Read the full decision: Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC
California federal court rules that a company was not required to comply with website accessibility guidelines because the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to promulgate clear guidance on the accessibility requirements.
Domino’s Pizza, LLC (“Website Owner”) owned and operated the website “dominos.com” (“Website”). A lawsuit filed against the Website Owner alleged that the Website was incompatible with screen reading devices and so prevented individuals who used these devices from making purchases. In particular, the lawsuit alleged that the Website had failed to comply with WCAG 2.0 Guidelines. The website user (“User”) claimed that failing to meet these standards constituted a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). 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 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 yet to issue a final rule.
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 to meet certain standards when the DOJ has failed to promulgate the required standard for compliance.
The United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the User’s lawsuit and entered judgment in favor of the Website Owner. The court examined the how the ADA applied to public websites engaged in commerce. Nothing in the ADA statute or the implementing regulations addressed whether websites constituted places of public accommodation. Looking at an earlier case, an appellate court had determined that a theater owner was not required to comply with proposed DOJ rules for viewing accessibility because the DOJ had failed to finalize its rules. Similar to this case, the DOJ rules had been in process for seven years. The Ninth Circuit stated that the failure to issue final rules left “in-house counsel [and] others to read correctly legislative tea leaves” and requiring compliance with unknown standards constituted a denial of due process.
Finding that the Website Owner was in a similar predicament as the theater owner because the DOJ had failed to issue website accessibility guidelines, the court dismissed the User’s lawsuit. The court found that it would be impossible for the Website Owner to determine the proper standard for website accessibility, since not only had the DOJ failed to issue website compliance rules but the DOJ had also entered into settlements which required businesses to implement a variety of compliance requirements. Further, the court also commented that the User had failed to demonstrate why the Website Owner’s providing a 24-hour telephone number to those who had trouble accessing the site did not constitute a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Because there was no clear requirement for website accessibility, the court dismissed the User’s lawsuit.
Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC, No. CV1606599SJOSPX, 2017 WL 1330216 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 20, 2017), rev'd and remanded sub nom. Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC, No. 17-55504, 2019 WL 190134 (9th Cir. Jan. 15, 2019).