Happy Valentine’s Day. The last few weeks have brought the usual assortment of cases, some of more interest than others. I’ll lead with a personal jurisdiction case that has the potential to be important for website accessibility lawsuits.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Mootness Tags: ADA defense, ADA Mootness, ADA standing, FHA Defense, Landis v Mariners, unruh act
The blog a day pace I thought I might hit hasn’t happened but I’m not giving up. Here is the first of several Quick Hits on recent ADA and FHA developments.
ADA standing – aiming to high leads to a crash and burn.
It appears the plaintiff in Rizzi v. Hilton Dom. Operating Co., Inc., 2019 WL 4744209 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2019) decided to attack not one, but all of the websites operated by the defendant hotel company. Unfortunately, this meant the plaintiff could not identify any single website to which he plausibly intended to return. Litigation filed in the public interest rather than to alleviate an individual harm is the proper business of the Department of Justice, which has no similar limits on standing to sue. More
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 - 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, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Web Access, ADA Website Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, ADA drive-by, ADA serial litigation, ADA standing, ADA website, Maximilian Travis, Vaughn & Associates
Today’s blog concerns a couple of cases reported to me by colleagues in California and New York. They give a snapshot of how courts at both ends of the country are thinking about ADA lawsuits. The snapshot at left is pretty much in the middle, near Telluride Colorado.
Welcome to the Hotel California
I was alerted to the California case, Whitaker v. ARS REI USA Corp., by Vaughn & Associates, who represent the defendant. The case illustrates the odd yin and yang of litigation in California, where the shifting tides of state law have altered the litigation landscape in recent years. To understand why requires a little background. California’s Unruh Act parallels the ADA but provides for statutory damages of $4,000 per violation. The ADA does not provide for damages, so an Unruh Act claim is better for the plaintiff. That damage remedy has driven ADA litigation at volumes that make California a clear leader in the number of ADA lawsuits filed if state and federal court cases are counted. More