- I’ve expanded the previous post in this space on Braille gift cards into a longer Cato post with a bit more on the politics and history of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), mentioning along the way the recent closure of a popular San Jose coffee shop [Nadia Lopez, San Jose Spotlight; another San Jose deli story] Speaking of such happenings, “He says the suit could mean the end of the restaurant. ‘We would rather just close down if we have to pay that absurd amount of money,’ he says.” [Rancho Vegano in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood; Michael Scotto, NY1 Spectrum News]
- “It’s about time! New rule could have emotional support animals bumped from planes” [Lynn Norment, Memphis Commercial Appeal; Wes Siler, Outside; David Koenig, AP]
- Videos on leading pornographic websites “lack enough closed captioning, claims the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of all deaf and hard-of-hearing people.” [Noah Goldberg, New York Daily News]
- “Federal Website Access Lawsuit Numbers Increase 7 Percent in 2019, With Possible Bump from Supreme Court Denial of Cert in Domino’s” [Kristina M. Launey and Minh N. Vu, Seyfarth Shaw; Vu on related litigation trends in 2019]
- “White students in New York City are 10 times as likely as Asian students to have a 504 designation that allows extra time on the specialized high school entrance exams.” [Kevin Quealy and Eliza Shapiro, New York Times; Dana Goldstein and Jugal K. Patel, New York Times (“it helps to have cash” in getting pricey psychological assessments in Southern California); Education Next (“number of high school students being given special allowances for test-taking, such as extra time, has surged in recent years” with students in affluent suburbs more likely to get them)]
- “Law firms settle suit accusing them of civil RICO conspiracy to collect ADA settlements” [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; Moore and Mission law firms, California; KGO/ABC7News on some Bay Area cases]
Over a period of eight days last fall, four law firms and associated clients who had earlier filed hundreds of web accessibility suits in New York launched a new wave of more than 100 putative class actions charging that retailers are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by offering gift cards but failing to provide Braille versions. [Minh N. Vu and John W. Egan, Seyfarth Shaw]
Typically, according to the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY), “a successful plaintiff in [a local web accessibility] settlement will receive only $500 per case, but attorney’s fees average many times that amount, approximately $16,000 per case or more, depending on the law firm, the court and other factors, thereby giving plaintiff’s lawyers ample incentive to file as many cases as possible.” One attorney has made about a million dollars a year this way over eight years. “The targets selected by plaintiffs in this new wave run the full gamut of retail establishments, including big box retailers, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, clothing brands, and online gaming and other services.” [Ryan P. Phair, M. Brett Burns & Torsten M. Kracht, Hunton Andrews Kurth]
- Supreme Court declines review in Domino’s case, so no resolution is in sight of what and how much the ADA may require about web accessibility [Tucker Higgins, CNBC; Corbin Barthold, Law and Liberty; earlier]
- NYC co-ops, condos targeted: “These lawyers have one handicapped client, and they go with this person from building to building with commercial spaces.” [Marianne Schaefer, Habitat magazine] Related: John Egan, Seyfarth Shaw;
- “Airline’s Provision of Alternative Accessible Website Triggers Hefty Fine Under the Air Carrier Access Act” [Kristina M. Launey & Minh N. Vu, Seyfarth Shaw last winter]
- “A handy FAQ for service animals in the workplace” [Jon Hyman]
- “Thus far, these serial cases appear [more] designed to extract a quick settlement than rectify a real harm, as evidenced by the choice of plaintiff,” who couldn’t actually join credit union but sued anyway [Hollie Ferguson, Legal NewsLine] “Federal judge deals body blow to attorney at center of serial ADA lawsuits” [Casmira Harrison, Daytona Beach News-Journal; Minh Vu, Seyfarth Shaw]
- Law School Admissions Test will be doing away with its analytical reasoning portion, also known as logic problems, after a blind plaintiff sued saying it “it wasn’t fair for visually impaired people because the most common way to solve the problems was to draw diagrams and pictures.” [Cheyna Roth, Michigan Radio (NPR)]
- Housing authority in Meeker, Colorado, population 2,250, will pay nearly $1 million to settle suit over limits on emotional support animals [Niki Turner, Rio Blanco Herald-Times, Kathleen Foody, Associated Press/Colorado Sun, Stina Sieg, Colorado Public Radio]
- Volume of web-accessibility suits continues to climb [Seyfarth Shaw; John Breslin, Florida Record] More on growth of this litigation [podcast with Karen Harned, NFIB, for Federalist Society Regulatory Transparency Project (earlier on pool lifts)] “DOJ Says Failure to Comply With Web Accessibility Guidelines is Not Necessarily a Violation of the ADA” [Minh Vu, Seyfarth Shaw, from last October] Second Circuit dismissal of web-access complaint in Diaz v. Apple, Inc. could be helpful to defendants [Joshua Stein and Shira Blank, National Law Review]
- Report on ADA filing mills in Rochester and vicinity [Berkeley Brean, WHEC: first, second, third (colleges), fourth, fifth]
- And more on New York mass filing operations: Inveterate suer of restaurants reaches Staten Island [Pamela Silvestri, SI Live] Finger Lakes wineries targeted [Jane Flasch/WHAM in February; Michael J. Fitzgerald, Finger Lakes Times] “Finkelstein has gone on a lawsuit-filing spree since getting his law license back in New York state in 2016,” and among his 50 ADA suits are some the named plaintiff says he didn’t know about [Julia Marsh, New York Post]
- In EEOC-land no one can hear you honk [press release on EEOC lawsuit against limo service that declined to hire deaf driver]
- “Washington Supreme Court Says Obesity Is a Disability” [Ben McDonald, and thanks for quote; earlier]
Multiple free-market and business groups “agree on one thing… With plaintiffs’ lawyers filing thousands of lawsuits a year against businesses with allegedly inaccessible internet operations, it’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify whether and to what extent the ADA applies to online commerce. The groups all filed amicus briefs [last] Monday, asking the justices to grant a petition for review of a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed a blind Domino’s Pizza customer to sue over the company’s website.” [Alison Frankel, Reuters; Ilya Shapiro and Sam Spiegelman, Cato; Karen Kidd, Legal NewsLine] The circuits are split, with the First, Second, and Seventh interpreting the ADA to require accessibility for web-based services, while the Third, Sixth and Eleventh say it relates to brick-and-mortar enterprise or is satisfied by the provision of at least one accessible way of obtaining service. The Ninth Circuit came out somewhere in between in its ruling against Domino’s. Frankel:
DOJ comes in for considerable flak in Cato’s amicus brief, which described the executive branch’s contortions over ADA website accessibility. As the Cato brief pointed out, DOJ “nearly parodied its confused positions” when it argued in two different amicus briefs that Netflix’s video-streaming service was a public accommodation that should be fully accessible to deaf customers – but that MIT’s online video streaming service was not. “This split-hair legal distinction can have substantial real-life costs on the ground and in the courthouse,” Cato said.
