We aren’t quite to Halloween, but the candy is certainly crowding the shelves of local stores, whose owners might want to take a look at Ryan v. Kohls, Inc., discussed below. Beyond that we have the usual roundup of default judgment cases, website accessibility standing cases, and of course some ordinary “drive-by” cases involving physical accessibility mixed in with cases that deserve special attention because they could have a broad impact on ADA and FHA litigation. Here they are. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Litigation Procedure, ADA Web Access, Internet, Internet Accessibility Tags: ADA consent decree, ADA internet litigation, ADA litigation defense, ADA Website Litigation, Haynes v Hooters, WCAG 2.0
This is not the owl of Athens, a symbol of wisdom associated with the goddess Athena. Nonetheless, there is some wisdom to be gained by taking a look at Haynes v. Hooters of Am., LLC, 17-13170, 2018 WL 3030840 (11th Cir. June 19, 2018). The case has already been the subject of many articles in the pay-to-play legal press and an excellent blog by William Goren.* The main lesson to be learned from Haynes v. Hooters is one that we’ve known a long time – a private settlement agreement will not moot a new claim by a new plaintiff. Only remediation will do that. There is, however, a deeper and more disturbing message. In website accessibility claims meaningful claims of mootness may well be impossible to achieve.
To understand why we start with the point of the mootness defense. Mootness as an abstract legal concept simply means that there is no case or controversy for the judge to decide because there is no meaningful relief that the plaintiff can be granted. The mootness defense failed in Haynes because the earlier settlement on which the defense was based had an expiration date and because even before it expired a new plaintiff could not enforce it. Thus the new plaintiff could be awarded meaningful relief in the form of an injunction requiring Hooters to do what it promised in the earlier settlement. Because that relief was meaningful the case was not moot. QED as the logicians say. More
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
ADA defendants just won two significant victories concerning internet accessibility. In a March 20, 2017 decision in Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC, Case No. 2:16-cv-06599, (C.D. Cal.) Judge Otero dismissed a claim concerning the accessibility of Dominos’ web site and mobile app based on a due process objection. The Court found that DOJ’s failure to issue regulations implicated the holding in United States v. AMC Entertainment, 549 F. 3d 760 (9th Cir. 2008) that a failure to give fair notice of what was required violated due process. In Gomez v. Bang & Olufsen America, Inc., Case No. 1:16-cv-23801 (S.D. Fla) Judge Lenard adopted a rule derived from earlier cases in the 11th and 9th Circuits that that a claim under the ADA exists if “a website’s inaccessibility impedes the plaintiff’s “access to a specific, physical, concrete space.” He then dismissed the complaint because the plaintiff failed to allege with sufficient specificity that his access to the brick and mortar stores had been impeded. The holding seems more restrictive than the case on which he relies, National Association of the Blind v. Target Corp., 452 F.Supp.2d 946, 956 (N.D. Cal. 2006), but the differences are not explored in the opinion.
A few weeks earlier one of the leading plaintiffs’ firms in the field of internet accessibility entered into an agreement not to sue banks in Texas as part of a settlement of a barratry case brought by a banking trade association, another victory that shows one way to deal with serial or “drive-by” lawsuits. The Texas legislature is also considering an anti-troll law that would make bad faith ADA demands a violation of the law. If such a law survived a preemption challenge it might also help eliminate such lawsuits.
Hooray! Or maybe not. The two district court decisions only have persuasive value with respect to other district courts, and Judge Lenard’s decision turns on a defect in pleading that could be cured by amendment. The Texas bank settlement is just that; a settlement, and it was based on procedural rather than substantive issues. Judge Otero’s decision will certainly act as a roadmap for those who want to mount a vigorous defense to the next ADA internet claim, but it rests on 9th Circuit case law that might not be accepted in other circuits and its reasoning has already been rejected in other districts. At the end of the day these decisions represent nothing but the ordinary ebb and flow of ADA decisions in which defendants win some and lose some and then usually settle.
The state of law, in the meantime, remains mixed. In the 9th Circuit and 11th Circuit a pure internet business is not covered by the ADA. In the 9th and 11th Circuits a business with a physical presence and a web presence may be subject to the auxiliary aids and services requirement of the ADA, but the needed connection between the website and the physical store remains largely undefined. Finally, in some courts and circuits it appears the ADA applies to every website, regardless of its relationship to physical store. Because internet business is at least national most potential defendants will find their liability depends on where they are sued.
Continuing to move toward website accessibility is the most prudent strategy for any business that can afford it. Smaller enterprises that find the cost prohibitive may choose for strategic reasons to wait until the software tools improve and costs go down, but even smaller businesses should take the handful of relatively cheap steps available to improve accessibility, including the provision of a toll-free customer assistance number like that provided by Dominos Pizza. Recent victories are nice, but until the Supreme Court rules on the ADA and internet the state of the law will remain confused, and litigation avoidance will be the best strategy.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Point of Sale, ADA Vending Machines, Internet, Internet Accessibility Tags: ADA, Forbes, internet, Magee v Coca Cola, Vending Machines
I blogged last year about the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Magee v. Coca–Cola Refreshments USA, Inc., 833 F.3d 530, 531 (5th Cir. 2016) (ADA and the Internet – what non-internet cases can tell us.) as well as the District Court’s similar holding (Vending Machines and the ADA). It looked like an interesting case, and it seems the Supreme Court may agree. As reported by Dan Fisher in Forbes (Supreme Court asks government if a Coke machine must be ADA compliant),* on February 27 the Supreme Court docketed a request to the Solicitor General for input on Magee’s pending petition for certiorari. The Supreme Court’s ADA decisions have focused almost exclusively on employment and education, not business accessibility, and while certiorari has not been granted, this request shows unusual interest in this aspect of the ADA. More