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Are Your Gift Cards Accessible? Lawsuits Assert Gift Cards Should Be Offered in Braille

In addition to concerns surrounding the accessibility of a business’ website, retailers now have a new concern – the accessibility of their gift cards. Plaintiffs have recently filed a number of lawsuits alleging that the failure to sell gift cards containing writing in Braille is a denial of full and equal access to blind and visually impaired individuals, and thus is a violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

On October 24, 2019, twelve lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against well-known retailers, restaurants, and other businesses. The complaints allege, in part, that because store gifts cards are generally the same size and texture as credit cards, they are indistinguishable by a blind person from credit cards and other gift cards.

To support this new theory of ADA liability, the complaints provide some background into the

Supreme Court Denies Review in Website Accessibility Case Against Domino’s Pizza

Businesses should expect that lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) will continue to increase in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s October 7, 2019 decision denying Domino’s Pizza’s (“Domino’s”) petition for a writ of certiorari in the Robles v. Domino’s Pizza case. The Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari to Domino’s petition will send the lawsuit back to the United States District Court for the Central District of California to be tried on its merits.

Guillermo Robles (“Robles”) filed this lawsuit in September 2016 alleging, in part, that Domino’s website contained barriers to accessibility in violation of the ADA. Robles alleged that he unsuccessfully tried to order custom pizza online from a nearby Domino’s location. Robles sought, in part, a permanent injunction requiring Domino’s website to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0.

In March 2017, the District

No Longer a “Whisper” – California Appellate Court Joins List of Courts to Weigh in on Website Accessibility

In the first decision by a California appellate court addressing the application of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to websites, the court in Thurston v. Midvale Corp. (Sept. 3, 2019) 2019 WL 4166620, affirmed summary judgment for the plaintiff and held that the ADA, as incorporated by California’s Unruh Act, applies to websites connected to a brick and mortar business.

California’s Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District declined to adopt the position of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that the ADA applies only to physical locations. Instead, the court followed the position of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, holding that “including websites connected to a physical place of public accommodation is not only consistent with the plain language of Title III, but it is also consistent with Congress’s mandate that the ADA keep pace with changing

Senate Members Ask DOJ to Take Action as Number of Website Accessibility Lawsuits Continues to Rise

Members of Congress are once again asking the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to take action addressing website accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) in light of the increasing number of lawsuits and claim letters asserting violation of the ADA.

Based on the first six months, 2019 is likely to exceed the records set in 2018 for the number of website accessibility cases filed, according to digital accessibility solutions provider AudioEye, which tracks such case filings. More than half of the cases filed, or 55 percent, were against retailers, followed by complaints against defendants in the hotel, restaurant, banking, and real estate industries. Many of those defendants have been hit with more than one lawsuit.

Despite the increasing number of lawsuits and claim letters, the DOJ has not issued regulations concerning website accessibility under the ADA. As we previously reported, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of

Domino’s Petitions Supreme Court for Review of Unfavorable Website Accessibility Decision

Domino’s Pizza LLC has submitted a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review and reverse a decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed a website accessibility case to proceed against Domino’s. The question presented to the Supreme Court by Domino’s is“[w]hether Title III of the ADA requires a website or mobile application that offers goods or services to the public to satisfy discrete accessibility requirements with respect to individuals with disabilities.” Domino’s Pizza LLC v. Guillermo Robles, Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, at 2.

As we previously reported, in June 2019, the Ninth Circuit held in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, that the ADA applies to the Domino’s website and mobile application, rejecting the due process and primary jurisdiction arguments that had led the district court to stay the action.

Title III of the ADA applies to “physical places of public accommodation.”   42 U.S.C.

New York District Court Addresses Mootness Argument in Website Accessibility Case

As businesses continue to face lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are inaccessible to blind and deaf patrons in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), courts across the country continue to weigh in on the issue.  On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a decision in Diaz v. The Kroger Co. – holding that the Court lacked both subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the case because the complaint had been rendered moot by modifications defendant made to the website and because the defendant did not sell goods or services in New York.  Diaz v. The Kroger Co., Case No. 18-cv-07953, Opinion and Order [Dkt. No. 35]. 

