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Justices May Weigh Theater Seating

The high court signals interest in an appeal on whether disability laws bar stadium venues.

January 13, 2004|From Bloomberg News

The Supreme Court signaled interest Monday in an appeal by a Regal Entertainment Group unit on whether a disability rights law bars movie theater stadium-style seating that forces people in wheelchairs to sit near the front row.

The court sought the Bush administration's views on whether the court should hear the appeal.

Regal Cinemas, part of the world's largest movie theater chain, is appealing a ruling it says will impose devastating costs on companies that have built thousands of theaters in which most seats must be reached by stairs. AMC Entertainment Inc. and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., the second- and third-largest U.S. chains, support Regal's appeal.

Stadium-style theaters have tiered seating to allow a clear view of the screen In the absence of ramps, patrons in wheelchairs usually must sit in the front. Federal rules enacted under the Americans With Disabilities Act require wheelchair areas to provide "lines of sight" similar to those for other patrons.

A lower court ruling means thousands of movie theaters "must now be destroyed or expensively retrofitted," lawyers for Regal said in court papers filed in Washington.

The National Assn. of Theatre Owners said in a brief supporting Regal that refitting movie theaters probably would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The brief by AMC and Loews said the government "stood by silently" during the recent boom in building stadium-style theaters.

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