Seyfarth Synopsis: Two Florida federal district court judges require websites to have a “nexus” to a physical location for coverage under Title III of the ADA, but a third judge requires more.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes Florida, Alabama, and Georgia) has yet to decide whether and to what extent Title III of the ADA applies to websites of public accommodations, but recent rulings from three different federal judges in Florida do provide insight on where the judges in that circuit may draw the lines.
Gil v. Winn Dixie. In December 2016, we wrote about the Gil v. Winn Dixie Stores case where a blind plaintiff alleged that Winn Dixie’s website violated Title III of the ADA because it was not accessible to him. Winn Dixie moved to dismiss the case, arguing that websites are not covered by Title III of the ADA because they are not physical places. Though not a party to the lawsuit, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest supporting the plaintiff and expressing its view that “Title III applies to discrimination in the goods and services ‘of’ a place of public accommodation, rather than being limited to those goods and services provided ‘at’ or ‘in’ a place of public accommodation.” In response, Winn Dixie objected to the DOJ’s involvement and moved to strike the DOJ’s Statement of Interest.
District Court Judge Robert Scola recently denied Winn Dixie’s motion to dismiss the case and to strike the DOJ’s Statement of Interest. The case is now on its way to a bench trial — the first trial concerning an ADA Title III claim about a website, to our knowledge. In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Scola agreed with the DOJ’s analysis that the law guarantees a plaintiff equal access to the services, privileges, and advantages “of” a public accommodation, not just those that are offered “at” a place of accommodation. Judge Scola noted that “Winn-Dixie’s website is heavily integrated with, and in many ways operates as a gateway to, Winn-Dixie’s physical store locations.” The court found that allegations concerning the website’s store locator feature and prescription ordering service for in-store pick up, if proven, could establish “nexus between Winn-Dixie’s website and its physical stores.”
Gomez v. J. Lindeberg USA, LLC. In this case, the defendant defaulted and District Court Judge Kathleen Williams had to determine if, on the basis of the facts alleged in the complaint, serial plaintiff Andrew Gomez was entitled to have a judgment entered in his favor. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff could not purchase clothing or search for store locations on the defendant retailer’s website because it was not accessible. Judge Williams concluded that the plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts establish a “nexus between the challenged service and the place of public accommodation,” and entered an injunction requiring the defendant to “undertake immediate remedial measures to make its website readily accessible and usable to people with visual disabilities.” The judge also ordered the defendant to pay plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs.
Gomez v. Bang & Olufsen. District Court Judge Joan Lenard held in this case that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim under the ADA because he had not alleged that the website’s alleged inaccessibility impeded his full use and enjoyment of the brick-and-mortar store. The plaintiff had alleged that he could not shop for items on the website to have them delivered to his home. Judge Lenard held that the plaintiff failed to claim “an actual (not hypothetical) impediment to the use of Defendant’s retail location.”
To summarize, two of the three Florida federal judges to have decided whether Title III of the ADA covers websites of public accommodations require a “nexus” between the website and a physical place of business where customers go (in alignment with the Ninth Circuit and precluding suits against web-only businesses), and one requires that the website’s lack of accessibility actually impede a plaintiff’s access to a physical place of business. All three judges agree that websites with no nexus to a physical place of public accommodation are not covered by the ADA.
Edited by Kristina M. Launey.