March 19, 2019

March 18, 2019

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Ninth Circuit: Domino's Website Required to Comply With ADA

Litigation surrounding the accessibility of online services continues to evolve. On January 15, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the website and mobile app of Domino's Pizza must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make these online services fully accessible to the visually impaired.

In Robles v. Domino's LLC, Guillermo Robles—who is visually impaired—brought suit in 2016 claiming the pizza chain's website not only precluded him from ordering a customized pizza, but also made online coupons inaccessible. Mr. Robles sought an order requiring compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), an international voluntary standard for making online content accessible.

His case initially was dismissed in 2017 by a district court judge who held that while the ADA covered the company's website, imposing liability on Domino's would violate the company's 14th Amendment right to due process because the Department of Justice (DOJ) had not yet promulgated regulatory standards for online accessibility. In doing so, the court invoked the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, which allows courts to stay proceedings or dismiss a complaint without prejudice pending the resolution of an issue within the special competence of an administrative agency.

The Ninth Circuit's three-judge panel reversed, writing that Domino's had "been on notice that its online offerings must effectively communicate with its disabled customers and facilitate 'full and equal enjoyment' of Domino's goods and services." The Court added that a lack of specific regulations did not eliminate the company's clear statutory duty, and the Constitution does not require the DOJ to "spell out exactly how Domino’s should fulfill [its] obligation." The court also held that the district court had erred in invoking primary jurisdiction because the DOJ's withdrawal of its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking meant that undue delay in a resolution was inevitable, and such a delay was unnecessary because the application of the ADA was within the district court's competence.

The court additionally found that the ADA applied to Domino's website and mobile app because their inaccessibility "impedes access to goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation." The court added that the statute applies to services of a place of public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation.

As a result, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court to determine, after discovery, if the "Domino's website and app provide the blind with effective communication and full and equal enjoyment of its products and services as the ADA mandates."

While the Ninth Circuit has indicated its position, the legal landscape regarding online accessibility remains uncertain. The 11th Circuit heard oral arguments in the noteworthy Winn-Dixie case on October 4, 2018, but has yet to issue a ruling. In that case, a plaintiff similarly claims that a grocery store's website is inaccessible to blind individuals.

As some courts have required companies' websites to be ADA compliant—and in light of DOJ's indefinite inaction—businesses are encouraged to review their policies to ensure online accessibility is being addressed.

Copyright © by Ballard Spahr LLP

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Brian Huben, Ballard Spahr Law Firm, Los Angeles, Bankruptcy Law Attorney
Partner

Brian D. Huben focuses his practice on the representation of commercial landlords and shopping center owners, managers, and developers, representing them in commercial litigation in state and federal courts. Brian handles retail bankruptcies, representing landlords and other creditors throughout the United States, and often providing counsel to dozens of shopping center owners in each matter. He also advises commercial landlords in everyday operational matters including evictions, breach of lease issues, public access, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Michelle McGeogh, Ballard Spahr Law Firm, Baltimore, Labor and Employment, Real Estate Litigation Attorney
Of Counsel

Michelle McGeogh has extensive experience in real estate litigation on behalf of property owners, investors, and developers. Michelle is experienced in a diverse range of real estate and commercial litigation, including commercial foreclosures, lender liability and landlord/tenant law. She regularly represents commercial landlords in state court proceedings and bankruptcy proceedings, and has defended landlords from breach of contract, negligence, and fraud claims. Michelle also represents financial institutions and special servicers of mortgage loans in disputes involving lender liability, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and foreclosure. She has successfully obtained receivers and enforced orders appointing receivers in connection with defaulted commercial loans.

Michelle also represents employers across industries in a broad range of employment disputes. Michelle regularly advises clients in matters involving discrimination, retaliation, wage and hour issues, reductions in force, restrictive covenants, the Family Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. She regularly provides guidance and training to employers looking to implement effective workplace policies. She partners with clients to proactively identify issues and create legal solutions, specifically tailored to the client's workforce and business needs. Michelle has advised numerous clients with respect to matters involving allegations of workplace sexual harassment, providing advise on how to implement effective programs that encourage a professional work environment.

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Olabisi Okubadejo, Ballard Spahr Law Firm, Baltimore, Higher Education and Labor Employment Attorney
Of Counsel

Olabisi "Bisi" Ladeji Okubadejo represents institutions of higher education and business entities in civil rights and employment matters, with a particular focus on matters arising from alleged discrimination on the basis of race, disability, age, religion, and sex, including sexual harassment and sexual violence. She has experience both as an attorney in private practice and with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). She advises clients on complying with various federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Titles VI and...

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Maraya N. Pratt, Ballard Spahr, litigation lawyer
Associate

Maraya N. Pratt is an associate in the firm’s Litigation Department. Prior to joining the firm, Maraya’s practice focused on civil litigation within the insurance industry, including insurance fraud, coverage and liability issues, and tort defense.

During law school, Maraya gained additional litigation experience while serving as a law clerk at the Maryland Attorney General's Health Occupations Prosecution and Litigation Division assisting in the prosecution of disciplinary matters against health care professionals, and as a law clerk at a Maryland based business litigation law firm...

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