Seyfarth Synopsis: Florida court rules that plaintiff must allege more than being unable to learn about a brick-and-mortar business to state a claim that an allegedly inaccessible website violates the ADA.
Allegations that an inaccessible website prevents a blind plaintiff from "learning" about a brick-and-mortar location are insufficient to state an ADA claim, according to one recent federal court decision in Florida. In Price v. Everglades College, the plaintiff alleged that he called a private university to learn about the institution, but was directed instead to its website. While attempting to visit the website, he allegedly discovered that his screen reader software could not access information provided there, and Plaintiff thereafter filed suit under Title III of the ADA. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiff had failed to state an ADA claim.
The Court granted the motion. It held that allegations that the plaintiff could not learn about the university were insufficient, and that instead the plaintiff had to plead facts sufficient to demonstrate that the alleged digital barriers prevented him from enjoying access to the university's brick-and-mortar facilities. Plaintiff did not allege, for example, that he could not apply to the university, pay tuition, or use the student portal.
Courts in the 11th Circuit have required that a nexus exist between the website at issue and a physical business location (some courts from other Circuits do not follow this approach). Price clarifies that a plaintiff cannot satisfy this nexus requirement in this jurisdiction by alleging "the mere existence of some connection or link" between the inaccessible website, on one hand, and a brick-and-mortar location, on the other.
The decision is welcome news for businesses barraged by increasing numbers of website accessibility lawsuits in recent months and a challenging litigation landscape in 2018. The decision is also noteworthy for institutions of higher learning, which have also been targeted in these cases as reported in the national news media. Decisions such as Price may be helpful in defending serial ADA website lawsuits filed by individuals with only tenuous connections to the businesses and institutions they sue.
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