PGA TOUR, Inc. v. Martin

PETITIONER: PGA TOUR, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Martin
LOCATION: Attorney General's Office of MA

DOCKET NO.: 00-24
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 532 US 661 (2001)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 2001
DECIDED: May 29, 2001

ADVOCATES:
Barbara D. Underwood - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent
H. Bartow Farr, III - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Roy L. Reardon - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Casey Martin is afflicted with a degenerative circulatory disorder that prevents him from walking golf courses. His disorder constitutes a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). When Casey made a request to use a golf cart for the duration of the qualification tournament onto the professional tours sponsored by PGA Tour, Inc., PGA refused. Martin then filed suit under Title III of the ADA, which requires an entity operating "public accommodations" to make "reasonable modifications" in its policies "when... necessary to afford such...accommodations to individuals with disabilities, unless the entity can demonstrate that making such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of such...accommodations." Ultimately, the District Court entered a permanent injunction against PGA, requiring it to allow Martin to use a cart. The court found that the purpose of the PGA's walking rule was to insert fatigue into the skill of shot-making, and that Martin suffered significant fatigue due to his disability, even with the use of a cart. In affirming, the Court of Appeals concluded that golf courses are places of public accommodation during professional tournaments and that permitting Martin to use a cart would not fundamentally alter the nature of those tournaments.

Question

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provide access to professional golf tournaments by a qualified entrant with a disability? May a disabled contestant be denied the use of a golf cart because it would "fundamentally alter the nature" of the tournaments to allow him to ride when all other contestants must walk?

Media for PGA TOUR, Inc. v. Martin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 2001 in PGA TOUR, Inc. v. Martin

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 29, 2001 in PGA TOUR, Inc. v. Martin

The opinion of the court in No. 00-24, PGA Tour INC. v. Martin will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

It raises two questions concerning the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, to a gifted athlete: first, whether the Act protects access to professional golf tournaments by a qualified entrant with a disability; and second, whether a disabled contestant maybe denied the use of a golf cart because it would “fundamentally alter the nature” of the tournaments to allow him to ride when all other contestants must walk?

Petitioner the PGA Tour Inc. sponsors professional golf tournaments conducted on three annual tours, the PGA Tour, the Nike Tour, and the Senior PGA Tour.

A player may gain entry into the PGA tour or Nike tour by successfully competing in a three-stage qualifying tournament known as the "Q-School," which is opened to any member of the public and with two letters of reference and the $3,000 entry fee.

Three sets of rules governed petitioner’s tours: first, the rules of golf which apply not only to petitioner’s tours that the all levels of amateur and professional golf and which do not prohibit the use of golf carts; second, the so-called “hard cards” which apply only to petitioner’s tours, those cards require players to walk during most tournaments that allow them to use carts during the first two stages of the Q-school in open qualifying rounds for each tournament and in Senior PGA tour events; third, are the “Notices to Competitors” which are issued for each specific tournament and may authorize the use of golf carts in the certain limited situations.

Respondent Casey Martin is a talented golfer, he is also an individual of the disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

From birth he has been afflicted with a degenerative circulatory disorder that causes severe pain, and atrophying in his right leg.

That puts the leg at a risk of hemorrhaging, fracturing and possible amputation, and that as the District Court found prevents him from walking an 18-hole round of golf.

Under the PGA rules, he was allowed to use a golf cart during the first two rounds of the Q-school but not during the third stage.

He made a request supported by detailed medical records for permission to use a cart but the PGA refused to review those records or to waive its walking rule.

Martin therefore filed this action under Title III of the Disabilities Act.

The District Court granted Martin a preliminary injunction requiring the PGA to permit him to use a cart in its tournaments, and after a bench trial the District Court entered a permanent injunction to the same effect.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed holding the Title III applies to the PGA and that allowing Martin to use it cart would not fundamentally alter the nature of the competition and its tournaments.

That decision conflicted with a Seventh Circuit case so we granted certiorari.

We first hold that the PGA does operate a place of public accommodation, the statute defines public accommodation in terms of 12 broad categories and specifically list a golf course is one such place.

Those courses are not only open to the members of the general public who play outside of the PGA tournaments, but they are also places they are open to the members of the public who either pay to watch those tournaments, or pay to enter the Q-school or open qualifying rounds in order to obtain access to PGA’s tournaments.

Those competitors represent one group of clients or customers of the PGA who compete for price money in its tournaments.

Under the statute the PGA may not deny those competitors including Martin access to tournaments on the basis of a disability covered by the Act.

The statute does provide however that an entity does not have to modify its rules to grant access to a disabled person if the entity can demonstrate that the modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the activity.

The critical question in this case is whether would fundamentally alter either the game of golf in general, or the competition in athlete tournaments that the PGA sponsors to waive the walking rule for Martin and to allow him to use a cart.

The first part of the question is easy, carts are now a common feature of the game their use does not affect the player is handicap and is not inconsistent with the fundamental character of golf, the essence of which has always been shotmaking.

The more difficult question is whether the walking rule is an indispensable feature of tournament golf at its highest level.

The PGA contains that any waiver of an outcome affecting rule would fundamentally alter the character of its tournaments.

The PGA relies on both common sense and the testimony of experts to support the proposition that the walking rule maybe “outcome affecting,” because fatigue may adversely affect performance and a shot or two can determine the outcome of the tournaments.

In response, Martin relies on two findings made by the District Court: first for a variety of reasons affect the fatigue from walking during the PGA tournaments is generally not significant.

Indeed many professionals prefer to walk.

Second, and of greater importance is a District Courts uncontested finding that Martin endorse greater fatigue with a cart than his able-bodied competitors do by walking.

Since the sole purpose of the walking rule is to make fatigue a factor in the competition, and since Martin incurs greater fatigue than his competitors even if he has allowed to use a cart.

Granting him a waiver of the rule would not impair the purpose of the rule, it therefore cannot be said to fundamentally alter the character of the tournaments, because such a waiver is necessary to unable him to have access to PGA tournaments which as we have held our places of public accommodation, it is a reasonable modification that the statute requires.