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If you’ve ever been frustrated pushing past boxes and product displays to make your way through a store’s cluttered aisles, be thankful you’re not trying to navigate the store in a motorized wheelchair. A Pennsylvania woman said her local Dollar General is so cluttered, she can’t shop there anymore.

So she sued. And a federal judge has now dismissed Dollar General’s bid to toss the lawsuit, allowing the shopper’s case to be heard in court.

Rebecca Nocera of New Castle, Pennsylvania filed her lawsuit last September. While she is “dependent upon a motorized wheelchair for mobility,” the lawsuit explains, she and her mother visit their local Dollar General store every week. But after a number of frustrating shopping experiences, she now “typically remains in the car outside… while her mother shops.”

That’s because she said she found it too difficult to get around inside the store. Her lawsuit cites accessibility barriers including “fixed pillars in the middle of shopping aisles, shopping/stocking carts positioned so that they block or narrow the aisle pathways, and merchandise displays positioned so that they block or narrow the aisle pathways.”

These barriers, her lawsuit alleges, are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which says businesses must make their facilities “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities”.

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Nocera’s mother says she has repeatedly complained about the problem, but the store has not done anything to resolve it. The lawsuit calls the access barriers “systemic, recurring and reflective of Defendants’ inadequate policies and practices.”

And it’s not unique to that one particular store, Nocera claims. Her attorneys say they have examined Dollar General stores throughout the state of Pennsylvania and found similar problems. They even cite similar lawsuits filed in other states – one in New York, and one in Alabama that Dollar General recently settled. In that case, federal prosecutors described “a recurring problem with many stores having merchandise, shopping carts, boxes, and other items stored in the common areas of the stores’ exterior and interior spaces.” Dollar General ultimately agreed to a new policy that would “prohibit its employees from placing items in areas such as handicap parking spaces and interior access aisles.”

Nocera’s lawsuit asks that Dollar General be “required to remove the access barriers” and “required to change their policies and practices so that these access barriers do not reoccur.”

Dollar General had sought to have the case dismissed, but a federal judge has now denied the motion. While the judge said it was too soon to certify the case as a class action, and that the plaintiff’s dispute with every Dollar General store in the state of Pennsylvania was beyond the judicial district’s jurisdiction, Nocera’s case “states a plausible claim” and should be allowed to proceed to trial.

So the next time you have to dodge stray boxes, pillars, displays and shopping carts at your local Dollar General, take heart, because it could be worse – you might not have the physical ability to dodge those barriers at all. Ultimately, it will be up to a Pennsylvania court to decide whether to force the store to clean up its act.

Photo by Random Retail

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