Seyfarth Synopsis: In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the Fourth Circuit in holding that a plaintiff who is legally barred from using a credit union’s services cannot demonstrate an injury in fact that can support standing to sue.
The plaintiff in Carello v. Aurora Policeman Credit Union, a blind man, sued the Aurora Policeman Credit Union under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) alleging its website was not accessible to him through screen reader software. The plaintiff alleged both dignitary and informational harm. The District Court dismissed the case for lack of standing. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding neither of these alleged harms satisfied the injury-in-fact requirement to confer standing.
The Court found that the plaintiff could never be a member of the Credit Union because the Illinois Credit Act requires that membership to a credit union be only open to groups of people who share a “common bond.” Accordingly, the Aurora Policeman Credit Union limits its membership to specified local city and county employees, of which the plaintiff was neither. Instead, the plaintiff was a “tester,” visiting websites solely for the purpose of testing (and suing for) ADA (non)compliance.
While the Seventh Circuit said that dignitary harm can sometimes be a cognizable injury, it concluded that not all dignitary harms are sufficiently concrete to be injuries in fact to confer standing to sue. The Seventh Circuit said Illinois law prevented the plaintiff’s dignitary harm from ever materializing into a concrete injury because the Illinois Credit Act was a neutral legal barrier, making it impossible for the plaintiff to ever be a customer, and eliminating the personal impact of the injury. Simply stated, without a connection between the plaintiff and the Credit Union that distinguished him from other members of the public, the plaintiff’s harm was too abstract.
The Seventh Circuit also rejected the argument that that the Credit Union caused the plaintiff informational harm by failing to make the text on its website accessible to his screen reader. The Court noted that an informational injury only occurs when a defendant refuses to provide a plaintiff with information that a law entitles him to obtain and review for some substantive purpose. Here, the plaintiff was only complaining about not being able to easily access the information which is publicly available on the website.
The Seventh Circuit’s position echoes two Fourth Circuit decisions which we reported on here. While plaintiffs will undoubtedly try to limit the significance of these cases, they clearly send a message that judges in these circuits are giving website accessibility cases a hard look before allowing them to move forward. The plaintiff’s bar will likely respond by avoiding these jurisdictions and filing in more plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions where some district courts have held that the inability obtain information about a business that a plaintiff could never actually patronize is an injury-in-fact sufficient to establish standing.