Clint Eastwood does not have to pay damages to a disabled woman who says his Mission Ranch Inn violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, a jury found today.
The U.S. District Court jury deliberated for four hours Thursday and today before making Eastwood’s day.
Eastwood was found liable only for two minor violations regarding access to the hotel office at his historic hotel near Carmel — not enough signs to the restroom and no ramp access to the hotel office.
After the verdict was read, Eastwood patted one of his attorneys on the hand. He later shook hands with the jurors and gave them autographs.
“I think there were too many lies told in court and I think the jury could see through that,” Eastwood told The Associated Press. “Once you tell a lie and it gets out of control, it’s like a runaway train.”
Diane zum Brunnen, 51, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, was not present when the verdict was read. Her lawyer John Burris said he was considering whether to appeal.
She and her husband said they visited the Mission Ranch in 1995 and 1996, and she sued Eastwood in 1997. They complained that the wheelchair-accessible bathroom was in another building, more than 200 feet away, across a driveway; the only accessible guest room cost $225 a night, when other rooms were as little as $85; and there was no ramp to the main office.
Deliberations began after Burris told jurors they should not excuse Eastwood from requirements of the ADA and a similar California law because he is a “very special man.” He did not specify how much damages they were seeking.
“I believe he thinks as a matter of principle he is entitled to special consideration from you,” Burris said in his closing arguments, gesturing across the courtroom toward the actor-director.
Burris said Eastwood spent millions renovating his Mission Ranch near Carmel but neglected to spend a “fistful of dollars” — a reference to the first of Eastwood’s “spaghetti Westerns” — on improving disabled access.
Eastwood attorney Chuck Keller also used the reference in his closing argument.
“Make no bones about it,” Keller said. “That’s why the plaintiff is here … because she, and those who represent her, want a fistful of dollars.”
Eastwood, 70, said he should have been told about the problems so he could fix them instead of being sued. The zum Brunnens testified that they sent Eastwood two letters in 1995 to complain about the disparity in room rates but got no answer.
Preserving the Ranch
Eastwood bought Mission Ranch, a former dairy farm dating to the 1850s, in 1987 for more than $4 million. He testified that his renovations have tried to ensure disabled access while preserving the ranch’s historic character.
He also pointed out that Monterey County building officials had approved all plans. “I’m not against the ADA; I want to make that clear,” Eastwood said today. “But the small business person cannot be an expert in the ADA and state laws, especially if the planning department says, ‘OK. Go ahead.’”
Zum Brunnen’s lawyer suggested that Eastwood, who was mayor of Carmel from 1986 to 1988, got favorable treatment.
Juror Lorenzo Gutierrez said the jury agreed right away that zum Brunnen did not deserve any money.
“We kind of didn’t think she was really there for dinner,” he said, implying that zum Brunnen went to the ranch looking for violations.
Eastwood said his insurance company had pressured him to settle with the zum Brunnens, but he decided instead to take a stand.
“I’d rather be on the side of right than let these guys get away with murder,” he said, adding that he’s now “out a lot” in attorney’s fees.
“We all know this is about — cash,” he said outside court Thursday, theatrically whispering and elongating the final word.