A visually impaired woman denied service at a McDonald’s restaurant when she approached the drive-thru window on foot does not have a case under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
In a written opinion, U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow granted summary judgment in favor of McDonald’s in a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by Karen Morey.
Morey alleged McDonald’s violates Title III of the ADA by failing to provide an accommodation that would allow visually impaired customers to independently access the fast-food chain’s products when restaurant lobbies are closed.
But Lefkow held Morey is not entitled to the protections of the ADA because she is not disabled as defined by the statute.
Lefkow noted McDonald’s does not dispute that Morey has a physical impairment.
Morey, however, failed to show that the impairment substantially limits a major life activity, Lefkow wrote.
Quoting the ADA, she wrote major life activities include “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.”
That list does not include driving, Lefkow wrote.
She rejected the argument that driving should qualify as an “unenumerated activity” under the ADA.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “driving is not, in itself, a major life activity,” Lefkow wrote, quoting Winsley v. Cook County, 563 F.3d 598 (7th Cir. 2009).
Also, she wrote, Morey does not allege her visual impairment substantially limits the major life activity of seeing.
“She has 20/50 vision with corrective lenses and concedes that she can read from documents and the McDonald’s menu in the drive-thru lane while sitting in a car,” Lefkow wrote.
Macular degeneration causes the sight in Morey’s left eye to be blurry and foggy. A doctor told her someone with her condition should not drive at night.
One night in February 2017, Morey walked to a McDonald’s on North Tustin Avenue in Orange, Calif., after getting off work.
The lobby was closed when she arrived a little after 11 p.m. The owner and operator of the franchise had a policy of closing the lobby between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day.
Morey went to the drive-thru window, but was not allowed to order food because another policy limited use of the drive-thru to customers in vehicles.
Morey filed her suit in federal court in Chicago in February 2018. McDonald’s is headquartered in Chicago.
McDonald’s moved for summary judgment in October 2019.
In her opinion, Lefkow acknowledged the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 “generally liberalized the definition of disability.”
The changes to the ADA included the addition of a statement that a major life activity is not necessarily one “of central importance to most people’s daily lives,” Lefkow wrote, quoting the Amendments Act.
Quoting the act, she wrote another addition was the statement that the word “major” should not be “interpreted strictly.”
The act, however, “also amended the list of activities expressly identified as major life activities and elected not to include driving among them,” Lefkow wrote.
She wrote there are narrow sets of circumstances where driving can be a major life activity.
“The [7th] Circuit has held that an inability to drive constitutes a disability where it excludes a plaintiff from a general class of jobs,” Lefkow wrote, citing Powers v. USF Holland Inc., 667 F.3d 815 (7th Cir. 2011).
“Thus, an inability to drive conceivably would entail a substantial limitation on recognized major life activities like caring for oneself or eating if driving were effectively necessary for a plaintiff to obtain food.”
However, Lefkow continued, Morey does not maintain the prohibition on pedestrians using the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s prevents her from eating.
“Her complaint is limited to her inability to obtain food at restaurants with drive-thru-only service at night, such as the North Tustin restaurant,” Lefkow wrote.
The case is Karen Morey v. McDonald’s Corporation, et al., No. 18 C 1137.
The lead attorney for Morey is Roberto Costales of Beaumont Costales LLC.
The lead attorney for McDonald’s is Mark L. Shapiro of Holland & Knight LLP.
The attorneys could not be reached for comment.