Summary judgment is a decision by the judge that the claim asserted has no factual issues that need to be given to the jury, and the case may be decided as a matter of law. This rids the court of factually unsupported claims and defenses where one of the parties convinces the judge that the factual issues either do not exist or they are not material, thereby avoiding trial and allowing the judge to make the decision.  Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 56 speaks to this type of motion and states that summary judgment may be entered after adequate time for discovery against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, which that party would bear the burden of proof at trial.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently issued a per curiam by Circuit Judges Smith, Chagares, and Shwartz concerning claims of retaliation under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Maryann Cottrell and Richard Holland each appealed from an order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, which granted summary judgment for the Defendant Zagami, LLC.  Zagami owned three related businesses (“Landmark”).  The plaintiffs alleged that Landmark retaliated against them for activity protected by the ADA. They alleged that in retaliation for their complaints about unauthorized use of handicap-accessible parking places at Landmark, it issued letters banning them from entering the property. Cottrell engaged in protected activity when she filed citizen’s complaints against patrons of Landmark for handicapped parking violations in 2005, and when she filed a similar complaint against Landmark and a beer distributor in early 2006.  
Third Circuit agreed that being banned from Landmark properties sufficed—at least the initial—to establish an adverse action. However, the two plaintiffs failed to establish a prima facie case of causation. The letter banning Cottrell from Landmark, citing her “prior actions … disruptive of the regular and essential operations” of the business, was dated July 6, 2006—five months after any parking violations were issued. That period of time, the court explained, was not suggestive of a retaliatory motive based on the protected activity. The Third Circuit agreed with the District Court that the ban letter’s timing “suggests that it was causally connected to Cottrell’s opposition to [Landmark’s] liquor license renewal.” The letter was issued 10 days after a public meeting, which was conducted at Cottrell’s request where she voiced her opposition to renewing Landmark’s liquor license. The reasons she gave had nothing to do with Landmark’s alleged ADA violations.
The Third Circuit  also agreed with the District Court that Holland failed to establish that he engaged in any protected activity before the time of the claimed adverse action.  He could not cite any specific incident when he documented parking violations at Landmark prior to the ban. Cottrell documented some alleged parking violations in June 2006, but the complaints were not signed or issued until two weeks after the ban letter was sent.  In addition, Cottrell didn’t claim that Landmark was aware of this protected activity before the complaints were issued.
Consequently, because the Third Circuit found the ADA claims unsupported, the District Court’s decision to grant summary judgment and end the case at that point was affirmed.
Cottrell v. Zagami, LLC, — Fed.Appx. —-, 2013 WL 5120490 (C.A.3 (N.J.) Sept. 16, 2013)