PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – On Thursday, March 9, 2017, Zein Obagi appeared before Ninth Circuit Judges Paez, Berzon and Christen to argue for the affirmation of U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright’s denial of attorneys’ fees to a “nominally prevailing” plaintiff in Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) litigation.
A fellow USC Gould School of Law graduate, Aaron Aftergood, Esq., asked Obagi to render Appellees’ oral arguments in Rocca v. Den 109 LP, Case Nos. 15-56407, 15-56643. After a bench trial before Judge Wright in C.D. Cal Case No. 2:14-cv-00538, the district court found that Plaintiff Rocca had encountered 3 ADA non-compliant barriers at a Southern California Denny’s. But, the court also found that plaintiff lacked standing to prevail on 3 others because he did not encounter the barriers, or testify credibly to an intent to return to the Denny’s in question, or that those barriers deterred him from returning to the location.
Obagi – who, in college, traveled across the United States building accessible amenities at camps that served people with disabilities and supports the Exceptional Children’s Foundation locally – “did not find it difficult to argue for the small business owners here. I was defending Judge Wright’s opinion as the trier of fact in this specific case. He identified just cause for denying plaintiff a windfall attorneys’ fees award, which the federal law recognizes as his Honor’s right.”
Indeed, Obagi avoided taking any position adverse to the interests of persons with disabilities, writ large. In response to questioning by Judge Paez, he responded, “It is absolutely OK for persons with disabilities to go to places of public accommodation to discover and file suit [over obstacles to free access]”. He argued the specific facts of the case to support the district court’s judgment.
The Ninth Circuit records and broadcasts its oral arguments. Mr. Obagi’s appearance can be viewed here: