By Kristina Launey and Minh Vu

Seyfarth Synopsis: A California federal court decided after a trial that a blind plaintiff did not have standing to bring a lawsuit about an inaccessible website under Title III of the ADA, and California’s Unruh Act only protects people who try to access inaccessible websites while they are physically in California.   

We are seeing a trend in recent federal decisions in ADA Title III cases involving websites: Courts are finding that not being able to access information on a website, with no other adverse consequences, is not sufficient to establish the “concrete” harm required to have standing to sue.  In March, the Second Circuit issued a decision holding that a plaintiff had to allege “downstream consequences from failing to receive the required information [on a website] in order to have an Article III injury in fact.”  In that case, the plaintiff had failed to allege that his inability to obtain accessibility information about a hotel on its website actually impacted his ability to stay at that hotel or travel to the area of the hotel.

This week, District Judge Dale Fisher of the Central District of California held, after a bench trial, that plaintiff Andres Gomez did not have standing to bring a website accessibility lawsuit under Title III of the ADA because he had not shown any downstream consequences resulting from his encounter with the inaccessible website, nor a genuine intent to return to the website.  (Plaintiff Andres Gomez has filed well over 100 website accessibility lawsuits in California federal courts in the past three years alleging businesses have violated the ADA by having websites that are allegedly inaccessible to blind individuals.)

In the Court’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law After Court Trial, the Court found that while Gomez had visited the inaccessible website to search for car rental companies in Los Angeles for a future trip, he did not credibly demonstrate that he would have a reason to return to defendant’s website.  Demonstrating a genuine intent to return to a business is critical to establishing standing to bring an ADA Title III claim because a plaintiff must show an imminent future harm for the prevention of which injunctive relief by the Court is necessary.  (The ADA only provides for injunctive relief to prevent future harm, not damages for past harm.)  The Court found that “defendant’s car rental locations would not be easy or even convenient choices for Gomez, and Gomez did not testify to any instance where he has actually rented a car in California or elsewhere.”  The Court observed that “there is no apparent reason to visit a website – certainly not for a second time – unless you intend to purchase or use the products or services described on the website.”

The Court also said a plaintiff must prove that the inability to access information on a website had consequences to have standing to sue:

Although the website’s inaccessibility allegedly initially prevented Plaintiff from learning the locations of Defendant’s rental cars, Plaintiff knew by the time he filed his Complaint that the locations were nowhere near El Monte and he did not demonstrate that they were close to any train or bus stations, or the airport that Plaintiff would have used to get to a California rental car agency in the first place. In short, Plaintiff did not demonstrate that this service was relevant to him, so the harm he suffered by being unable to access the website was merely “informational” and “dignitary.”

Judge Fisher thus held that “information” and “dignitary” harm is not sufficient to establish standing to sue and dismissed Gomez’s ADA claim.

The Court also dismissed Gomez’s California Unruh Act claim, finding that the statute does not apply to persons who were not physically in California (Gomez was in Florida when he visited the defendant’s website) when they experienced discrimination by a California-based business.