By Minh N. Vu

Seyfarth Synopsis:  The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear its first website accessibility case now that briefing on Domino’s Petition for Certiorari is complete.

Earlier today, Plaintiff Guillermo Robles filed his opposition to Domino’s request to the U.S. Supreme Court for review of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision to let Robles’s lawsuit against Domino’s proceed to discovery.  Robles, who is blind, sued Domino’s alleging that its website and mobile app are not accessible to the blind, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The district court dismissed the lawsuit at the outset of the case, finding that the lawsuit violated Domino’s due process rights because there are no regulations setting accessibility standards for accessible websites or mobile apps of public accommodations. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the ADA does cover websites of public accommodations with brick and mortar locations and Domino’s due process rights would not be violated by the lawsuit.  The Ninth Circuit remanded the case to district court for discovery and other proceedings.

Domino’s filed a Petition for Certiorari in which it argued, among other things, that there is a split among the Circuit Courts of Appeals with regard to the application of the ADA to websites.  Today, Robles responded by pointing out that there is no such split among the circuits when it comes to websites of businesses that have a physical locations where they serve customers.  Robles also argued, not surprisingly, that the Ninth Circuit’s decision was correct and no review by the U.S. Supreme Court is necessary.

We will be keeping a close eye on the developments and let you know as soon as the high court decides whether it will take the case.

Edited by Kristina M. Launey

By Minh Vu, Kristina Launey, and Susan Ryan

Seyfarth Synopsis: Data from the first six months of 2019 shows a 12%  increase over 2018.

The task of counting the number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts grows with the ever-increasing numbers of lawsuits.  For the period from January 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019, our research team counted 5,592 ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court, versus 4,965 filed in first six months of 2018.  That’s a 12% increase.

If the lawsuits continue continue to be filed at the current rate, the number of federal ADA Title III lawsuits filed in 2019 will top 11,000 and it will be yet another record breaking year.

 

[Graph: ADA Title III Lawsuits in Federal Court Jan. 2014 – Jun. 2019: 2014: 4,436; 2015: 4,789, 8% increase over 2014; 2016: 6,601, 37% increase over 2015; 2017: 7,663, 16% increase over 2016; 2018: 10,163, 33% increase over 2017; 2019: Total: 5,592, as of 6/30/19, Projected Total: 11,184, 10% increase over 2018]

California continues to lead the country with 2,444 federal ADA Title III lawsuits in the first six months of 2019, with New York trailing far behind with 1,212 such suits.  Florida is a close third with 1,074 federal suits.  California continues to be a very popular jurisdiction because plaintiffs can add on a state law Unruh Act claim which provides for $4,000 in statutory damages for each incident of discrimination.  This statutory damages provision gives prevailing plaintiffs an automatic payment so they do not even need to prove that they incurred any actual damages, unless they want to recover more.  The 2,444 California federal ADA Title III lawsuit number does not capture the complete picture of disability access suits filed in California because many more access suits are filed in state court, which we do not track.  This holds true in other states as well, but, as we know anecdotally, it would still not put any other states anywhere near California in the number of disability access lawsuits filed in state and federal courts.  Few other states allow recovery of statutory damages for disability access claims; while Title III only allows recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs in addition to injunctive relief.  In stark contrast to California, the federal courts in Idaho, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont have seen no ADA Title III lawsuits this year.

[Graph: Top 10 States for ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Jan. 2019 – Jun. 2019: CA 2,444, NY 1,212, FL 1,074, GA 128, TX 126, PA 71, NJ 66, IL 63, MA 55, MI 36]

What are these lawsuits about?  Based on the many cases we see in our practice, most cases concern allegedly inaccessible physical facilities or websites.  However, there have also been a number of lawsuits claiming that hotels are not putting information about the accessibility of their physical facilities on their reservations websites as required by the ADA regulations, and some lawsuits regarding service animals and sign language interpreters.

Businesses feeling under siege are not likely to see relief any time soon.  Attempts to curb this lawsuit tsunami through federal legislation such as the ADA Education and Reform Act passed by the House last year have seen no progress.

Our Methodology:  Our overall ADA Title III lawsuit numbers come from the federal court’s docketing system, PACER.  However, because the area of law code that covers ADA Title III cases also includes ADA Title II cases, our research department reviews the complaints to remove those cases from the count.

By Minh N. Vu

Seyfarth Synopsis:  Courts in the Fourth Circuit are taking a hard look at a plaintiffs’ standing in website accessibility cases.

In a small but potentially important victory for defendants facing website accessibility lawsuits, the Fourth Circuit has issued two decisions upholding dismissal of lawsuits for lack of standing with a well-reasoned analysis that can be applied to the defense of other lawsuits.

The blind plaintiff in Griffin v. Dept. of Labor Credit Union sued the credit union under Title III of the ADA alleging its website was not accessible to him through his screen reader software.  Reviewing the district court’s dismissal of the case for lack of standing, the Fourth Circuit held that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring his claim because he had not suffered an injury in fact and was not facing an imminent injury in the future.  The Court cited to the fact that the plaintiff could never become a member of the defendant credit union whose membership was limited to current and former employees of the Department of Labor and their immediate families and households.  This position contradicts a few decisions from judges in other jurisdictions who concluded that the inability obtain information about a business that a plaintiff could never actually patronize is an injury in fact sufficient to establish standing.  Although the Fourth Circuit said its holding was intended to apply narrowly to the scenario before it, its thoughtful elaboration of the standing requirements still provides support for defendants seeking to dismiss cases where the complaint fails to plead a credible desire or need to obtain goods or services from the defendant’s website.

The Fourth Circuit began with the well-established principle that a plaintiff “must allege an injury that is concrete, particularized, and immediately threatening.”  The court found that the “inability to obtain information is sufficiently concrete to constitute injury in fact only when the information has some relevance to the litigant.” The fact that the plaintiff could never be a member of the credit union made the information on the website not relevant to him.  While most businesses will not have as favorable facts (i.e. a law making it impossible for the plaintiff to ever be a customer), the “relevance” requirement can be applied to other situations and puts the onus on plaintiffs to ultimately put forth evidence that they have a reason or need to actually take advantage of the goods and services offered by a business to have standing.

The court also found that the plaintiff’s injury was not “particularized.” It explained that “[t]here must be some connection between the plaintiff and the defendant that “[]differentiate[s]” the plaintiff so that his injury is not “common to all members of the public.”  In other words, while everyone in the U.S. may have access to a particular allegedly inaccessible website, a plaintiff would have to demonstrate some connection between him/her and the business in order to establish standing.  In Griffin’s case, there was no connection because he could never be a member of the credit union.

The court also concluded that Griffin faced no “imminent” harm resulting from not being able to access the website for information because he could never be a member of the credit union in the first place.  In response to Griffin’s argument that he faced imminent harm because he was a tester, the court said that while the status of being a tester does not undermine the plaintiff’s standing, it also does not create standing.  Testers must still meet the “injury in fact” requirements like all other litigants.

The Fourth Circuit also affirmed the dismissal of the case in Carroll v. Northwest Federal Credit Union on the same grounds involving a blind plaintiff who allegedly could not access the website of a credit union that he could never join.

Plaintiffs may file fewer website accessibility lawsuits in the Fourth Circuit as a result of these decisions, as it appears that that courts in this Circuit will be applying Article III standing requirements more rigorously than courts in other jurisdictions.

Edited by Kristina Launey

By Minh N. Vu and Kristina M. Launey

Domino’s filed its petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court today, June 13, 2019, asking the Court to review and overturn the Ninth Circuit’s decision which allowed a website accessibility lawsuit to proceed against Domino’s.  Domino’s styled the question presented as “Whether Title III of the ADA requires a website or mobile phone application that offers goods or services to the public to satisfy discrete accessibility requirements with respect to individuals with disabilities.”  See here for our report on the Ninth’s Circuit decision, and here for a copy of the Petition.  The Court will generally act on a petition within 6 weeks – Robles now has 30 days to file a response, then Domino’s a reply, at which time the Justices will review and determine whether to entertain the appeal.

By: Kristina M. Launey and Samuel Sverdlov

Seyfarth Synopsis: A SDNY judge dismissed a website accessibility lawsuit finding that the company mooted the allegations in the complaint by remediating the accessibility barriers and that the Court lacked personal jurisdiction since the company does not transact business in New York.

New York federal courts are a hotbed for ADA Title III litigation — of the over 10,000 ADA Title III lawsuits filed in 2018, at least 2,338 were filed in New York federal courts, including 1,564 ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuits, which are likely fueled in part by a few very plaintiff-friendly decisions out of the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

Last week, the business community received a favorable opinion from the SDNY.  On June 4, 2019, Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the SDNY granted The Kroger Company’s motion to dismiss an ADA Title III website accessibility lawsuit on two grounds: (1) the company mooted the plaintiff’s claims; and (2) the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Kroger for this lawsuit.

This is the first decision that we’re aware of from a district court in the Second Circuit to grant a motion to dismiss a website accessibility lawsuit on mootness grounds.  Here, the Court was persuaded by an affidavit from a company representative which stated that:

  • Kroger has undertaken efforts to comply with WCAG 2.0 since before the lawsuit was filed;
  • The website currently complies with WCAG 2.0;
  • The company representative personally confirmed that the specific barriers the plaintiff alleged have been remedied;
  • Kroger has no plans of becoming non-compliant with WCAG 2.0; and
  • Kroger intends to maintain its website in compliance with WCAG 2.0.

Interestingly, the affidavit neither detailed the steps taken by the company to ensure that its website complies with WCAG 2.0, nor stated whether the company has adopted written policies or procedures regarding website accessibility.  Further, the affidavit did not detail the level of conformance with WCAG 2.0 the website has reached (A, AA, or AAA).  Nonetheless, the Court was persuaded that the company’s actions sufficiently mooted the plaintiff’s claims.  To that end, the Court rejected the notion that a website accessibility lawsuit can never be mooted (which the Court stated would amount to a “sweeping, technology-specific exception to the mootness doctrine”), and stated that “ADA cases involving websites are subject to the same mootness standard as their ‘structural’ counterparts.”  In contrast, other judges in the SDNY have denied motions to dismiss website accessibility lawsuits based on mootness.  See Sullivan v. Study.com LLC, 2019 WL 1299966 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2019); Wu v. Jensen-Lewis Co., 345 F.Supp.3d 438 (S.D.N.Y. 2018); Del-Orden v. Bonobos, Inc., 2017 WL 6547902 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 20, 2017).

The Court found dismissal appropriate for the independent reason that it does not have personal jurisdiction over Kroger to hear this lawsuit.  Although the plaintiff claimed that Kroger’s website provides a variety of services such as “the ability to … find information on promotions and coupons, discern the calories content of food, [as well as] preferred cook time and temperature,” the Court found that “[n]one of these factors, considered together or in isolation, is enough to confer personal jurisdiction.”  Rather, the Court held that the plaintiff had the burden to establish that he actually used the website to effect a commercial transaction in New York.  Here, the Court reviewed Kroger’s website, and found that Kroger, an Ohio-based corporation, has no retail presence in New York, and does not deliver goods and services to customers with a New York zip code.  Accordingly, the Court found that Kroger “[d]oes not sell, through the Website, goods or service to New York residents.”

As both mootness and personal jurisdiction defenses are highly fact-specific, this decision will not be useful in all website accessibility cases.  However, for businesses facing website accessibility lawsuits that either have already invested substantial resources on remediation or do not transact business in the jurisdiction where the lawsuit is brought, this case could prove useful.

Edited by Minh N. Vu

By John W. Egan and Minh N. Vu

Seyfarth Synopsis: 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.

According to a recent article published in the New York Law Journal, a committee of state legislators in New York plan to develop a legal standard for website accessibility, in the wake of years of regulatory inactivity by the federal government.

As we have previously written about, various state and municipal jurisdictions have laws on the books requiring that government agencies and contractors provide accessible websites. New York, however, would be the first state in the country to directly hold business websites to an accessibility standard.

Ironically, this legislative effort appears, from the NYLJ article at least, to be motivated by a concern over the surge of website accessibility filings and their impact on businesses.

A State Website Accessibility Standard To Reign In Federal Lawsuits?

The NYLJ article cites statistics published on our blog that ADA plaintiffs filed an astounding 1,564 website accessibility lawsuits in New York federal courts in 2018, which amounted to more than two-thirds of all federal website cases filed throughout the country last year.

The representative leading this initiative, State Sen. Diane Savino, referred to plaintiffs-side attorneys commencing these lawsuits as “ambulance-chaser[s]” who are “exploiting loopholes in the law” to look for quick settlements, and described the cases as having the potential to “bankrupt a small business.”

Senator Savino attributed the surge in website accessibility filings to “a real lack of regulation from the federal level down to the states.” Accordingly, the Internet and Technology Committee that she chairs will “try to develop a set of standards [for website accessibility] recognizing . . . that there are not four walls of the internet.”

It is laudable that Senator Savino and her Committee are attempting to tackle the surge in “surf by” ADA lawsuits. That said, we are not sure how developing a legal standard for business websites at the state level will mitigate the surge in federal lawsuits.

In our experience, most website accessibility lawsuits in New York are filed in federal court. Since Title III of the ADA does not provide for damages, New York plaintiffs typically add “tag-along” claims under state (and municipal) law for damages. However, as demonstrated from states’ attempts to reign in physical barrier cases, no state law can affect the remedies and procedures available under the federal ADA.

Would Legislation Provide Relief To Businesses, Or Create More Uncertainty?

Website accessibility lawsuits are usually based on the ADA’s general mandate that public accommodations provide people with disabilities equal access to their goods, services, and accommodations, specifically through auxiliary aids and services to ensure that their communication with individuals with disabilities is “effective.”

These regulations expressly state that a business can choose which auxiliary aid or service to provide, however, as long as the method is effective, free of charge, and safeguards the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability. Requiring New York businesses to conform their websites to a set of accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1, without more, would reduce the flexibility that businesses currently have in how they provide “effective communication” as to the content and services available on websites and other digital assets.

In addition, federal courts are addressing website accessibility issues on a case-by-case basis. A body of case law is thus developing in this area, albeit with distinctions across jurisdictions. A state law standard that is inconsistent with these rulings may add to the confusion for businesses.

An Opportunity For Governmental Direction?

In her remarks, Senator Savino described states as “the incubators of ideas,” which is particularly opportune in the area of website accessibility, where federal regulators “have dragged their feet.” The prospect of legislation in this area presents, in our view, an opportunity for a governmental body to provide reasoned and balanced direction on this issue, which has been lacking at the federal level.

Nevertheless, the devil is in the details. The task of regulating this area effectively and fairly will involve the consideration of a number of issues. For example:

  • A standard that accounts for user experience. We know that compliance with every WCAG 2.1 AA requirement is challenging and requires extensive resources and expertise that most businesses do not have. Should the legislation prioritize frequent user journeys (e.g., browsing and searching for products, placing orders, and searching for brick and mortar business locations) over less traveled areas of a website?
  • Legacy content. Should any technical standard apply only to new content or new websites? Should it apply only to existing content that has been updated or modified within a specified period of time?
  • Safe harbor. Businesses modify their digital properties much more frequently than their physical, “brick and mortar” spaces. Updates and new content can inadvertently impact the accessibility of a website or other digital asset. Website “bugs” do not equate to intentional discrimination. Regulations should contain a safe harbor or cure period for accessibility issues introduced by an update or change to a website or digital asset.
  • An implementation period. Businesses must be given sufficient time to comply with the standard, and should be afforded a “safe harbor” from private claims during this period. There are simply not enough accessibility experts out there to assist businesses to make their websites accessible. Small businesses in particular must have a longer time period for compliance.
  • Third party website developers. Most businesses know little about website development and hire third party vendors to create and/or update their websites. From our experience, most of these third party vendors do not have the expertise to create and maintain accessible websites and other digital assets. Any legislation must recognize and address the difficult position that businesses are in because they are the ones in the lawsuit crosshairs, not the website developers.
  • Third party content. Many businesses have embedded third party content (e.g., maps) on their websites, over which they frequently have little or no means to change (other than removing the content entirely). Legislation over the accessibility of business websites should recognize these practical limitations on accessibility efforts.
  • Alternative access for complex content. Detailed charts and graphics with embedded text, and other complex content, can present challenges for screen reader users. These features can be very burdensome and expensive for businesses to address. Should legislation exempt complex content, or permit businesses to provide an alternative means of providing the information?
  • Small business considerations. Any legislation must acknowledge that small businesses generally cannot afford to hire expensive accessibility consultants and have little leverage to make their website development vendors conform their websites to accessibility guidelines. Strict adherence to these criteria, as Senator Savino alluded to in the NYLJ article, could bankrupt many small businesses.
  • Future technology. One of the challenges of regulating this area is the fast-paced nature of technological change. Any legislation needs to promote, rather than discourage, businesses in exploring new technologies that could reduce the costs of compliance and provide enhanced access to digital content for individuals with disabilities.