In Diaz, the plaintiff, a visually-impaired and legally blind individual who resides in the Bronx, New York, alleged that the website of defendant Kroger, a supermarket chain with

Ninth Circuit Issues Important Decision in Domino’s Website Accessibility Action

As businesses continue to face lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are inaccessible to blind and deaf patrons in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), courts across the country continue to weigh in on the issue. On Tuesday, January 15, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued its much-awaited decision in the Robles v. Domino’s Pizza case – holding that the ADA applies to the Domino’s Pizza (“Domino’s”) website and mobile application (“app”), and rejecting due process and primary jurisdiction challenges raised by Domino’s successfully in the court below.

As we previously reported, in March 2017, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted Domino’s motion to dismiss under the primary jurisdiction doctrine, which allows courts to stay or dismiss lawsuits pending the resolution of an issue by a government agency. The District Court held

California Court Grants Nonsuit in Website Accessibility Trial

A California court has dismissed a website accessibility case shortly after commencing trial, issuing a sua sponte nonsuit on grounds that the defendant credit union’s website is not subject to the ADA.

Martinez v. San Diego Credit Union, San Diego Superior Court Case No. 37-2017-00024673, would have been the only known website accessibility lawsuit to go to trial in the state of California. Instead, after commencing trial, the Court ordered the parties to submit trial briefs, inquired whether the parties would object to the Court issuing a sua sponte ruling at the outset of the case, and then granted the nonsuit.  In so ruling, the Court advised the parties that it agreed with the defendant credit union’s position that the complaint failed to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action, and that it wished to save plaintiff’s counsel the expense of flying its expert witness from the East

DOJ Says Online Businesses Have “Flexibility” in How to Make Websites Accessible

As we reported in June, a bi-partisan assembly of 103 members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to “state publicly that private legal action under the ADA with respect to websites is unfair and violates basic due process principles in the absence of clear statutory authority and issuance by the department of a final rule establishing website accessibility standards.” That letter urged the DOJ to “provide guidance and clarity with regard to website accessibility under the … ADA.”

On September 25, the DOJ responded to that letter. While the response does not directly address the members’ questions, it does state that the DOJ “is evaluating whether promulgating specific web accessibility standards through regulations is necessary and appropriate to ensure compliance with the ADA.”

The letter also provides some guidance that could prove useful to retailers

Eleventh Circuit Holds Prior Settlement Does Not Render New Website Accessibility Case Moot

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a prior settlement agreement, pursuant to which a defendant has agreed to improve website accessibility, does not necessarily render moot a new website accessibility lawsuit.

In Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC, Case No. 17-13170 (11th Cir. June 19, 2018), the Court of Appeals concluded that the “plaintiff’s claims are not moot” as a result of a settlement agreement between Hooters and a different plaintiff in an almost identical prior lawsuit that required Hooters to improve accessibility of its website within 12 months.

As we previously reported, the district court had granted Hooters’ motion to dismiss the action, on grounds that Hooters was in the process of actively implementing a remediation plan for its website, and therefore the prior agreement rendered the new ADA action moot.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected this argument, however, and held that “this case is

Website Accessibility Guidelines Get Update; California Court Limits Penalties to One Visit

An update has been published to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, the standards that have been applied by many courts in the absence of website accessibility regulations by the Department of Justice.

The new version, named WCAG 2.1, was published on June 5 by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an industry group of website accessibility experts.

WCAG 2.1 amends the prior standards, which were issued in 2008, by adding 17 additional criteria to address accessibility barriers.  The updates are mainly related to mobile devices and disabilities that affect vision and cognitive function.

For example, WCAG 2.0 did not expressly address mobile applications, although many of the same criteria for website accessibility was also applicable to mobile apps. WCAG 2.1 provides additional guidance concerning accessibility of mobile apps, including:

  • user interactions using touch,
  • handling more complex gestures, and
  • avoiding unintended activation of an interface.

