Judge Rules All Movie Theaters in Washington State Must Show Captioned Movies

by John Waldo

Washington’s Law against Discrimination requires movie theaters to install equipment to show closed captions, according to a ruling issued today by a King County Superior Court judge. AMC, America’s second-largest theater chain, will therefore be required to install captioning equipment once it converts its theaters to digital projection.

The ruling by Judge Regina Cahan came in a lawsuit that the Washington State Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP) filed in 2009 against the corporate theater owners doing business in King County, which includes Seattle and the Bellevue area. I represented Wash-CAP in the case.

Our lawsuit was filed under Washington state law, not under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Our state law and regulations require businesses like movie theaters to undertake actions “reasonably possible in the circumstances” to make their goods and services “accessible,” and further define “accessible” as “usable or understandable.”

Despite that clear language, the theater defendants claimed that they had no legal obligation to provide captioning. Judge Cahan rejected that argument in 2010. She then scheduled a trial limited to the question of what each of the defendants could reasonably be expected to do. Prior to the scheduled May trial date, two of the major corporate defendants — Regal and Cinemark — essentially surrendered, and agreed to equip all of their King County theaters to show closed-captioned movies. Subsequently, they agreed to full captioning on a nationwide basis.

The May trial was submitted based on stipulated facts. AMC would not commit to any specific level of captioning, saying only that it would increase the amount of captioning offered at its Seattle-area theaters. Regal and Cinemark argued that because they had fully equipped all of their theaters, there was no remaining legal controversy, and the case against them should be dismissed. (We had dismissed the three smaller defendants for various reasons).

We argued that even though Regal and Cinemark had done what we asked, the court should still enter a ruling to the effect that all theaters have legal obligations to be accessible to people with hearing loss. That was important to us because that ruling becomes a precedent that may be useful in other parts of the state, and because it would give us the ability to ensure that those theaters both live up to their commitments and perhaps incorporate future improvements in captioning technology.

With respect to AMC, we presented financial information showing that AMC can readily afford the cost of equipping all of its theaters to show captions once they convert their theaters to digital projection. Moreover, she noted that because Regal and Cinemark are providing full captioning, AMC had to demonstrate why it couldn’t do the same, but that AMC had not provided any evidence suggesting that it was not financially able to do so. Therefore, the judge ruled that within 90 days of converting to digital projection, AMC must equip enough theater auditoriums with captioning equipment to enable it so show in captioned form all movies that come with captions.

The judge made one other very important and welcome observation. Defendants had submitted evidence to the effect that very few people were using the captioning equipment that Cinemark has installed at its theater complex in Federal Way. That does not matter, the judge said. “The issue is not how many patrons have used the technology provided, but rather, whether an individual with a sensory disability has the legal right to have access to the movies when technology is now present to allow that access without impeding on other patron’s experience and it is feasible for the defendant to provide it.”

We hope that in light of this ruling, AMC will join Regal and Cinemark in making movies fully accessible to individuals with hearing loss throughout the country.

3 responses to this post.

  1. What a victory for the hearing loss and Deaf communities. Now, which state will follow Washington’s lead? http://LipreadingMom.com

    Reply

  2. This is wonderful! Is this Just king county or ALL of the state?

    Reply

  3. rEgardless of whether your house is in the country or perhaps the major town, this specific selection of unqualified motion pictures will have anyone desiring the actual messy path along with a very hot cup of coffee all-around a campfire.full free movies online

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