Co-Counsel in ALDA Lawsuit Blogs

John Waldo, co-counsel in the ALDA/Cinemark lawsuit, is one of the most eloquent voices in the fight for captioning at the movies.  He has educated consumers on this issue from coast to coast.  His blog for the Washington (State) Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP) is must reading. Seriously. Put down that tabloid and read his blogs. Yes you can.

California movie-captioning lawsuit creates media buzz

A lawsuit to require movie captioning filed Nov. 30 by our office and a well-known disability-rights law firm in California has generated a welcome blitz of very sympathetic media coverage.

The case was filed in Oakland, California, on behalf of the Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) and two individual plaintiffs against Cinemark Holdings, America’s third-largest movie-theater chain that operates both the Cinemark and Century theaters. The class-action complaint asks that Cinemark equip its theaters in Alameda County, California, to show captioned movies.

My office is working in conjunction with Disability Rights Advocates of Berkeley, a prominent and experienced public-interest firm that specializes in precedent-setting litigation to advance the interests of people with disabilities. DRA litigation director Sid Wolinsky and senior attorney Kevin Knestrick are leading DRA’s efforts.

The case comes in the aftermath of a decision in April by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declaring that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires movie theaters to offer closed-captioned movies unless the theaters can demonstrate that doing so would constitute an “undue burden.” Despite that holding, Cinemark, which has a very substantial presence in the Oakland-Berkeley area of California, continues to be the only major theater chain that does nothing to make first-run movies available to individuals with hearing loss. After Cinemark ignored a letter from DRA asking for a commitment to provide captioning, the suit was filed.

The San Francisco CBS-TV affiliate made the lawsuit the lead story on its local newscast that evening, and the ABC-TV station also provided substantial coverage. In both cases, the reporters interviewed one of the individual plaintiffs, who explained that they simply want to join the millions of Americans who enjoy movies every week, and one of the DRA lawyers. The lawyers explained that technology such as Rear Windows Captioning enables movie-goers who need captions to see them without interfering with the movie-going experience of the remaining audience. (Unfortunately, the television captions were lost when the story was put on the internet — another story for another time — although the ABC station posts a copy of the narrative).

The story also received print coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press wrote a short story, which has been reprinted in a number of outlets.

While we were pleased the the United States Department of Justice has announced plans to possibly require that at least some theaters be required to show captioned movies, implementing a requirement through regulations is time-consuming and uncertain — a new federal administration could abandon the plan altogether. So we think it is important to continue involving the courts, particularly in states like California and Washington where state law is at least as powerful as federal law.

The California case is conceptually similar to the case Wash-CAP filed in 2009 in Seattle against all three major corporate theater owners and three smaller operations. While our case in Washington is based exclusively on our Washington state law, the California case claims violations of both California state law and the ADA.

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