Inside the Complex World of Disability Law: A Look at Marbella Country Club
In a recent lawsuit, Marbella Country Club in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., found itself at the center of a legal battle over the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Club member Jefferey Lurner sued the club’s owners, alleging that they failed to reasonably accommodate his disability and denied him full and equal enjoyment of the golf course. While a jury initially ruled in favor of Marbella, Lurner appealed the decision, shedding light on the intricate workings of a private country club in the realm of disability law.
The Case of Jefferey Lurner
Jefferey Lurner, a member of Marbella since 2010, was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a condition that causes high blood pressure in the lungs and makes it difficult to walk, especially uphill. Lurner argued that playing golf, which he considers essential for his well-being, helps prolong his life. However, Marbella’s golf course features numerous hills and inclines, making it challenging for Lurner to navigate on foot. As a result, he insisted on driving his golf cart to wherever his ball landed.
Marbella, like other country clubs, has rules governing the use of golf carts to ensure safety and prevent property damage. Carts are generally restricted to designated cart paths, avoiding areas such as sprinkler heads, construction zones, newly planted landscaping, and steep downhill slopes. Lurner and Marbella staff disagreed on how much leeway Lurner should have in deviating from these policies.
Lurner claimed that Marbella’s staff attempted to shame him into compliance by making public announcements that specifically mentioned him and urged him not to drive to certain areas. Despite these admonitions, Lurner continued to drive his cart on restricted areas, including delicate grass that had recently been planted. He also alleged that he and his family faced harassment from other club members who resented his disregard for club policies.
Marbella’s Response and Accommodations
Contrary to Lurner’s claims, Marbella made efforts to accommodate his needs. The club allowed Lurner to disregard the cart policy and drive his golf cart wherever he needed to on the course. Marbella’s staff even refrained from disciplining him for driving on prohibited areas. Additionally, when other members complained, staff members informed them that Lurner had a serious and chronic disease, and the club was working to accommodate him as best as possible.
However, Marbella’s tolerance had its limits. Lurner was suspended for 30 days after challenging other golfers to a fight and driving his cart into a bunker. Marbella’s general manager acknowledged that Lurner had not been explicitly told not to drive into bunkers, but he believed that common sense should prevail.
The Verdict and Implications
In the end, Justice Maurice Sanchez, writing for himself and two other justices, ruled in favor of Marbella. Sanchez emphasized that Marbella had provided a reasonable modification of its cart policy by allowing Lurner to drive his cart wherever he needed to on the course. The judge also highlighted that Lurner continued to play numerous rounds of golf at Marbella before the trial, indicating that he did not find the club’s accommodations objectionable enough to stop attending.
The case of Lurner v. American Golf Corporation et al. sheds light on the requirements of the ADA in the context of golf courses. Golf courses that permit golfers with qualified disabilities to enjoy expanded access on a cart, whether formally or informally, are likely to satisfy the ADA. However, courses that impose stricter policies on golfers with disabilities may potentially face legal challenges.
Overall, the case highlights the complexities and challenges faced by private country clubs in navigating the intricate world of disability law.
California Court of Appeal Rules on Golf Cart Accommodation for Disabled Golfer
Marbella Golf and Country Club Prevails in Disability Accommodation Lawsuit
The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in PGA Tour v. Casey Martin (2001) established that the use of a cart is a reasonable accommodation for professional golfers with qualified disabilities. Now, a recent ruling from the California Court of Appeal has shed light on the extent of accommodation that golf courses must provide for disabled golfers.
Last week, the California Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s decision in favor of Marbella Golf and Country Club in San Juan Capistrano, California. The club was sued by one of its members, Jefferey Lurner, in 2018 for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to reasonably accommodate his disability and denying him full and equal enjoyment of the course. After a jury verdict in favor of Marbella, Lurner appealed the decision.
The case offers a unique glimpse into the complex world of disability law within the private country club setting. Writing for himself and two other justices, Justice Maurice Sanchez explained the reasons behind Lurner’s unsuccessful case.
Lurner, who joined Marbella in 2010, was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a condition that causes high blood pressure in the lungs and makes it difficult to walk, especially uphill. Lurner argued that driving his cart to wherever his ball lands is essential due to his disability. However, Marbella has specific rules regarding cart usage to ensure safety and prevent property damage.
According to Marbella’s policy, carts must generally be driven on designated cart paths, avoiding areas such as sprinkler heads, construction zones, newly planted landscaping, and steep downhill slopes. Carts are also advised to maintain a distance of 10 yards from tees, greens, and bunkers.
Lurner and Marbella staff disagreed on the extent to which Lurner could deviate from these rules. Lurner claimed that club announcements were made, specifically targeting him and urging him not to drive to certain areas, which he found degrading. Despite these admonitions, Lurner continued to drive his cart on restricted areas, including delicate grass that had recently been planted.
Lurner also alleged that he and his family faced harassment from other club members who resented his disregard for club policies. In one incident, they were humiliated by nearby players who yelled derogatory remarks at them. Lurner argued that Marbella intentionally manipulated club members into despising him, leading to the harassment.
However, the court found that Marbella had largely accommodated Lurner’s needs. The club allowed him to disregard the cart policy and drive wherever he needed to on the course. Marbella’s staff even informed complaining members about Lurner’s disability, attempting to diffuse tensions.
Justice Sanchez emphasized that Marbella’s accommodation of Lurner’s preferences was crucial in applying the ADA. The club had provided a reasonable modification of its cart policy by allowing Lurner to deviate from it. Despite some disciplinary actions taken against Lurner for dangerous behavior, such as driving into bunkers and engaging in confrontations with other golfers, the court concluded that Marbella had made significant efforts to accommodate Lurner’s disability.
The ruling in Lurner v. American Golf Corporation et al. sets a precedent that golf courses, whether formally or informally, must permit golfers with qualified disabilities to enjoy expanded access on a cart in order to comply with the ADA. Courses that impose stricter policies on disabled golfers may potentially face legal challenges.