In another blow to those defending website accessibility cases, brought by legally blind or visually impaired plaintiffs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed pursuant to Title III of the ADA in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, Case No. 17-5504, the plaintiff, a blind man, alleged that Domino’s had failed to construct, design, maintain and operate both its website and mobile application in such a manner so that he could fully access them. Robles claimed that on at least two separate occasions he had tried to order a customized pizza online from Domino’s but was unsuccessful because the Domino’s website and mobile application did not allow his software to read them.
The federal district court dismissed Robles’ complaint without prejudice. Although the district court found that Title III of the ADA did in fact apply to both Domino’s website and mobile application, the court, nevertheless, concluded that the application of the ADA to the Domino’s website and mobile application violated the company’s due process rights because the Department of Justice had failed to provide any helpful guidance on the issue and that “regulations and technical assistance are necessary for the Court to determine what obligations a regulated individual or institution must abide by in order to comply with Title III.” Since the district court felt that only such regulations could cure these due process issues, it invoked what is known as the “primary jurisdiction doctrine”, a doctrine that allows a trial court to stay or dismiss a complaint without prejudice.
On appeal, however, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the case back down to the trial court, agreeing with the district court that the ADA did apply to Domino’s website and mobile application but disagreeing with the district court’s application of the primary jurisdiction doctrine and its conclusion that imposing liability on Domino’s pursuant to Title III of the ADA somehow violated its due process rights. The appellate court further reasoned that Robles was not seeking to have Domino’s held liable for a failure to comply with private industry standards regarding website accessibility, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0; rather, an equitable remedy, requiring compliance with WGAC 2.0 was a possibility.
The Ninth Circuit, in its opinion in Robles, made clear it was expressing no opinion as to whether Domino’s website or mobile application actually complied with the ADA but rather was leaving that determination to the trial court.