A student stands in front of three judges in Moot Court.

Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition

About the 2020 Competition

The Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition final arguments, part of the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Moot Court Program, are the culmination of a three-round elimination competition in appellate advocacy. This year, 73 students entered the competition. In the qualifying round, held during the fall semester, students briefed one of two issues on behalf of either the appellant or the appellee and presented their positions in oral arguments before panels composed of alumni practitioners and professors.

On the strength of their brief and oral argument scores, 16 competitors advanced to the spring semifinal rounds. There, they again briefed and argued a side of the same case. In the final round, the two students with the highest scores on each of the two issues in the spring competition will present their final arguments to a distinguished panel of judges. These judges then will award the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for the best oral presentation in the final round. The best final-round brief will be recognized by Professor Daniel C. Richman, the Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law; Ilene Strauss, director of Legal Writing and Moot Court Programs; and this year’s Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court director, Emily Gerry ’20.

2020 marks the 94th anniversary of the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court, founded at Columbia Law School in 1925 by the Story Inn, a chapter of the legal fraternity Phi Delta Phi. The competition is named in honor of Harlan Fiske Stone 1898, who was a member of the Story Inn while a student at the Law School. Stone was named dean of Columbia Law School in 1910. He served in that capacity until 1924, when President Calvin Coolidge appointed him attorney general of the United States. He was named to the Supreme Court of the United States in the following year, and was elevated to Chief Justice in 1941.

The Case: Chen v. Secret Saturdays Inc.

Secret Saturdays, Inc. (“Secret Saturdays”) is a private corporation founded in September 2016 by Anthony Stewart, who now serves as the company’s chief executive officer (CEO).  Secret Saturdays arranges high-end “pop-up” dinners that take place in upscale homes throughout the state of Virginia. Secret Saturdays works with professional chefs to prepare multicourse experimental dinners. The company then pairs these chefs with homeowners to arrange the event together with one of Secret Saturdays’ event planners.  Secret Saturdays dinners take place every Saturday.  Each dinner is a special event, cooked by a different chef and hosted at a different location.

Secret Saturdays offers the commercial website https://eig2111.wixsite.com/secretsaturdays.  Interested diners can sign up for an email mailing list on the home-page of Secret Saturdays’ website, which includes basic logistical information about how the dinner service works.  Emails are sent out only to members of the mailing list on the first day of every month.  Emails sent to registered diners contain links to pages of the Secret Saturdays website detailing the offerings of the four or five dinners to be held that month.  Each “Menu Page” is hosted on the Secret Saturdays website but is not linked to from the homepage.  Menu Pages typically include an overview of the menu to be served, as well as logistics about how to get to the dinner location.  The pages sometimes include videos discussing what to expect at the event and relaying information such as the dress code.  Information about the services that Secret Saturdays provides is exclusively published online.

Tickets to Secret Saturdays dinners are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and different venues have different seating capacities. Tickets are exclusively available for purchase online through the Menu Page sent out over email, and no money is exchanged at the venue itself.

In January 2017, Ella Chen, a community organizer for disability rights based in Honolulu, Hawaii, heard about Secret Saturdays from a friend.  Ms. Chen has been legally blind since birth due to a genetic condition.  Intrigued by the Secret Saturdays concept, she attempted to access the Secret Saturdays website using screen reader technology.  On her first visit, she encountered redundant links, i.e., a long list of unnecessary links that make it difficult to navigate the website via a screen reader.  Ms. Chen sent an email to Secret Saturdays explaining that its website had “major accessibility issues” and suggesting that it rectify its accessibility problems.

In May 2017, after trying to access the Secret Saturdays website again, Chen had dinner with Steven Ross, co-director of the Disability Network, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities.  Mr. Ross has been blind since age 18 due to a genetic condition.  Mr. Ross was unfamiliar with Secret Saturdays but had extensive experience filing lawsuits against businesses for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  They discussed the value of bringing legal action against a non-ADA compliant business.

Following this conversation, Mr. Ross accessed the Secret Saturdays website on May 8, 2017.  He described the difficulties in navigating the website, including the lack of alternative text (text describing image content) and redundant links.  However, he attributed some of this difficulty to his new screen reading software.  The next month, Mr. Ross wrote a letter to Secret Saturdays CEO Anthony Stewart, inviting the company to meet with Disability Network to negotiate changes to Secret Saturdays’ policies and practices.  Mr. Ross stated that he would consider litigation if he did not hear from Mr. Stewart by September 7, 2017.  During the last weekend of June 2017, Ross again tried to access the Secret Saturdays website with his sighted granddaughter.  Ross could not find the enrollment form for the waiting list and could not submit the form without his granddaughter’s help.

