Plaintiff Lacks Standing to Claim Website Violates ADA Where It Does Not Impede Ability to Access Physical Location of the Business
With the rise in lawsuits under Title III of the ADA regarding accessibility of websites, Courts have been framing how such claims fit into the law’s requirements for accessibility at places of public accommodation. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently provided additional clarification in Gomez v. Knife Management, LLC (S.D. Fla. Sep. 14, 2018). The Defendant owns and operates a chain of restaurants. There is no dispute that the restaurants are places of public accommodation covered by the ADA. Defendant also maintains a website with information about the restaurants. Plaintiff alleged that he was unable to fully utilize the website because he is vision impaired and portions of the website are not readable by screen reader software. However, Plaintiff did not allege that he attempted to visit one of the restaurants, that he intended to visit one in the future, or that the website impeded his ability to access the restaurants or the goods and services they offered.
There have been many decisions evaluating how a website could fall under the ADA’s coverage of public accommodation the way that a physical “brick and mortar” store or restaurant would be covered. Courts have generally concluded that there must be some nexus between the website and access to the physical location such that the ADA would prohibit a website from impeding a disabled person’s full use and enjoyment of the physical location. It is not enough for an individual to claim that the website only denied access to information about the physical location. An individual would have to show that he/she was an unable to access the website and an intent to patronize the physical location again if there was access to the website. An individual could also state a claim if he/she could show that the website impeded their ability to access to the physical locations or the goods or services offered there.
In this case, the Plaintiff did not claim he intended to visit the restaurant in the near future or ever for that matter. He also did not allege that the website impeded his ability to access the restaurant. The claims were dismissed because he only claimed that he “attempted to access” the website “but was unable to…enjoy full and equal access…and/or understand the content.” As such, access to the website was not tied to his access to the restaurant. With no nexus between the website and the ability to access to the physical location Plaintiff lacked standing to bring his ADA claims.
Despite this decision, we do not expect the wave of website accessibility cases to slow down anytime soon. While the Court concluded that the Plaintiff’s allegations were insufficient in this case, it also provided a road map for what must be alleged to state a valid claim. Any Company operating a place of public accommodation must therefore remain vigilant with regard to the accessibility of its website.