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Law School Case Brief

PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin - 532 U.S. 661, 121 S. Ct. 1879 (2001)


Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 12101 et seq., prescribes, as a general rule, that no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12182(a). The phrase "public accommodation" is defined in terms of 12 extensive categories, 42 U.S.C.S. § 12181(7), which the legislative history indicates should be construed liberally to afford people with disabilities equal access to the wide variety of establishments available to the nondisabled.


Among the ways that an individual could qualify to compete in the professional golf tournaments that comprised two tours, both of which were sponsored by the Professional Golf Association Tour, Inc. (PGA), was by successfully completing a three-stage qualifying tournament known as the "Q-School." Any member of the public could enter the Q-School, during the third stage of which the use of golf carts was prohibited, by paying $3,000 and submitting two letters of reference from, among others, members of the two tours. Although the "Rules of Golf," which applied at all levels of amateur and professional golf, did not prohibit the use of golf carts at any time, a set of rules that applied specifically to the two tours required golfers to walk the golf courses during tournaments.

Respondent Casey Martin, a golfer with a degenerative circulatory disorder in one leg, had successfully progressed through the first two stages of the Q-School. Martin made a request, supported by detailed medical records, for permission to use a golf cart during the third stage. After the PGA refused to review the medical records or to waive the PGA's walking rule for the third stage, Martin filed against the PGA an action under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 12181 et seq., in which § 12182(b)(2)(A)(ii) required an operator of public accommodations to make reasonable modifications in its policies when necessary to afford such accommodations to individuals with disabilities, unless the entity could demonstrate that making such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the accommodations. The United States District Court for the District of Oregon entered a preliminary injunction that made it possible for Martin to use a cart during the third stage of the Q-School and on the two professional tours. A Magistrate Judge denied the PGA's motion for summary judgment on the asserted ground that the sponsor was exempt from Title III. After a trial, the District Court entered a permanent injunction requiring the PGA to allow Martin to use a cart in tour and qualifying events. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, concluding that golf courses, including the play areas, were places of public accommodation during the tours' tournaments, and to permit Martin to use a cart during the tournaments would not fundamentally alter the nature of the tournaments. The United States Supreme Court granted the PGA's petition for certiorari review.


Did Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit the PGA from denying a golfer equal access to its tours on the basis of his disability?




The Court held that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibited the PGA from discriminating against either the spectators or competitors on the basis of disability. Title III of the Act, required without exception, that any policies, practices, or procedures of a public accommodation be reasonably modified for disabled individuals as necessary to afford access unless doing so would fundamentally alter what is offered. The Court noted that golf courses were specifically identified as a public accommodation. Also, the Court found that a waiver of the walking rule for Martin would not work a fundamental alteration of the game. It would not alter such an essential aspect of the game that it would be unacceptable even if it affected all competitors equally. Nor would it give Martin an advantage over others and fundamentally alter the character of the competition. According to the Court, the use of carts was not itself inconsistent with the basic character of the game. Nothing in the Rules of Golf forbade the use of carts or penalized their use. Pure chance could have a greater impact on the outcome of elite golf tournaments than fatigue from enforcement of the walking rule.

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