At the beginning of August 2017, Mr. Ross received an email from Secret Saturdays that linked to a webpage containing the websites for the month (“August Menus”). Mr. Ross’s granddaughter and Mr. Ross examined the August Menus page and found it “just as inaccessible.” The August Menus page contained a video that relayed information about the timing, content, and dress code of one of the dinners.  Mr. Ross’s granddaughter confirmed that there was no closed captioning.  Mr. Ross decided to reach out to Jennifer Gomez, a deputy director at Disability Network who is hearing-impaired.

Ms. Gomez had previously attended a Secret Saturdays dinner as the guest of a friend in May 2017.  Two months later, she enrolled in the Secret Saturdays mailing list.  After hearing Mr. Ross’s account of an inaccessible video, she accessed the URL for August Menus on August 28, 2017, but by this time, the August Menus page had been removed from the website.  Ms. Gomez removed herself from the Secret Saturdays mailing list on August 30, 2017.

On September 1, 2017, Chen, Ross, and Gomez sued Secret Saturdays, alleging that Secret Saturdays and its website had violated the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and seeking an injunction and recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs.  Secret Saturdays moved for summary judgment in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, arguing that (i) Plaintiffs’ claims were moot given subsequent changes to the website, (ii) Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a claim, and (iii) the ADA did not apply to the Secret Saturdays website.  The district court held that Plaintiffs’ claims were not moot and that Plaintiffs did not lack standing, but granted summary judgment for Secret Saturdays as to the applicability of the ADA to Secret Saturdays’ website.  The court held that the website was neither a place of public accommodation in and of itself nor a good, service, facility, privilege, advantage, or accommodation provided by a place of public accommodation.  Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  Secret Saturdays filed a cross-appeal seeking review of the decision on mootness and standing.

1. Whether the claim brought by Plaintiffs Ella Chen, Steven Ross, and Jennifer Gomez under 42 U.S.C. § 12188, Subchapter III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, is moot.

2. Whether each plaintiff has standing to bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 12188.

3. Whether Secret Saturdays Inc. has denied Plaintiffs the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation under Title III of ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.

The Honorable Joseph F. Bianco ’91

The Honorable Joseph F. Bianco ’91

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

Judge Joseph F. Bianco was appointed as a U.S. circuit judge for the Second Circuit by President Donald J. Trump on May 13, 2019, and entered service on May 17, 2019. Prior to his appointment as a U.S. circuit judge, Bianco served as a U.S. district court judge in the Eastern District of New York. Bianco was appointed as a U.S. district judge in the Eastern District of New York by President George W. Bush on January 3, 2006, and entered service on that same date.

Bianco obtained his B.A., magna cum laude, at Georgetown University in 1988 and received his law degree in 1991 from Columbia Law School, where he was a Kent Scholar and a member of the Columbia Law Review. From 1992 to 1993, he served as a law clerk for Judge Peter K. Leisure, U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York. For a period of time both before and after that clerkship, he worked as a litigation associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

From 1994 to 2003, Bianco served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he became deputy chief and then chief of the Organized Crime and Terrorism Unit. In 2003, he left the Department of Justice and became counsel with Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in its litigation department.

In 2004, Bianco returned to the Department of Justice and was appointed as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division in Washington, D.C., where he supervised the Counterterrorism Section, the Fraud Section, the Appellate Section, and the Capital Case Unit. He occupied that position until his appointment to the bench.

Bianco has taught courses at Fordham Law School, Hofstra Law School, and Touro Law Center. He currently teaches at St. John’s University School of Law.

The Honorable Adalberto Jordán

The Honorable Adalberto Jordán

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit

Judge Adalberto Jordán was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1961 and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1968. He and his wife, Esther, have two daughters, Diana and Elizabeth.

He obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1984 and his juris doctor degree in 1987 from the University of Miami. After law school he clerked for Judge Thomas Clark of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, and for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the U.S. Supreme Court. He then returned to Miami and was in private practice at Steel Hector & Davis from 1989 to 1994 before working as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida from 1994 to 1999.  During his last year and a half at the U.S. attorney’s office, he was head of the appellate division.

