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