Two Court Rulings Completely Disagree With Each Other Over Whether Websites Need To Comply With Americans With Disabilities Act
from the waiting-for-the-supreme-court dept
The 9th Circuit ruling made quick work of things, noting that it has ruled on this issue before and websites are not places of public accommodation:
We have previously interpreted the statutory term “place of public accommodation” to require “some connection between the good or service complained of and an actual physical place.” ... Because Netflix’s services are not connected to any “actual, physical place,” Netflix is not subject to the ADA.The court in the Scribd, case, however, sees things differently (and, Vermont is a long way from the 9th Circuit, so those precedents do not apply in Vermont). The Vermont court is well aware that the 9th Circuit -- and others -- don't think websites are places of public accommodation:
On the narrow end, the Ninth, Third, and Sixth Circuits each considered ADA claims brought by an employee who received benefits through his or her employer that were issued by a third party insurance company. All three courts held that Title III did not apply because there was not a sufficient connection between the discrimination the plaintiffs alleged and a physical place. Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 198 F.3d 1104, 1114 (9th Cir. 2000) (explaining that “some connection between the good or service complained of and an actual physical place is required”); Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601, 613 (3d Cir. 1998) (holding “public accommodation” and the list of examples in the statute were not ambiguous and did not refer to non-physical access); Parker v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 121 F.3d 1006, 1011 (6th Cir. 1997) (en banc) (noting that “a public accommodation is a physical place” and a benefit plan offered by an employer is not a good offered by a place of public accommodation).However, the Vermont court also notes that other Circuits have interpreted the ADA more broadly:
On the broad end, other circuit courts have read Title III to apply even in the absence of some connection to a physical place. In Carparts Distrib. Ctr., Inc. v. Auto. Wholesaler’s Ass’n of New England, 37 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 1994), the First Circuit explained that public accommodations are not limited to physical structures. The court reasoned that by including “travel service” on the list of examples in the definition, Congress clearly contemplated that “service establishments” could include providers of services that do not require a person to physically enter a structure or site but may instead conduct their business by telephone or correspondence. Id. It would be “absurd” to conclude people who enter an office to purchase a service are protected by the ADA but people who purchase the same service over the telephone or by mail are not.It lists a few other examples as well -- including the Netflix case from 2012 -- and then notes: "Clearly there is more than one reasonable interpretation of the language at issue here." And thus, it comes down on the side of saying the ADA should apply, noting how important a law it was in stopping discrimination. It leans heavily on that 2012 ruling against Netflix:
Taking into account all of the relevant background information explored above, the Court finds Judge Ponsor’s reasoning in Netflix persuasive. The Internet is central to every aspect of the “economic and social mainstream of American life.” PGA Tour, 532 U.S. at 675. In such a society, “excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet from the ADA would ‘run afoul of the purposes of the ADA and would severely frustrate Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges, and advantages available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.” Netflix, 869 F. Supp. 2d at 200 (quoting Carparts, 37 F.3d at 20).With so many conflicting rulings, it sounds like this is a situation where either Congress needs to update the ADA to clarify, or the Supreme Court needs to step in. And while we're very much against discrimination, broadly applying the ADA to websites would have some serious consequences, going well beyond what the law is supposed to be doing. We're already seeing folks like Team Prenda abusing the ADA to shake down small physical shops -- and you can bet that if the law is determined to apply widely to websites, they'll quickly return to their old ways of shaking down folks online as well. Yes, websites should strive to be created to accommodate people with different issues, but using a law that was clearly designed for physical retail stores, and saying it needs to automatically apply to all websites seems like a bad way to do this.
The Court must therefore determine whether the services Scribd offers properly fall within any of the general categories of public accommodations listed in the statute. Construing the list of categories liberally, Plaintiffs have persuasively argued that Scribd’s services fall within at least one of the following categories: “place of exhibition or entertainment,” a “sales or rental establishment,” a “service establishment,” a “library,” a “gallery,” or a “place of public display or collection.” ... Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that Scribd owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. Accordingly, Scribd’s motion to dismiss is denied.