In 1999 President Bill Clinton appointed him as a district judge for the Southern District of Florida. He served in that capacity until 2012, when President Barack Obama appointed him as a circuit judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

He is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law and at the Florida International University College of Law, and has been a lecturer at Harvard Law School. He served on the ABA Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements from 2010 to 2012, and on the Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on Bankruptcy Rules from 2010 to 2016. He is a member of the American Law Institute and of the Judicial Advisory Board of the American Society of International Law.

Professor Debra Livingston

The Honorable Judge Debra A. Livingston

U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

Judge Debra A. Livingston was appointed U.S. Circuit Judge for the 2nd Circuit on May 17, 2007, and entered on duty June 1, 2007. Prior to her appointment she was Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, where she also served as vice dean. Livingston joined the Columbia Law faculty in 1994 as an assistant professor of law, becoming a full professor in 2000 and Paul J. Kellner Professor in 2004. She continues to be Paul J. Kellner Professor at the Law School, where she teaches criminal procedure on a regular basis. Livingston is a recipient of Columbia’s annual Wein Prize for Social Responsibility.

Livingston received her B.A., magna cum laude, from Princeton University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received her J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where she was an editor on the Harvard Law Review. Following law school, she served as a law clerk to Judge J. Edward Lumbard of the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Livingston was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York from 1986 to 1991, and she served as a deputy chief of appeals in the Criminal Division from 1990 to 1991. She was an associate with the New York law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison from 1985 to 1986 and again from 1991 to 1992, when she elected to pursue an academic career. Livingston was a member of the University of Michigan’s Law School faculty from 1992 until 1994.

Livingston is a co-author of the casebook Comprehensive Criminal Procedure and has published academic articles on various legal topics. She has taught courses in evidence, criminal law and procedure, law and policing, and national security and terrorism. From 1994 to 2003, Livingston was a commissioner on New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. She presently serves as chair of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules.

Christen E. Hammock ’20

“I continually remind myself that, even though it’s an ‘argument,’ I’m not really arguing with anyone. My job is to clarify and explain tricky issues. . . . I’ve always really enjoyed teaching, so I try to approach oral arguments from a pedagogical perspective.”
Christen E. Hammock ’20, for the appellee 

Lydia Turnage ’21

“I really enjoy brief writing. It’s a surprisingly creative process because you have to figure out how to tell a completely different story from the one your opponent is telling using the same set of facts. You have a pretty limited number of pages to . . . make a compelling argument, so every word really counts.”
Lydia Turnage ’21, for the appellee

Gregory Bernstein ’20

“Thinking on your feet and trying to be as responsive as possible is the best way to maintain your focus. It's also important to accept that you’'ll never be able to touch on all of the points that you want to, so you have to know which arguments are essential to your case.”
Gregory Bernstein ’20, for the defendant-appellant

Andrew Khanarian ’20

“No matter how convinced you are that your side is correct, there is always a very strong argument on the other side…. In general, going into an argument acknowledging that you may be wrong is incredibly humbling and liberating at the same time.”
Andrew Khanarian ’20, for the defendant-appellant

Ryan Poladian ’20 and Emily Gerry ’20

First, I am so grateful to Professor Daniel C. Richman, the Paul J. Kellner Professor of Law, and Ilene Strauss, director of the Legal Writing and Moot Court Programs, for their tremendous support and tireless edits. I would like to thank Professors Elizabeth Emens, an Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law; Philip Genty, the Everett B. Birch Innovative Teaching Clinical Professor in Professional Responsibility; Kristen Underhill, associate professor of law; and Emily Benfer, visiting associate clinical professor of law, for their assistance with the problem.

A special thank you to Ryan Poladian ’20, the executive director of the Moot Court Program, for his invaluable assistance in scheduling rooms, judges, and dinners, as well as to Anne Mosley ’20, director of the 1L Moot Court Program, for her edits and assistance on nights of competition. Thanks to Alyson Merlin ’21, Jessie Grace Sennett ’21, and Zack Struver ’20, who evaluated the problem, particularly for its portrayal of people with disabilities.

We also thank all of the competitors for their time, effort, and hard work.

Columbia Law School’s Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition is made possible by the generous support of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

Emily Gerry ’20, Director, Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court, pictured with Ryan Poladian ’20, Executive Director, Moot Court Program

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