The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied Domino’s Pizza Inc.’s appeal over whether its website runs afoul of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The denial leaves in place the Ninth Circuit’s decision holding that the ADA applies to the pizza chain’s website and mobile application.

Accessibility under the ADA

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act provides, in relevant part, that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Under the law, places of public accommodation are defined as privately operated entities whose operations affect commerce, such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, retail stores, private schools and daycare facilities, recreational facilities, and doctors’ offices.

Drafted in 1990, the ADA does not address whether its accessibility requirements apply to the Internet. At the same time, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated that the requirements of the ADA apply to private Internet Web sites and services. Still, it has failed to establish a website accessibility standard.

In the absence of a clear mandate, ADA lawsuits have proliferated. In 2018 alone, litigants filed over 2,250 federal lawsuits asserting ADA violations based on Web-site inaccessibility, nearly tripling the number filed in 2017. Courts have also struggled over whether Title III imposes accessibility requirements on Web-only businesses with no fixed physical location. The circuits also don’t agree on whether Title III imposes discrete accessibility requirements on Web sites maintained by businesses whose brick-and-mortar locations are considered ADA-covered public accommodations.

Domino’s Pizza LLC v. Robles

In Domino’s Pizza LLC v. Robles, plaintiff Guillermo Robles, a blind man, alleged that he could not order the pizza from his local Domino’s because the company failed to design its Web site and app so his software could read them. Robles accesses the internet using screen-reading software, which vocalizes visual information on websites.

Robles’ suit sought damages and injunctive relief based on Domino’s failure to “design, construct, maintain, and operate its [website and app] to be fully accessible to and independently usable by Mr. Robles and other blind or visually-impaired people,” in violation of the ADA and UCRA. Robles sought a “permanent injunction requiring Defendant to . . . comply with [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0] for its website and Mobile App.” Domino’s moved for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the ADA did not cover Domino’s online offerings; and (2) applying the ADA to the Web site or app violated Domino’s due process rights.

The district dismissed the suit, finding that Domino’s satisfied its obligations under the ADA by providing a toll-free number to assist disabled customers in accessing the website and placing orders. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed. It held that held the ADA applied to Domino’s Web site and app because the Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the Web site and app away from Domino’s physical restaurants, the Ninth Circuit concluded that “the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation.” The appeals court further held that the lack of specific regulations, not yet promulgated by the DOJ, did not eliminate Domino’s statutory duty. While Domino’s asked the Supreme Court to consider the case, it declined to do so.

Key Takeaway

The Supreme Court’s failure to grant Domino’s petition for certiorari means that the Ninth Circuit’s decision expressly extending Title III to Web sites maintained by brick-and-mortar establishments and mobile apps will stand. It also means that the flood of Web site-accessibility lawsuits will likely grow, leading to an increased risk of liability for businesses. Given the risks, it makes sense for companies to be proactive and take steps to ensure that their websites, mobile applications, and other online platforms are ADA-compliant. For assistance, we encourage you to contact a member of the Scarinci Hollenbeck Business Law Group.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Bill Samuels, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-806-3364.