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Regal's Unit Loses Appeal on Seating

June 29, 2004|From Bloomberg News

A Regal Entertainment Group unit Monday lost a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of a ruling that stadium-style seating in movie theaters violated a disability-rights law when people in wheelchairs must sit near the front row.

Regal Cinemas, part of the world's largest movie-theater company, said in court papers that the lower court ruling would impose "devastating" costs on companies that have built thousands of theaters in which most seats must be reached by climbing stairs. AMC Entertainment Inc. and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp., the second- and third-largest chains, supported Regal's appeal.

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

The court also refused to hear a separate appeal by closely held Cinemark USA Inc., which was sued by the Justice Department over stadium-style seating at its theaters. The Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Plano, Texas-based Cinemark.

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 federal government "stood by silently" during the recent boom for building stadium-style theaters.

The Bush administration urged the court to deny review in both cases. Government lawyers said the rulings against Regal and Cinemark were correct and that the Supreme Court appeals were premature because the lower courts haven't decided on a remedy.

The U.S. said its lawyers told a judge in the Cinemark case they would seek a "reasonable approach" and wouldn't argue "that the entire interior of the theater be gutted or torn down."

The government said its regulation "ensures that theater designs do not leave customers in wheelchairs on the sidelines."

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