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September 22, 2020

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September 21, 2020

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Eleventh Circuit Doesn’t Give a Hoot About Prior Settlement Agreements

On June 19, 2018, in Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC, 2018 WL 3030840 (11th Cir. 2018), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals eliminated a useful defense strategy in the website accessibility arena when it held that a business’s agreement to remediate its website in a prior, private settlement did not render moot subsequent actions seeking the same relief. 

The decision vacated and remanded a business-friendly decision by the Southern District of Florida granting a motion to dismiss, finding the dispute was still “live” after considering the following factors:

  • whether there was evidence in the record that the business had been complying with the earlier settlement agreement;

  • whether the injunction sought by the plaintiff sought continually updating and maintenance of its website to ensure accessibility—relief different than agreed to in the settlement agreement; and

  • whether the current plaintiff could enforce the prior remediation commitments if he or she was not a party to the prior settlement agreement.

Importantly, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the district court did not retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement, preventing the court from ordering the relief to occur. Businesses should note that having the court retain jurisdiction over enforcement of a private settlement agreement enhances the chances of using the settlement to preclude future actions seeking the same relief, while by no means guaranteeing that result.

Key Takeaways

This holding deals a blow to businesses that have entered into settlement agreements in part to obtain “insurance” against future website accessibility claims. In fact, as a result of this holding, places of public accommodation may start declining to settle such claims going forward, as a mere settlement agreement will not prevent future claimants from bringing copycat claims.

The holding also underscores the utility of including language in settlement agreements to have the court retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement, which may provide a better chance of precluding future actions seeking the same relief. With the Eleventh Circuit’s decision eliminating one popular option, businesses may want to also consider the prospect of a consent decree or a voluntary class action as potential options that may have a better chance of providing the desired preclusive effect. Of course, each of these options requires consideration of a wide range of pros and cons.    

© 2020, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume VIII, Number 171


About this Author

Jennifer S. Rusie, Ogletree Deakins, employment litigation lawyer, common law wrongful termination attorney

Jennifer Rusie represents management in the area of labor and employment law with an emphasis on employment litigation, including cases involving Title VII, the ADAAA, ADEA, FMLA, FLSA, common law wrongful termination, and restrictive covenants. Jennifer also focuses on the area of compliance with disability access laws such as Title III of the ADA. In addition to representing and counseling employers in labor and employment matters, Jennifer represents companies in general litigation matters ranging from Tennessee Consumer Protection Act claims to contract disputes and...

David Raizman, Disability RIghts Practice, Attorney, Ogletree Deakins Law Firm

David Raizman is nationally known for his disability rights practice, specifically for his work under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2012, he was recognized by the Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the top labor and employment attorneys in California and has been recognized multiple times as a Southern California Super Lawyer.

David works extensively with hotels, sports franchises, stadium and arena owners and operators, amusement parks, theaters, retailers, municipalities and many other clients with operations open to the public to help secure their compliance with disability access laws and to defend the class action and other litigation that is frequently brought against them. In addition to his disability rights experience, David has a thriving practice focused on defending employers on the full range of employment claims, including discrimination and harassment, wage and hour, family and medical leave laws and trade secret and non-compete issues.