Website accessibility plaintiff loses after federal lawsuit on standing and other grounds | Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Seyfarth Synopsis: A California federal court decided after a trial that a blind plaintiff lacked standing to sue about an inaccessible website under ADA Title III, and California’s Unruh law only protects people who attempt to access inaccessible websites while physically in California.
We see a trend in recent federal decisions in ADA Title III cases involving websites: courts hold that the inability to access information on a website, without other adverse consequences, is not not sufficient to establish the “concrete” harm required to have standing to sue. In March, the Second Circuit issued a ruling that a plaintiff must allege “downstream consequences of failure to receive required information.” [on a website] in order to in fact have prejudice under Article III. In that case, the plaintiff had not alleged that his inability to obtain information on the accessibility of a hotel on his website had actually affected his ability to stay at that hotel or to travel to the area. of the hotel.
This week, District Judge Dale Fisher for the Central District of California ruled after a bench trial that plaintiff Andres Gomez lacked standing to sue for website accessibility under title III of the ADA because he had demonstrated no downstream consequences resulting from his encounter with the inaccessible website, nor a genuine intention to return to the website. (Plaintiff Andres Gomez has filed more than 100 website accessibility lawsuits in federal courts in California over the past three years, alleging that companies violated the ADA by having websites allegedly inaccessible to people blind.)
In the Court’s findings of fact and findings of law after the trial, the Court found that although Gomez had visited the inaccessible website to research rental car companies in Los Angeles for future travel, he did not failed to credibly demonstrate that he would have a reason to return to the defendant’s website. Demonstrating a genuine intent to return to a business is essential to establishing standing to bring an action under Title III of the ADA, as a plaintiff must demonstrate imminent future harm for the prevention of which a court injunction is necessary. (The ADA only provides an injunction to prevent future harm, not damages for past harm.) The Court found that “Defendant’s car rental locations would not be easy choices or even practices for Gomez, and Gomez did not testify to any instances where he actually rented a car in California or elsewhere. The Court observed that “there is no apparent reason to visit a website – certainly not a second time – unless you intend to purchase or use the products or services described on the website”.
The Court also said that a plaintiff must prove that the inability to access information on a website has consequences for standing to sue:
Although the inaccessibility of the website initially prevented Plaintiff from learning the locations of Defendant’s rental cars, Plaintiff knew at the time he filed his complaint that the locations were nowhere near El Monte and it did not demonstrate that they were close to any train or bus stations, or the airport that the claimant would have used to get to a rental car agency in California in the first place. Short, The plaintiff did not demonstrate that this service was relevant to him, so the harm he suffered by not being able to access the website was merely “informative” and “dignitary”.
Judge Fisher therefore found that the “information” and “dignitary” prejudice were insufficient to establish standing to prosecute and denied Gomez’s ADA request.
The Court also denied Gomez’s claim under the California Unruh Act, finding that the law did not apply to people who were not physically in California (Gomez was in Florida when he visited the website of the defendant) when they were discriminated against by a California-based company.