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WASHINGTON — Stadium-style seating in theaters has improved the moviegoing experience for many. But some disabled patrons are not applauding. At its private conference June 24, the Supreme Court will consider whether to grant review to Regal Cinemas Inc. v Stewmon, 03-641, a case pitting disabled theatergoers and the Justice Department against the owners and operators of movie theaters. At issue in Regal is whether stadium seating plans in movie theaters violate federal accessibility guidelines developed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires places of public accommodation to “provide people with physical disabilities � lines of sight comparable to those for members of the general public.” The case is one of many that will be considered for a place on the court’s docket for argument and decision next term. In Regal, Kathy Stewmon, Tina Smith and Kathleen Braddy, all wheelchair-bound, brought suit against two companies that own and operate movie theaters in Oregon. The women claimed that the wheelchair-accessible seats in the front rows, which provided a vertical viewing angle that was significantly sharper than in the rest of the theaters, violate the ADA. The plaintiffs say they experienced nausea, headaches and blurry vision as a result of the sharp viewing angle. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, citing Lara v. Cinemark USA, a decision of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that favored theaters in a similar lawsuit. A panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, stating that the central goal of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to “full and equal enjoyment � of any place of public accommodation,” and that disabled individuals are entitled to the same comfortable viewing angles that nondisabled viewers enjoy. Judge Betty Fletcher wrote for the panel, joined by Judge M. Margaret McKeown. Judge Andrew Kleinfeld dissented. The Regal defendants urge the high court to resolve the circuit split over the issue, but they aren’t alone in their dissatisfaction with the Ninth Circuit ruling. Cinemark, which owns and operates 2,337 movie theaters in 33 states, says in an amicus curiae brief, “If this decision is permitted to stand, not one public facility is safe from post-construction second-guessing or ruinous retrofitting liabilities.” In a brief supporting the disabled moviegoers, Solicitor General Theodore Olson says the law and regulations prohibit movie theaters from “relegating all wheelchair users to the worst seats in the very front of the theater and excluding them entirely from the benefits of modern stadium-style theater designs.” Christine M. Garton is an intern with Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

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