As I predicted, the United States Supreme Court denied Domino’s Petition for Certiorari today. It did so without any formal explanation – the case is simply listed as one of many for which cert was denied. I’m sure the blogosphere and many business groups will decry the lost opportunity for a ruling that might limit ADA website litigation, but after thinking it over I don’t think there was ever much the Supreme Court could have done that would deter ADA website filers. The split in the circuits that was used to justify the Supreme Court’s interest only concerned whether websites with no affiliated physical place of business are covered by the ADA. A favorable decision would have still left the vast majority of businesses at risk. Equally important, the U.S. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over state versions of the ADA, meaning that plaintiffs in two of the hottest states for these lawsuits, California and New York, could keep filing under state law. Finally, and most important, almost all ADA website cases are filed only to get money for the lawyers who file them. The settlement dynamics are simple – a business pays the lawyers less than the cost of a basic defense and agrees to fix its website because it makes economic sense to do so. No matter what the Supreme Court might have done it could not have significantly changed that settlement dynamic, for even the most business friendly decision could only give defendants a reasonable chance of success on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The Supreme Court could not make that motion cheap enough to beat the certainty of settlement because the cost of such a motion is deeply embedded in the structure of the Rules of Federal Procedure. Even more important, the heads I win, tails you still lose advantage on recovery of attorneys fees for plaintiff’s is one fundamental driver of all ADA litigation and the Supreme Court can’t do anything about that without overturning decades of civil rights precedent. The Supreme Court could favorably rule on standing issues in a case I’ll blog about tomorrow, but the refusal of cert. in Domino’s is only a mild disappointment because the real solution remains with Congress.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Litigation Procedure, ADA Mootness, ADA regulations, ADA Web Access, ADA Website Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, ADA reasonable accommodation, ADA standing, FHA Defense, Strojnik
Halloween is a month away, but the candy is on the shelves at our local grocery stores and the courts are already delivering tricks and treats for those of us concerned with accessibility lawsuits.
The complexities of accessibility in federal programs.
Ramos v. Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, 2019 WL 4316575 (D.N.J. Sept. 12, 2019) contains more law than can be easily summarized, covering:
- HUD and federal sovereign immunity under the ADA, FHA and Rehabilitation Act
- Standing for complaints of administrative action where federal sovereign immunity is waived.
- State sovereign immunity under the ADA and FHA
- The elements of a failure to accommodate claim
- And of intentional discrimination claims.
The most interesting thing to me about the case is the facts that gave rise to it, for the complaints that will ultimately go forward seem to reflect the state agency’s stubborn refusal to be helpful to a disabled couple. If the allegations are true the state would not provide forms and letters with a font big enough for the vision disabled plaintiffs to read them and refused to meet either at their residence or by video conference to accommodate their inability to travel. This, by the way, was after the parties had reached a conciliation agreement that supposedly resolved the matter. Agencies, landlords and others who want to stay out of court should think of the accommodation process as a shared effort to solve a problem, not an adversary proceeding to be won or lost.
Bone v. U. of N. Carolina Health Care System, 2019 WL 4393531 (M.D.N.C. Sept. 13, 2019), like Ramos, has a complicated set of facts and an equally complicated series of rulings on issues that include associational standing and liability for the acts of contractors. It also shares the appearance that nobody associated with the defendants was really paying attention, which is always a problem in a bureaucracy. It’s quite possible the low level employee charged with delivering braille invoices to the plaintiffs thought a few months was reasonable turn around time given the seemingly eternal delays associated with hospital billing and reimbursement, but from the plaintiff’s standpoint getting collection notices for invoices he couldn’t read was disturbing. One question, however, is never raised or answered. There are a large number of handheld text reading devices available for the blind, and it would seem such devices could be a reasonable substitute for braille. At what point does the refusal of a disabled person to take advantage of new technologies make his or her request for accommodation unreasonable? More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA FHA Litigation General, FHA, FHA Reasonable Accommodation, Reasonable accommodation Tags: FHA accommodation, FHA Defense, FHA may be necessary, Salute v Stratford Greens, Shaw v Habitat
One of the more frequently quoted cases dealing with the relationship between the FHA and poverty is Salute v. Stratford Greens Garden Apartments, 136 F.3d 293, 301 (2d Cir. 1998). In Stratford the Second Circuit wrote that the FHA “addresses the accommodation of handicaps, not the alleviation of economic disadvantages that may be correlated with having handicaps.” The 11th Circuit’s decision in Schaw v. Habitat for Humanity, 938 F.3d 1259 (11th Cir. Sept. 18, 2019) takes up the question of just where one draws the line between disability discrimination and economic discrimination. Along the way it also clarifies who gets to decide what accommodation is required and just what “necessary” means. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Mootness, FHA, FHA design/build litigation, FHA Emotional Support Animals Tags: ADA defense, ADA Stadium, ADA standing, ADA Website Litigation, FHA Defense, Olmstead
A hodgepodge, I just learned, is a not just a word for a confusing mixture, but also the name of a vegetable stew. The FHA and ADA decisions of the last few weeks may not be tasty, but they are varied. I’ve put the FHA case first because it involved an unforced error and illustrates why landlords of all sizes need to be aware of what the FHA permits and denies.
FHA disability claims – get it right the first time.
In Root v. Salazar, 2019 WL 4040405 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 27, 2019) made a critical mistake. Having in hand a legitimate non-discriminatory reason to refuse to rent he instead made an excuse that probably seemed more legitimate but wasn’t. The legitimate excuse was the tenant’s lack of steady income. The FHA does not require that landlords take financial risks to accommodate disabled tenants. The illegitimate excuse was that the duplex in question did not meet the FHA’s accessibility guidelines. A fundamental principle under the FHA, ADA and other similar disability laws is that the tenant gets to decide what he or she needs. It may seem helpful to tell a prospective tenant why they should rent elsewhere, but if the tenant is disabled or a member of a protected class that helpfulness will look like illegal discrimination. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Litigation Procedure, ADA Website Accessibility, Internet, Internet Accessibility Tags: Accessibility tools, ADA defense, ADA experts, ADA Website Litigation, Diaz v General Nutrition, Diaz v Lobel's
Two weeks ago I wrote about Diaz v. Lobels,* a case I think exemplifies some of the confusion concerning just what an accessible website should be. Today I want to take a harder look at the Court’s exclusion of testimony from the plaintiff’s expert to ask the question: Just what should an ADA expert testify about? The issue has come up in only three reported cases, each of which has its own take on the matter.
The exclusion of the plaintiff’s expert testimony in Diaz v. Lobels was based on two failings. The Court found the expert, Michael McCaffrey, failed to sufficiently describe his methodology and process, and failed to establish the methods were widely accepted or standard in the field. The Court did not reject the assumption underlying the report because the plaintiff and defendant stipulated that compliance with WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 would make the website accessible for ADA purposes and that non-compliance would make it inaccessible. Instead the Court focused on the “high level” description of the methods used by the team of individuals working for the expert, which the Court found insufficient when combined with a lack of testimony concerning the standards used. More