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March 7, 2003

Suit to get theaters to show more captioned films falters

From: Houston Chronicle, TX - 07 Mar 2003


A federal judge has thrown out key elements of former City Councilman Rob Todd's lawsuit seeking to force movie producers and theater operators to produce and show more closed-captioned films.

Todd filed the class-action suit in May on behalf of his hearing-impaired son Robert Preston.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt dismissed Todd's Americans with Disabilities Act claims against the movie producers and his civil rights claims against the producers and theater operators.

Marian Rosen, Todd's co-counsel, said she is going forward with the ADA claims against the theater companies. She is also pursuing a similar ADA case that seeks to force airlines to show in-flight movies with captions.

Rosen said theaters should be considered public places of accommodation under the ADA -- a landmark 1990 civil rights law best known for requiring wheelchair ramps at public buildings.

Laura Marie Franze, a Dallas lawyer representing AMC, Cinemark and Regal theater companies, said she will file a motion for a summary judgment and is confident the case will be dismissed.

"It's wrong to ask the operators to take on responsibility for captioning, because operators do not produce movies," Franze said. "They are merely a venue for viewing movies."

Hoyt ruled Wednesday that, under the ADA, movie theaters, per se, are not places of public accommodation. He noted that the act does not regulate how goods or services are presented to consumers.

While the ADA seeks to provide equal access to public places, Hoyt said, it does not define equal access to include equal enjoyment. He also said no First Amendment violations had been properly asserted.

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle