Seyfarth Synopsis: A recent Second Circuit decision states that a plaintiff’s encounter with an alleged violation of law on a website, without more, does not give that plaintiff standing to sue under ADA Title III. .
New York’s federal courts have been inundated with website accessibility lawsuits in recent years and continued to lead the country with 2,074 cases filed in 2021. By comparison, California lagged far behind. with only 359 deposits for the same period. Most of these more than 2,000 lawsuits in New York have been filed by a relatively small number of companies on behalf of blind plaintiffs who make vague and conclusive claims about how they were unable to access goods. and services on dozens or even hundreds of websites. Typically, these boilerplate complaints contain no information about what goods and services the complainants actually wanted to access or why they needed those goods and services.
Thanks to a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Harty vs. West Point Realty, defendants in these lawsuits should now have a stronger basis to have the cases dismissed for lack of standing. To have standing to bring a federal lawsuit, a plaintiff must show that he suffered “concrete” and “specific” harm. In West Point, the Second Circuit clarified that simply encountering an access barrier on a website is not a specific, specific injury. In this case, the plaintiff sued a hotel in West Point, Florida under the ADA for having a website with allegedly insufficient accessibility information (ADA regulations require that certain information be provided on hotel websites regarding their features accessible to people with reduced mobility, visual and hearing impairments). The Second Circuit upheld the District Court’s dismissal of the lawsuit for lack of standing, finding that “[b]because [the plaintiff] asserted that he has no intention of visiting West Point or the surrounding area, he cannot allege that his ability to travel was impaired by the West Point Realty website in a way that caused him material harm.
The Second Circuit also clarified that plaintiff’s inability to obtain information from the website alone was not sufficient harm to confer standing. On this point, the Court said:
“[e]Even assuming that Harty can allege that he was deprived of the information to which he is entitled by the ADA, he must also allege the downstream consequences of not having received the required information in order to in fact have harm. under Article III. In other words, Harty must demonstrate that he has an “interest in using the information…beyond the contribution [his] trial. What he didn’t do. Harty, therefore, did not allege informational harm sufficient for Article III standing.
In short, to bring a lawsuit regarding a website’s ADA compliance, a plaintiff must demonstrate that they needed the information, goods, and services offered by the website and that there was “downstream consequences” resulting from the alleged inability to use the website.
The Second Circuit is not the first appellate court to reach this conclusion. The Tenth Circuit and Fifth Circuit have all adopted this principle in the past year. The Eleventh Circuit, on the other hand, recently ruled that simply encountering a violation on a website could result in a specific, concrete injury needed to stand. Could there be a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court coming up?
For now, West Point binds the Second Circuit district courts, including those in New York where the vast majority of website accessibility lawsuits have been filed. West PointThe usefulness of for businesses defending website accessibility lawsuits will depend on the nature of the website at issue in a lawsuit and, of course, how well drafted the complaint is. At a minimum, it will be more difficult for a plaintiff to claim that they have been wronged by the inaccessibility of a website that offers unique goods, services and information that they do not need.