Court Rules for Moviegoers in 9th Circuit Disability Access Case

The owners of movie theaters could be required to install special equipment for patrons with hearing and visual impairments under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a result of a federal appeals court ruling that that has been hailed as groundbreaking.

Friday’s decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in State of Arizona vs. Harkins Amusement Enterprises Inc. et al. largely overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the case brought by Frederick Lindstrom, who has severe hearing loss, and Larry Wanger who is blind in one eye and has poor vision the other.

The Court held that because closed captioning and audio descriptions are correctly classified as “auxiliary aids and services,” a movie theatre may be required to provide such aids/services under the ADA; accordingly, due to this determination, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s dismissal.

The Court concluded that while its holding didn’t necessarily mean the plaintiffs in this case will be entitled to these services/aids and that the theatres was entitled to avail itself of appropriate defenses, disposition via pre-trial dismissal was not appropriate.

Depending on the ultimate resolution of this matter, movie theatres could find themselves obligated to provide closed captioning and audio descriptions to patrons with hearing disabilities in future times.
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About Christian Stegmaier
Senior Shareholder

Christian Stegmaier is a shareholder and chair of the Retail & Hospitality Practice Group at Collins & Lacy in Columbia. He is also active in the firm’s professional liability and appellate practices. Stegmaier welcomes your questions at (803) 255-0454 or