Regulated businesses have been calling for years for a clarification of the confused judicial state of ADA internet law. [John D. McMickle, WLF] Last year, six Senators and 103 members of the House of Representatives sent letters urging the Department of Justice to issue clarifying guidelines as to whether the ADA covers websites, though it might be pointed out that Congress itself holds the power to draft and send to the President legislation to accomplish exactly such clarification. [Kristina Launey, Seyfarth Shaw]
For years now regulated parties (which means much of the country) have been waiting urgently for an answer to the question of whether and to what extent the Americans with Disabilities Act requires websites to be made accessible to blind, deaf, and other disabled users. (Coverage of this issue here dates back two decades.) Now the Supreme Court will be asked to review a much-watched case against Domino’s Pizza (earlier) which resulted in a plaintiff’s win before the Ninth Circuit. Four other appeals court rulings have addressed the issue. Will this be the case that finally reaches the high court?
[Frank Cruz-Alvarez and Talia Zucker, Washington Legal Foundation Kristina Launey and Minh Vu/Seyfarth Shaw, January and March posts; J. Gregory Grisham, Federalist Society; Nicole Porter where SCOTUS may be headed on disability issues]
“A Committee in the New York State Senate aims to develop a legal standard for the accessibility of business websites under New York law, in response to the exponential increase in website accessibility litigation in the state. Whether state legislation could stem this tide, or instead make matters worse for businesses, remains to be seen.” [John W. Egan and Minh N. Vu, Seyfarth Shaw; Dan M. Clark, New York Law Journal] On the surge in web accessibility suits, which nearly tripled in 2018 from the previous year, see Seyfarth’s reports here and here from January, and Usable.net here and here.
“A legally blind Queens man is suing Playboy.com, saying the website is incompatible with his screen-reading software. Donald Nixon’s class action lawsuit charges the entertainment website with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.” [Emily Saul, New York Post last winter]
More than 75 New York City art galleries “have been hit with lawsuits alleging they are violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) because their websites are not equally accessible to blind and visually impaired consumers. Art galleries are the latest business sector to be targeted with a wave of such lawsuits. Thousands of other businesses, including hotels, resorts, universities, and restaurants have been served with similar complaints last year.” Deshawn Dawson, a legally blind person living in Brooklyn, has filed at least 37 of the suits; he along with another frequent filer are often represented by attorneys Joseph Mizrahi and Jeffrey Gottlieb. Art and design schools around the country have also been hit, and some New York galleries have settled claims rather than take the risks of litigation and a possible adverse verdict [Eileen Kinsella, Artnet News, first, second, third pieces]
Ohio has passed a bill giving targets of ADA accessibility complaints a chance to fix the issue before becoming liable for attorneys’ fees, and a California state judge has ruled that the state’s jackpot Unruh Act does not cover website accessibility claims. Those are two bits of favorable news amid a lot of continued bad news, I argue in a new Cato post.
Related: Domino’s argues before a Ninth Circuit panel in a web accessibility case [Kristina Launey, Seyfarth Shaw]:
Domino’s argued, as a possible explanation for DOJ’s inaction: “there is no such thing as an accessible website, and there never will be.” He cited the plaintiff’s expert’s statement in Winn-Dixie, also cited by the Eleventh Circuit judges in that oral argument, that the expert had never seen a website that complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). To illustrate the difficulty businesses face in applying the guidelines, Domino’s posited how detailed the alt-text behind a picture of a basketball needs to be to conform to the guidelines – if it has LeBron James’s autograph on it, for example, does the alt-text need to go to that level of detail, or can it just say “basketball.” He thinks the regulatory effort was stymied because the DOJ couldn’t “wrap its head around” this.
More: Mark Pulliam at City Journal on a serial plaintiff’s suit against the entertainer’s website Beyonce.com.