A client of mine recently got a long letter from a defense firm informing it that it had been sued under the ADA and extolling its own expertise in defending website accessibility lawsuits. The letter laid out in some detail the defenses they were prepared to assert in a motion to dismiss, with a description of a possible standing argument, an the assertion that the ADA did not cover websites, and a due process claim based on the lack of regulations. More
Accessibility Litigation Trends
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Web Access, FHA, FHA Emotional Support Animals, FHA Reasonable Accommodation, Internet, Internet Accessibility, Reasonable accommodation, Rehabilitation Act Tags: ADA defense, ADA drive-by litigation, ADA Mootness, ADA website accessibility, FHA Defense, World Cup
Those of you who are not binge watching the World Cup matches will be interested in what has been going on in the world of disability rights during the last few weeks. Here is our roundup of recent ADA and FHA decisions, some of which are notable.
Indemnity and contribution for Fair Housing Act claims.
Shaw v. Cherokee Meadows, L.P. 2018 WL 2967708 (N.D.Okla. June 12, 2018) is another in a series of cases concerning indemnity for design/build defects under the FHA that gets it completely wrong and winds up with an absurd result. The decision has little in the way of discussion because it relies on the analysis from an earlier case, Equal Rights Center v. Niles Bolton Associates, 602 F.3d 597 (4th Cir. 2010). We’ve blogged on this issue before* but the arguments are worth repeating. Equal Rights Center based its analysis on earlier cases concerning race and similar kinds of intentional discrimination found that public policy precluded indemnity and contribution for FHA discrimination claims. In cases of intentional discrimination or respondeat superior it makes sense to forbid indemnity because you want to discourage bad intent and encourage proper supervision of employees. It doesn’t make any sense at all in design/build cases under Section 3104(f)(3)(C) because this is a “no fault” provision that can be violated without any intent to discriminate. Moreover, the owner of an apartment complex has no choice but to rely on 3rd party experts – architects and contractors – to properly design and build the apartments. When architects and contractors know that they are immune from liability for their failures they have no incentive to design and build according to FHA standards, and as a practical matter they are always immune because the first target in any lawsuit will be the owner. The Ninth Circuit has rejected Equal Rights Center for good reason, and if Shaw v. Cherokee Meadows is appealed the Tenth Circuit should reject it as well. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Web Access, DOJ Tags: ADA defense, ADA defense strategy, ADA Internet, ADA web, Usablenet, WCAG 2.1
The latest iteration of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines became effective with the publication of version 2.1. on June 5, 2018. The newest version adds an additional 17 success criteria for compliance with WCAG, 12 of which are part of success level 2, the level that has become a de facto standard for the ADA.* I’ve shared my thoughts on how this may change the ADA litigation landscape with Usablenet, which just published its overview of the changes in “New Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 – What When How.” In this blog I’d like to consider the deeper questions posed by this revision: Who gets to decide what discrimination means?
It is worthwhile to start with a look at the stated purpose of the ADA itself. The declaration of policy in 42 U.S.C. §12101 never uses the word “accessible” and refers to “access” only with respect to public services. The focus of the ADA is discrimination, and standards for accessibility are only part of Congress’ intent to “to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” (42 U.S.C. §12101(b)(2)). More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Litigation Procedure Tags: ADA defense, ADA standing, drive-by litigation, Gastelum, Peter Strojnik, serial litigation
“‘What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” These words from Francis Bacon’s famous essay on truth often seem to apply in the earliest part of an ADA lawsuit. Truth is important, but takes a back seat to procedure. In Gastelum v. Canyon Hospitality. LLC, CV-17-02792-PHX-GMS, 2018 WL 2388047 (D. Ariz. May 25, 2018) the Court found a way to get to the truth early in the case, before the cost of litigation made it irrelevant.
The plaintiff is a serial filer associated with Phoenix attorney Peter Strojnik, who has a long history of mass ADA filings. According to the Court, Mr. Strojnik and Mr. Gastelum are engaged in a joint enterprise to sue local hotels “without reference to whether Mr. Gastelum actually had any intent to make future visits to those facilities for reasons not related to his pursuit of ADA claims against them.” That enterprise sued more than 125 different Phoenix area hotels in a matter of months. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA Internet Web, ADA Mootness, FHA, First Fix Then Fight Tags: ADA defense, ADA drive-by litigation, ADA Mootness, ADA pleading, ADA serial litigation, FHA Defense
The last couple of weeks brought a variety of decisions, most falling in to one of the familiar patterns for ADA and FHA litigation, but one or two presenting novel defenses and interesting judicial reactions.
A very interesting question of standing.
Johnson v. Castro et al, 2:16-CV-00658-MCE-DB, 2018 WL 2329249, at *3 (E.D. Cal. May 23, 2018) makes a very interesting point about standing, one related to some of the standing questions raised by other recent cases dealing with the plaintiff’s ability to take advantage of the goods and services of a public accommodation.** In Johnson the plaintiff suffered from cerebral palsy and made various claims concerning entrances and access to the restrooms. In response to the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment the defendants provided evidence that the restroom issues had been remediated and challenging the existence of a problem with the doors. They added that the plaintiff’s disability was so severe he could not eat or drink without assistance from the restaurant owner, who cut up his food and fed him at the table. The owners argued that the plaintiff was incapable of taking advantage of the restaurant without help they were not obligated to provide and therefore could not prove any accessibility had caused him harm. The Court found this at least raised an issue of fact:
“Consequently, Defendants raise a question of fact as to whether Plaintiff legitimately could have eaten at the Restaurant without assistance going well beyond any accessibility requirements mandated by either the ADA. . .”