Website Accessibility Case Remanded

Read the full decision: Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a trial court’s decision to delay consideration of whether a website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) had failed to issue its rules for websites; instead, the appellate court found that the website operator had ample notice that websites were covered by the ADA and so returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings. Read the earlier decision, Website Accessibility Lawsuit Dismissed.

Domino’s Pizza, LLC (“Website Owner”) owned and operated the website “dominos.com” (“Website”) and its mobile app (“App”).  A website user (“User”) filed a lawsuit against the Website Owner alleging that the Website and App were incompatible with screen reading devices and so prevented individuals who used these devices from making purchases.  In particular, the lawsuit alleged that the Website Owner had failed to comply with WCAG 2.0 Guidelines.  Following the filing of the lawsuit, the Website began directing individuals who had trouble accessing the Website to a 24-hour telephone number.

Enacted in 1990, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) specifically aims to end discrimination by private entities that operate a “place of public accommodation,” and requires that any existing architectural and communication barriers be removed (where such removal is readily achievable and would not cause undue hardship to the entity) so that disabled persons are provided equal participation and benefits.  The ADA did not address whether public websites fall under Title III, but the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has opined that public websites are places of “public accommodation” and began a rule making in 2010 to create accessibility requirements for public websites.  The WCAG 2.0 Guidelines are accessibility guidelines created by an international organization that sets standards for the internet, and the DOJ has required certain businesses to make their websites complaint with these standards as part of settlements.  However, the DOJ has discontinued its rule making process.

The Website Owner sought judgment in its favor, labeling the User’s lawsuit a “form lawsuit” and a “nuisance lawsuit.”  The Website Owner argued that the ADA and its implementing regulations currently do not address the accessibility requirements for websites and it would violate due process to require the Website and App to meet certain standards when the DOJ has failed to promulgate the required standard for compliance.  The trial court agreed and postponed the consideration of the User’s lawsuit until the DOJ issued its rules under a doctrine known as the “primary jurisdiction” doctrine.  The User appealed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court and remanded the case back to the trial court further proceedings.  The court disagreed that it would violate due process to find that the Website Owner’s Website and App needed to comply with the ADA.  First, the DOJ had stated in 1996 its belief that the ADA applied to websites as places of public accommodation and so the Owner had ample notice of the DOJ’s position.  Second, the User was not seeking to hold the Website Owner liable for violating WCAG 2.0; instead, the User was arguing that he was unable to access the content of the Website and App, which are places of public accommodation under the ADA.  Finally, the DOJ’s failure to create specific standards did not violate the Website Owner’s due process rights because the Website Owner had notice that ADA requires the Website Owner to provide “full and equal enjoyment” of its goods and services on its Website and App for all users.

The court also ruled that the primary jurisdiction doctrine did not apply to this case, as whether the Website and App are effective means of communication under the ADA is a fact-based inquiry that the trial court can evaluate on remand and so there was no reason to delay this determination.   Therefore, the court remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.  Importantly, the court expressly stated that it had made no determination on whether the Website and App complied with the ADA.  Also, the court did not consider whether offering a 24/7 toll-free telephone number was a reasonable alternative to offer those who could not access the Website or App.

Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC , No. 17-55504, 2019 WL 190134 (9th Cir. Jan. 15, 2019). [This is a citation to a Westlaw document. Westlaw is a subscription, online legal research service. If an official reporter citation should become available for this case, the citation will be updated to reflect this information.]

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