Federal judge denies attorneys' fees to blind man who lost ADA suit against Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.

By Glenn Minnis | May 17, 2018

A federal judge has denied a blind man’s petition for legal fees in a case that began over his claims that water refill stations at a national grocery store chain denied equal access to him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has denied a blind man’s petition for legal fees in a case that began over his claims that water refill stations at a national grocery store chain denied equal access to him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance handed down the decision, which was filed on May 3 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. 

According to the decision, Scott Magee, who is legally blind, filed a class action suit in August against Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., alleging that the self-service Glacier Water refill machines used to dispense filtered water into containers carried by customers were not equally accessible. Specifically, he claimed that the station “did not utilize any braille markings or other non-visual means.” 

In January, the court dismissed Magee’s complaint on the grounds that it lacked standing because he failed to show that he had suffered an injury of any kind. 

The court also held that Magee's contention that the refill stations lacked braille markings was contradicted by evidence that the machines had at least some braille stickers at the time of the alleged violations.

Magee then filed a motion for attorneys' fees.

“In the absence of legislation providing otherwise, litigants must pay their own attorneys’ fees," Vance wrote in the decision. "Congress has created limited exceptions to this rule under certain statutes protecting various federal rights… but the policy considerations that support granting fees to a prevailing plaintiff are absent when the defendant prevails.”

Vance also ruled that a prevailing defendant under the ADA is governed by the same legal standard used in other civil rights cases.

In his original petition, Magee had sought a trial by jury, a permanent injunction prohibiting Winn-Dixie from violating the ADA and all other relief deemed suitable by the court.

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