Movie theaters with stadium-style seating are allowed to locate wheelchair seats near the front, even if this is less comfortable for disabled patrons, according to a recent decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ruling reverses a decision by the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas. Eight individuals with disabilities, along with the Volar Center for Independent Living and Desert ADAPT, filed suit last year against Cinemark USA, Inc., for violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The plaintiffs alleged that in several newly built Cinemark theaters, the wheelchair-accessible seating areas were too near the screen, and too far below screen-level. Viewers in these areas had to crane their necks and/or strain their eyes in order to watch the movie. The "average viewing angle," plaintiffs noted, was "above 35 degrees... 'well into the discomfort zone.'"
The plaintiffs argued that this violated ADA requirements for "full and equal enjoyment" of the films, because disabled patrons did not have access to "lines of sight comparable to those for members of the general public."
The District Court found in favor of the plaintiffs, and ordered Cinemark to modify 18 of its theaters by moving the wheelchair seating areas up and back, and by lowering the screen.
Cinemark appealed the District Court ruling, arguing that the "lines of sight" requirement had been incorrectly applied. The Circuit Court agreed with Cinemark, that "lines of sight" does not include a reasonable viewing angle, but only requires "unobstructed views of the screen."
The Circuit Court said, "To impose a viewing angle requirement at this
juncture would require district courts to interpret the ADA based upon
the subjective and undoubtedly diverse preferences of disabled moviegoers."