It is positive that elected leaders are taking note that the litigation environment over the accessibility of websites is becoming increasingly untenable for businesses. Should new legislation limit damages for website access violations, or require some procedure or process before a litigant can file a claim?

A litigant can visit the websites of businesses much faster than he or she can visit (and encounter barriers to access) at “brick and mortar” locations. Should a few minutes of internet browsing give rise to dozens of class action lawsuits over accessibility? Accordingly, should the law provide for enhanced standing requirements in website accessibility cases to ensure that plaintiffs have a legitimate stake in the case? What can be done to reign in litigants who file lawsuits resulting in quick settlements en masse?

There are many issues for the Committee to consider, and it is critical to include practitioners who are “on the ground” working through these issues to develop sensible legislation that will advance the dual goals of accessibility and reducing the crushing number of lawsuits.

Edited by Kristina M. Launey

 

By Kristina M. Launey & Minh N. Vu

Seyfarth Synopsis: Four years and two motions to dismiss based on the pleadings later, the National Association of the Deaf’s (NAD) online video captioning lawsuit against Harvard is moving forward to fact discovery. On March 28, Federal Magistrate Judge Robertson in the District of Massachusetts denied the university’s motion for judgment on the pleadings with some notable discussion about whether websites are places of public accommodation under the ADA and limitations of liability for third party content.

Physical Nexus Argument Rejected. The First Circuit has held in a case about an allegedly discriminatory insurance policy that a business can be a public accommodation covered by Title III of the ADA even if it is not associated with a physical place where customers go. Harvard argued that this precedent did not apply to cases involving websites, but the Court was not persuaded. The Court also said that even if the law did require Harvard’s websites to have a nexus with a good or service provided at a physical location, the Plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged such a nexus because some of the allegedly inaccessible videos could, for example, pertain to courses taught at the school.

University Content Posted on Third Party Websites. The Court said whether Harvard could be legally responsible for content it posts on third party websites (e.g. YouTube, iTunesU, and SoundCloud) depends on facts which have yet to be developed, including whether the university has control over how the content is displayed, and whether captioning the content would provide meaningful access. The Court also noted that the university may be able to show that providing captioning would fundamentally alter the nature of the service provided or be an undue burden.

CDA Immunity for Third Party Content. In a meaningful initial victory for Harvard, the Court acknowledged that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) shields Harvard from liability under Title III of the ADA and the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act with respect to two categories of content: (1) content hosted on a third party-server (not belonging to Harvard) that is hyperlinked in its existing form to content that is hosted on a Harvard platform or website (“Embedded Content”) and (2) content is hosted on a Harvard platform or website that Harvard did not create, produce, or substantially alter (“Third Party Content”). The CDA shields website operators, including educational institutions, from being treated as the publisher or speaker of material posted on the website by third party users. While the Court’s holding reduces the number of videos that remain at issue in the case, the Court was not willing to immediately exclude all content posted by students, individual faculty members, or other scholars as requested by Harvard. The Court said discovery into Harvard’s role with respect to such content is needed to see if it really is third party content exempted by the CDA.

To Be Continued… We will continue to monitor this long- running case. NAD filed the lawsuit in 2015, alleging Harvard violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide closed captioning for thousands of videos on its websites. In November 2016, the court denied Harvard’s motion to stay or dismiss on the primary jurisdiction doctrine, finding the court did not need the DOJ’s expertise to rule on the issue. The present order noted that in the time intervening the two motions, the parties engaged in settlement talks and negotiations to resolve or narrow the issues, but could not reach an agreement.

Seyfarth Synopsis:  Domino’s Likely to File Petition for Certiorari from Ninth Circuit’s Ruling in Robles v. Domino’s.

As we reported, the Ninth Circuit held in January that a blind plaintiff could move forward with his ADA Title III lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza for having an allegedly inaccessible website and mobile app.  The court determined that allowing the claim to move forward was not a violation of Domino’s due process rights, even though the ADA and its regulations contain no definition of, or technical specifications for, “accessible” public accommodations websites.

We believe Domino’s will be petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari because on March 6, 2019, it requested a sixty-day extension of time to file said petition.  The request was filed by a newly-engaged Supreme Court specialist which further confirms our conclusion that a petition will be filed.  Justice Kagan granted the request, and Domino’s Petition for Certiorari is due on June 14, 2019.

There is a lot at stake with this petition.  Congress and the DOJ have taken no action to stop the tsunami of lawsuits against thousands of businesses about their allegedly inaccessible websites.  A Supreme Court decision could put an end to the litigation frenzy and provide some relief for businesses.

