

         The Lower Pontalba is open to members of the public and it houses several retail establishments on the ground floor. Plaintiff resides approximately 2.2 miles from the Lower Pontalba and he would like to be able to visit the building's retail shops during his trips to the French Quarter.

         While visiting the Lower Pontalba in the summer of 2015, Plaintiff first encountered barriers that prevented him from entering the following retail stores in his wheelchair: Ma Sherie Amour Shop, Little Toy Shop, Louisiana Visitors and Information Center, Creole Delicacies, Tabasco Country Store. Plaintiff did not actually attempt to enter the stores because he was able to determine via a visual inspection that his wheelchair could not clear the doorways, and he was concerned for his own safety should he try to navigate the passages in his wheelchair.

         Plaintiff wanted to enter the stores. If the stores had been accessible then he would have browsed in them and perhaps made purchases. Plaintiff was not comfortable requesting assistance from the stores' employees when he encountered the barriers. Given that Plaintiff visits the French Quarter and in particular the area around Jackson Square, often and regularly, he continues to desire to enter those stores and he would enter them if he could.

         Plaintiff feels emotional injury when his disability prevents him from partaking in offerings that nondisabled members of the public can readily enjoy.

         The Court found Plaintiff to be a credible witness and will credit his testimony.

         Plaintiff's expert, Nicholas Heybeck, P.E., confirmed that there are barriers to entry for the disabled at the foregoing businesses and he documented those mobility-related barriers in a report. (Trial Exhibit 3; Joint Stipulated Trial Testimony (Heybeck) ¶ 7). The step at the Tabasco Country Store is 5 inches (Trial Exhibit 3, Bates 0022); the step at the Creole Delicacies is 1.25 inches (Trial Exhibit 3, Bates 0027); the step at the Louisiana Visitors Center is 5 inches (Trial Exhibit 3, Bates 0030); the step at Ma Sherie Amour is 5.5 inches ...


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