Today’s decision in Carroll v. Northwest Federal Credit Union, 1:17-cv-01205 (E.D. Va. January 26, 2018) is a significant victory for every membership organization with a website.* Judge Claude Hilton found that the plaintiff in this case, a serial filer who has attacked a significant number of credit unions, did not have standing because he did not qualify for membership in the defendant credit union. The Court’s explanation:
“Defendant cannot make this showing because he has not established that is entitled, or would ever be entitled, to utilize any services provided by Northwest FCU.”
Thus, while the website is open to the public, the services it provides are not.
Carroll v. Northwest Federal Credit Union is similar in some ways to the decision in Gomez v. Bang & Olufsen Am., Inc., 2017 WL 1957182 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 2, 2017). In that case the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed based on a lack of standing because he never alleged that he wanted to go to or was hindered from using any of Bang and Olufsen’s physical stores. The website did not provide for on-line purchases, so a denial of access to the website would only harm someone who ultimately intended to go to a physical store.
Not mentioned in either decision, but implicit in both, is a rejection of the notion that a psychic injury of some kind can give standing to sue under the ADA. ADA plaintiffs often plead that they were insulted, demeaned or otherwise traumatized by being confronted by inaccessible websites or physical locations. These cases strengthen the argument that for websites, at least, an intent to use is required for standing, and that psychic injury is not enough.**
*Thanks to Tina Orem of the Credit Union Times for alerting me to this decision.
** Judge Hilton also found that the website was not a place of public accommodation at all. In this respect the decision is an outlier that will probably have little influence on ADA and website jurisprudence. For those who are sued in the Western District of Virginia, however, this will also be an important part of the ruling.