Stay tuned for updates on this exciting development.

Edited by Kristina M. Launey

Seyfarth Synopsis:  DOJ provides guidance on sales/service counter rules in the 2010 Standards that provides some relief to businesses.

Retailers and other businesses should be pleased with the DOJ’s pronouncement on February 25, 2019, that they can lawfully provide sales/service counter space that is less than 36” long, as long as the entire space is at an accessible height of 36” or lower.  While we always thought the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (“2010 Standards”) were unambiguous on this point, plaintiffs filed many lawsuits claiming the ADA requires retailers to provide a minimum 36” length of lowered accessible counter that is entirely clear of all objects.  Courts have reached different conclusions, and now the DOJ has weighed in.

The DOJ’s statement came in the form of an amicus brief which Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California had requested in connection with a pending motion for summary judgment.  The sales/service counter at issue in the case was at an accessible height (i.e., 36” or less above the floor), but did not provide a 36” length because it included items such cash registers and merchandise displays on the counter.  The DOJ stated that this counter complies with the Exception to Section 904.4.1 of the 2010 Standards because it is at a uniform accessible height, even if the space provided is not 36” long.  The DOJ also said that the placement of merchandise displays and a cash register on a sales/service counter that is 36” long does not violate the 2010 Standards because Section 904.4.1 “does not so much as mention, let alone prescribe any requirements regarding ‘clear’ counter space.”

While this DOJ pronouncement provides much needed clarification, businesses should consult their ADA Title III specialist attorneys before filling up their accessible lowered counters with anything more than a register and some merchandise displays, particularly if high counters are provided for use by non-disabled customers.

Edited by Kristina M. Launey

As we had predicted, the number of website accessibility lawsuits (i.e. lawsuits alleging that plaintiffs with a disability could not use websites because they were not coded to work with assistive technologies like screen readers, or otherwise accessible to them) filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2258 – increasing by 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017.

Graph: ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in Federal Court: 2017-2018: 2017: 814; 2018: 2258, 177% increase over 2017. *The number of cases that could be identified through a diligent search.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plaintiffs filed these federal ADA Title III lawsuits in fourteen states—New York and Florida being the most busy jurisdictions with 1564 and 576 lawsuits, respectively.  Pennsylvania and Massachusetts held distant third and fourth positions, as shown in the chart below.

[Graph: Top 10 States for ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in 2018: NY 1564, FL 576, PA 42, MA 26, CA 10, OH 9, VA 8, IL 7, TX 7. *The number of cases that could be identified through a diligent search.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The number of New York federal website accessibility lawsuits is staggering, brought primarily by fifteen law firms/lawyers.  The lawyers appearing most frequently on filings are Joseph Mizrahi, Jonathan Shalom, Doug Lipsky, C.K. Lee, Bradley Marks, and Jeffrey Gottlieb.  We saw a surge in these cases after New York federal judges allowed website accessibility cases to proceed to discovery in lawsuits against Blick Art and Five Guys.  The 2018 New York website accessibility filing statistic brought New York into a close second to California in the total number of ADA Title III lawsuits (not just website accessibility cases) filed in federal court.

The fact that the California federal courts only had ten website accessibility lawsuits filings in 2018 may be a surprise to some since California continues to lead the pack in the number of all ADA Title III lawsuit filings in federal court.  However, it appears that plaintiffs filed their new cases in state court after a federal judge in the Central District of California dismissed a website accessibility lawsuit against Dominos’ in 2017.  The Ninth Circuit reversed that dismissal last month, making California federal court an attractive venue for plaintiffs once again.  We predict that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling will cause the number of website accessibility lawsuits in California federal courts to increase dramatically in 2019.

About our methodology:  Our 2018 numbers are based on searches using keywords of data from the Courthouse News Services.  Thus, it is possible that there are some website accessibility cases that were not captured in the searches if their descriptions did not include the keywords.  We then review the thousands of entries manually to remove lawsuits that may be about websites but are not about a website’s accessibility to a user with a disability.  For example, there were a number of lawsuits in 2018 brought by plaintiffs with mobility disabilities alleging that the reservations websites of hotels did not provide adequate information about the accessibility of hotel facilities.  We also removed a number of lawsuits brought against state and local government entities under Title II of the ADA for having inaccessible websites.