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Expanding on decisions from other courts, a Northern District of New York federal judge has held that a movie theater providing handicapped patrons with an unobstructed sight line to the screen has not necessarily complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rather, U.S. District Judge David N. Hurd found, the law implicitly requires a qualitative element demanding an analysis into whether the lines of sight available to ambulatory and wheelchair customers are comparable. In Meineker and McPherson v. Hoyts Cinemas Corp., 5:98-CV-1526, Hurd flatly rejected the theater’s contention that an unobstructed view is all that is required. Nonetheless, he found that Hoyts now provides a comparable sight line for handicapped patrons, and is therefore in compliance with the ADA. The case arose from a complaint by two disabled women, Susan Meineker and Sybil McPherson, who were dissatisfied with the viewing angle afforded wheelchair customers in suburban Albany, N.Y., theaters. When Meineker and McPherson commenced their lawsuit in 1998, wheelchair viewers were relegated to the front of the theaters, directly beneath the screen. The plaintiffs contended that their placement in the least-desirable section of the theaters constituted a violation of the ADA. Since then, the wheelchair seating area has been relocated to the rear center of the theaters, behind the rows of general public seating. Still, the plaintiffs alleged an ADA violation, claiming discrimination since they could not access the stadium-style seating sections of the theaters. Several courts have addressed the ADA and the implementing guidelines vis-�-vis theater sight lines and found no “viewing angle” requirement. Rather, courts have concluded that the law requires an unobstructed view. But Judge Hurd found that the law demands more. “This requirement is necessary to address the potential situation where a defendant has relegated wheelchair patrons to a portion of the theater that provided truly inferior viewing angles and limited or no seating for the general public — such as was the case at the start of this litigation where wheelchair patrons were relegated to the absolute worst seats at the very front of the theaters,” Hurd said. Now, however, Hoyts provides comparable lines of sight since wheelchair seating yields a viewing angle similar to that available to ambulatory patrons, Hurd found. Additionally, he said the “clustering” of wheelchair seating in a particular area of the theaters is permissible. “Had Hoyts not undertaken the renovations to relocate the wheelchair seating at the … theaters, it would unquestionably have been in violation of the ADA,” Hurd said. Michael J. Malone of King & Spalding in Manhattan argued for the theater company. Timothy A. Clune of Disability Advocates Inc. in Albany represented the plaintiffs.

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