In the space of three days in early December four different courts took very different approaches to standing allegations by serial ADA litigants. A comparison shows there is no certainty in how the law will be applied in ADA cases at the District Court level because neither the Constitution nor the pronouncements of the Supreme Court appear to matter when it comes to standing decisions. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA, ADA - serial litigation, FHA Reasonable Accommodation, Internet Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, drive-by lawsuits, FHA Defense, opioids, website accessibility
Fall mushrooms are beautiful, but also potentially poisonous, which is a real stretch for an analogy to the disability protection provisions of the ADA and FHA. Here’s a roundup of the latest decisions.
Website accessibility – let’s review
- Websites are covered by Title III of the ADA only as a service or means of communication for a physical place of business. That nexus requirement implies that to suffer an ADA injury from an inaccessible website the plaintiff must be seeking the goods and services offered by the physical business.
- Websites are covered by Title III of the ADA when associated with a physical place of business, but a plaintiff can suffer an ADA injury from being denied access to the website regardless of whether they seek the goods and services of the physical business.
- Websites are public accommodations covered by Title III of the ADA regardless of whether they are associated with a physical place of business, so a denial of access necessarily causes the plaintiff to suffer an ADA injury.
The first and third choices have their own logic, but the middle one makes no sense at all. An ADA injury arises when the plaintiff is denied access to the goods and services of a public accommodation. If the plaintiff has no interest in those goods and services then a denial of access causes no injury.² Decisions like Roman v Greenwich Village Dental do nothing to help those with disabilities who might need access to the goods and services of a business but do help lawyers get rich and create the legal atmosphere in which some plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t bother with having a real plaintiff (see Antonini v. Nieves below). After all, if you don’t need a real injury to maintain a suit under Title III of the ADA why bother having a real person as plaintiff?
Speaking of fees . . .
Williams v Kincaid, 2022 WL 3364824 (4th Cir. August 16, 2022) is not the first case to consider gender dysphoria as a disability, and marks the second time the Fourth Circuit has considered the difference between gender identity and gender dysphoria.¹ However, as a circuit court opinion holding that gender dysphoria can be a disability covered by the ADA it has special prominence, not only because of its possible effect on individuals suffering from gender dysphoria, but also because of what it teaches about interpreting the ADA in light of changing science and technology and the possible need for updating the ADA’s definitions in light of those changes.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet Web, ADA Litigation Procedure, FHA, FHA design/build litigation, Internet Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, Apex Trial Law, FHA Defense, Martinez v Cot'n Wash, Pacific Trial Group, Red Rocks
August is (in Texas at least) the month of afternoon thunderstorms. It’s a good metaphor for running a business subject to the ADA or FHA. Everything’s sunny and warm one minute then suddenly the wind is blowing and you are soaking wet. But the plants need the rain, so as usual there’s good and bad in ADA and FHA developments.
Unruh Act and the Internet – half a loaf is better than none.
You can read a detailed analysis of Matinez v. Cot’n Wash in Bill Goren’s blog “Gateway is Everything in California” so I’ll just hit the highlights. There is an ongoing controversy about whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to the websites of businesses with no physical facility open to the public. Some courts say yes and some say no. The Ninth Circuit, which covers federal courts in California, says “no.” As result the most prolific serial ADA filers, including the Pacific Trial Group and Apex Trial Law¹ turned in recent years to California’s Unruh Act and the California state courts, arguing that the Unruh Act does cover online only businesses. At least some lower California courts have agreed, but in Martinez v. Cot’n Wash one California Appeals court (there are six in all) said no, holding that the Unruh Act does not apply to the websites of online only businesses. This is big news coming from a state where thousands of serial ADA lawsuits and even more demand letters are sent every year. It isn’t the end of the road. While the decision is binding on lower courts, it isn’t binding on other California appellate courts or on the California Supreme Court, to which Marinez v. Cot’n Wash is likely headed. It also doesn’t apply to websites associated with physical facilities open to the public so it is not likely to lead to an immediate end of demand letters and lawsuits. California’s ADA litigation industry relies more on the threat of costly litigation than on the reality of winning and losing so until making a threat is sanctionable (which will require that the California Supreme Court speak) they probably won’t slow down. It likely though that the price of settlement will go down as it already has in face of other less dramatic losses in the last couple of years.
And for a different view of website accessibility.
I’m not above patting myself on the back, and today Judge Sam Lindsay granted a Motion to Dismiss I filed for the defendant in Segovia v. Admiral Realty, Inc., Case No. 3:21-cv-2478 (N.D. Texas August 4, 2022). Judge Lindsay found, correctly, that Segovia had failed to plead the concrete and particularized injury and imminent threat of future harm required to maintain an action under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Segovia and his lawyers¹ have filed the same form complaint in at least 31 lawsuits in the Northern District of Texas, and every single one of those cases that is still open should be subject to dismissal based on the same reasoning used by Judge Lindsay.² This isn’t, by the way, Segovia’s first setback. In June he voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit against another of my clients because he had made a fatal error when amending his complaint to avoid my original motion to dismiss. In July his attorneys voluntarily dismissed an almost identical complaint against one of my clients (though filed by a different serial ADA filer) rather than face the possibility of losing on summary judgment.
The conventional wisdom in the kind of serial ADA case filed by Segovia is that a quick settlement is the cheapest way out, but with Judge Lindsay’s opinion clients willing to take some risk could well decide they are not interested in paying off plaintiffs like Segovia whose industrial approach to litigation seems to be more about making money than helping those with disabilities.
¹ He was represented in this case by William Strickland. He is represented in others by Matthew Sapp and Michael Sturgill of the Sapp Sturgill firm.
² Other District Judges are not obligated to agree with their colleagues, so other judges in the Northern District might reach a different result, but it is reasonable to hope other judges will appreciate the value of consistency among different courts when confronted with identical claims.