Disability activists notch win as Supreme Court declines case on Domino's Pizza website accessibility
October 9, 2019
Disabled advocates scored a victory this week when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a ruling allowing a blind plaintiff to sue a retailer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for an inaccessible website.
In its ruling Monday, the court declined to hear an appeal from Domino’s Pizza of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which found that the ADA applies to businesses’ websites along with their physical premises.
“Blind people, like everyone else, engage in multiple online interactions and transactions daily. These include much more than ordering pizza: online banking and bill payment, applying for jobs, using internet-based services as part of an existing job, taking online courses or using online components of traditional education at all levels, accessing medical records, and much more,” Chris Danielsen, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind, told The Hill.
“Had Domino’s succeeded in getting a ruling that the ADA does not cover the Internet, the ability of blind people to participate in 21st century society would have been in jeopardy. The denial of Domino’s petition means that accessibility law remains where it is now,” Danielsen added.
“The Domino’s case is really about whether disabled Americans will be able to fully participate in society, as goods and services are increasingly accessed online. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that places of public accommodation (including restaurants, hotels, and retail stores) are accessible to disabled customers,” Matthew Cortland, a disabled disability rights lawyer based in Massachusetts, told The Hill.
“In this case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had to decide whether the ADA applies to the websites and apps of a place of public accommodation (i.e. Dominos pizza) and not just its physical locations,” he added.
The decision specifically holds that websites connected to a physical business are covered by the ADA, Danielsen added.
“Some courts have gone further, ruling that even if a business is only on the web, the ADA still applies. In addition, some states have civil rights laws that cover disability and apply to websites as well as physical places of business,” he told The Hill.
“In other words, while the legal landscape hasn’t actually changed, the Supreme Court decision affirms the importance of making websites accessible for businesses and other entities covered by the ADA and other laws,” he added.
“There is a case still pending in the 11th Circuit [the Gil v. Winn-Dixie case] that was argued a year ago and no opinion has been issued yet, where the court could make clear whether it will require a nexus to a physical place in order to cover websites,” said Eve Hill, an attorney at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, a Baltimore-based law firm specializing in disability rights.
In the meantime, plaintiffs have filed nearly 600 accessibility complaints under the ADA specifically relating to websites, with defendants ranging from Ralph Lauren Corp. to Activision Blizzard Inc., according to Bloomberg Law.
Hill said the next step for the Domino’s case will be returning to the trial court for discovery and trial.
“If the Court had taken the case, it would have been very significant because they would have been deciding a question that was not involved in the particular case on which no appellate court had issued a decision and would have been deciding whether the websites of ADA-covered businesses were subject to the effective communication and nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA,” she said.
“Eventually, we may see the Supreme Court take up a case on this topic. What might that look like? Let’s say someone in Texas sues over website or app inaccessibility. The case may eventually get to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the 5th Circuit were to rule that the ADA doesn’t require websites and apps to be accessible, if they disagree with the 9th Circuit, that’s called a ‘circuit split,'” Cortland told The Hill.
“Two different federal appellate circuits disagreeing about what the law is. The Supreme Court tends to take cases to resolve circuit splits,” he added.