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Koester v. Young Men's Christian Association of Greater St. Louis

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 2, 2017

Matina Koester; N.K., By next friend Matina Koester, Plaintiffs - Appellants
Young Men's Christian Association of Greater St. Louis, Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 12, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before LOKEN, BEAM, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          BEAM, Circuit Judge.

         Matina Koester appeals the district court's[1] grant of summary judgment in favor of the YMCA of Greater St. Louis (YMCA) in this Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) public accommodations case. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Koester's minor child, N.K., is an individual with a disability within the meaning of Title III (the public accommodations prong) of the ADA. N.K. has Down syndrome and autism. The YMCA provides children with summer camp opportunities that are advertised as enriching, creative, recreational, and self-esteem enhancing, and are open to children of all abilities. At summer camps, the YMCA has sole custody of the child for up to ten hours per day. The YMCA Family Handbook provides that if participating children have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a behavioral management plan through the schools, a copy of that plan "must" be given to the director and reviewed before the child's participation is authorized. The purpose of this requirement is to allow the YMCA to determine reasonable and necessary accommodations for children with disabilities.

         In May 2014, Koester sought to enroll N.K. in a YMCA summer camp and called the YMCA to inquire about the requirements for enrollment. YMCA employees informed Koester that the YMCA would need a copy of N.K.'s IEP to complete the enrollment in summer camp. Koester objected to this requirement, believing that the document was highly personal and confidential and instead offered to meet with the director and discuss what accommodations would be necessary for N.K. During the phone call, YMCA employees (as best we can tell, Koester spoke to at least three YMCA employees on the phone that day) reiterated that the IEP was required for enrollment. Koester did not ultimately fill out any paperwork to have N.K. participate in the summer camp. And as we understand the record, the next contact between Koester and the YMCA was in October 2014, when counsel for Koester sent the YMCA a letter dated October 10, 2014, stating that for future summer camp participation and in lieu of providing the IEP, Koester was willing to provide additional information about N.K.'s limitations and need for accommodations from N.K.'s pediatrician. The YMCA responded with a letter, dated October 17, 2014, explaining its IEP policy and describing its belief that the IEP information was necessary in a setting where the child would be in the custody of the YMCA for upwards of ten hours per day. However, in this letter, the YMCA ultimately offered an alternative to the IEP requirement. The October 17 letter indicated the YMCA would accept information from N.K.'s pediatrician regarding N.K.'s "socio-emotional, adaptive behavior, speech/language, fine/gross motor functioning and cognitive functioning, " along with N.K.'s specific diagnosis and "information regarding the need for adaptive equipment, communication skills, dietary restrictions, behavioral concerns, toileting information, behavioral triggers, ability to interact with peers/adults and his ability to follow directions." Nonetheless, Koester brought the current action in federal court days later, on October 20, 2014, asserting a violation of Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189. Koester alleged that the YMCA discriminated against N.K. based upon his disability by refusing to make a reasonable modification to its IEP policy and that Koester proposed to "engage in an interactive process to determine what accommodations for N.K. would be reasonable." Upon cross motions for summary judgment, the district court granted the YMCA's motion. The district court found that the YMCA did not discriminate against N.K., and further, that Koester's proposed modification was not a reasonable request, and even if it had been reasonable, it would have fundamentally altered the YMCA summer camp program. Koester appeals.


         We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. Tusing v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 639 F.3d 507, 514 (8th Cir. 2011). Summary judgment is appropriate where the evidence shows no genuine issue of material fact exists and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The evidence and all inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

         Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination by public accommodations and provides, "[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation." 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). To establish a claim under Title III, the person alleging disability must show that:

(1) that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) that the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation, (3) that the defendant took adverse action against the plaintiff that was based upon the plaintiff's disability, and (4) that the defendant failed to make reasonable modifications that would accommodate the plaintiff's disability without fundamentally altering the nature of the public accommodation.

Amir v. St. Louis Univ., 184 F.3d 1017, 1027 (8th Cir. 1999). The parties agree that N.K. is disabled within the meaning of the ADA by virtue of his diagnoses of Down syndrome and autism. Further, the YMCA operates a place of public accommodation. At issue in this case are prongs three and four of the above test: whether the YMCA took adverse action against N.K. based upon his disability, and to a somewhat lesser degree, but one we will analyze, whether the YMCA failed to make reasonable, requested modifications to its IEP policy.

         Koester argues that the YMCA's blanket policy of requiring a child's IEP before admitting the child to its summer camp programs is discriminatory because the IEP in effect serves to screen out children with disabilities from the YMCA summer camp programs. Discrimination is defined by the statute to include application of policies which tend to screen out disabled individuals, unless the policy is necessary to provide those services. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(i). Furthermore, discrimination includes the failure to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices or ...

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