11th Circuit: Websites Not Public Accommodations Under ADA

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently held that websites are not covered as places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), rejecting a challenge to a grocery store’s inaccessible website that permitted customers to refill existing prescriptions for in-store pickup and link digital coupons to their store rewards cards, but did not offer any sales directly through the website.

The decision arose from a claim that the defendant, a grocery store chain, violated the ADA by failing to make its website accessible to blind individuals.  The Eleventh Circuit’s ruling is based on its interpretation that the term “place of public accommodation,” as used in the ADA, only applies to physical, tangible places.  Additionally, the court held that websites that are inaccessible to disabled individuals do not violate the ADA where they do not create an “intangible barrier” to the access and full enjoyment of the goods and services offered at the physical place of public accommodation.  In this case, because the defendant grocery store chain maintained physical locations that disabled individuals could access, and because its website had only limited use (no purchases could be made on the website), the court found the defendant did not violate the ADA by failing to make its website accessible to blind customers.

With this decision, the Eleventh Circuit has furthered a circuit split on the issue.  The Third and Sixth Circuits have also ruled that places of public accommodation are limited to physical places.  The Ninth Circuit employs a “nexus” theory, holding that websites are places of public accommodations only if they have a “nexus” to a physical location that is also covered by the ADA.  The First and Seventh Circuits, on the other hand, have held that websites can be places of public accommodation even if they are not connected to a physical space. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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