Eleventh Circuit to Consider Whether Prior Settlement Moots Website Accessibility Case

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments on April 11 concerning whether a website accessibility plan pursuant to a prior settlement agreement moots injunctive relief claims under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted Hooters’ motion to dismiss on grounds that the company has already agreed to make its website accessible pursuant to a prior settlement agreement.  Judge Robert Scola held that the prior agreement rendered moot the plaintiff’s ADA action, since the ADA does not provide for recovery of damages, only injunctive relief.  Judge Scola is the judge that previously ruled after trial that Winn Dixie’s website was not accessible in violation of the ADA.

Other retailers, including Outback Steakhouse and Panda Express, have also been successful in using the same argument against the same plaintiff to

A New Year for Online Businesses: DOJ Ends 2017 by Withdrawing Website Accessibility Rulemaking

2017 was a busy year for retailers and businesses with an online presence, as they faced a wave of demand letters and lawsuits alleging that their websites are inaccessible to the visually impaired and/or hearing impaired in violation of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”).  As we have previously reported, courts across the country weighed in on the issue throughout the year.  To bring an end to 2017, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) withdrew its proposed rulemaking for accessible websites.

In July 2010, the DOJ announced an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking related to the issuance of new regulations to cover the accessibility of websites of public accommodations.  While businesses with an online presence were waiting for those regulations to be promulgated, plaintiffs began taking the issue to the courts, resulting in a patchwork of conflicting decisions.  As we previously reported, in

Online Retailers Beware: Court Holds Website Violates ADA Despite Lack of Physical Store

Courts across the country continue to weigh in on the issue of website accessibility. Last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire denied a motion to dismiss filed by online food delivery servicer Blue Apron.  In denying the motion, the court found that Blue Apron’s website is a place of public accommodation – despite the fact that Blue Apron operates only online and has no traditional brick and mortar locations. Access Now, Inc. v. Blue Apron, LLC, Case No. 17-cv-00116, Dkt. No. 46 (D. N.H. Nov. 8, 2017).

In so finding, the court relied on binding precedent in the First Circuit, and noted that other Courts of Appeals, namely the Third, Fifth, Sixth and Ninth Circuits, have held that in order to be considered a “public accommodation,” an online business must have a nexus to an actual, physical space. Id. at pp. 9-10.  This decision highlights

DOJ Puts Website Accessibility Regulations on Inactive List

Retailers and other businesses that have been waiting for the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to promulgate regulations concerning website accessibility under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) will now have to wait a lot longer. Eight years after the DOJ began the rulemaking process on this issue, it has now listed the rulemaking as “inactive.”

Federal agencies typically provide public notice of the regulations that are under development twice a year in the Unified Regulatory Agenda. The first Agenda was issued by the Trump Administration on July 20, 2017, and contains noteworthy changes from the last Agenda issued by the Obama Administration.

For the first time, the Agenda breaks down all agency regulatory actions into three categories: active, long-term, or inactive. While the Agenda does not define these terms, only the active and long-term matters receive a description and projected deadlines. The inactive matters appear in a

Website Accessibility Update: California Federal Court Denies Hobby Lobby’s Motion to Dismiss

Another website accessibility decision against a retailer, this time involving Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. in the Central District of California, highlights the uncertainty of the law and of litigating such cases while courts continue to reach different conclusions.

In Gorecki v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., Case No. 2:17-cv-01131-JFW-SK (C.D. Cal. June 15, 2017), the district court denied Hobby Lobby’s motion to dismiss and held that the retailer’s website constitutes a “public accommodation” under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  In so holding, the court noted that the website allows consumers to purchase products, search for store locations, view special pricing offers, obtain coupons, and purchase gift cards.

The court also relied on Department of Justice (“DOJ”) regulations requiring public accommodations to use auxiliary aids and services to “communicate effectively” with disabled customers.

This decision was issued only two days after a federal judge in the Southern

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