Sixth Circuit Holds Nonmember of Credit Union Lacks Standing to Bring ADA Claim Based on Allegedly Inaccessible Website

In Brintley v. Aeroquip Credit Union et al., Case Nos. 18-2326/2328 (August 8, 2019), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order dismissing an Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claim alleging that the defendant credit union’s website was not accessible to the blind.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision allowing the case to proceed, finding that Brintley had failed to allege either that she was eligible for membership in the credit union or had a present intent to make herself eligible, and therefore lacked standing.  In so doing, the Court joined two other appellate courts that have similarly held that an individual who is ineligible for membership in a credit union fails to allege an injury in fact despite alleging visits to an inaccessible website. 

Brintley alleged that she “want[ed] to avail herself of the [credit union’s] banking services,” but was prevented from doing so by virtue of the fact that the credit union’s website was not fully accessible to her screen reader software.  The Court held, however, that because Brintley was not within the credit union’s field of membership, she was not eligible to use the credit union’s services and therefore was not harmed by her alleged inability to access its website.  Although Brintley alleged that she desired to use the credit union’s services, the Court noted that she alleged no concrete plans to make herself eligible for membership.  Therefore, “the credit unions did not injure Brintley.”

Brintley also alleged that she suffered an “informational harm” by virtue of being denied the ability to review the credit union’s eligibility requirements on the website, or use other “services” made available on the website such as a rate calculator.  The Court rejected that argument, however, holding that under the Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1549 (2016), she must allege that the information found on the website has a special relevance to her distinct from any other member of the general public.  Because she is ineligible to join the credit union, she could allege no special relevance.  Finally, the Court rejected Brintley’s argument that she suffered dignitary harm by virtue of the inaccessible website, holding that “[m]ere indignation and mere affront are not sufficiently particularized injuries under Article III, whether the claimant purports to be a “tester” or not.” 

Although the decision relies heavily on the fact that Brintley was ineligible for membership in the credit union, the Court’s analysis might be applied to other types of website accessibility cases where the plaintiff has not, or cannot, allege a plausible need or ability to use the goods or services available on the website.  The Court noted that both the Fourth Circuit and the Ninth Circuit “have dismissed [plaintiff’s] claims for this precise reason,” and “[n]othing about Brintley’s case counsels a different outcome.”

[View source.]

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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