Florida has long been considered a hotbed of lawsuits filed under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Certainly, that practice has continued with the most recent trend of ADA cases, namely lawsuits alleging that websites are not accessible to the legally blind or visually impaired.
For those defending website accessibility cases under the ADA, unfortunately three fairly recent court decisions on cases filed in federal courts in south Florida will probably only increase the number of such lawsuits in Florida and further embolden counsel representing plaintiffs. Most recently, on August 29, 2018, in the second known case where there has been a ruling on the merits in a website accessibility case, Judge Marcia G. Cooke of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, in the case of Gomez v. General Nutrition Corporation, granted the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of liability, concluding that General Nutrition Corporation’s website was a place of public accommodation under the ADA, that “the remaining evidence suggests the Website is inaccessible” and that “[b]ecause the inaccessibility of the Website prevents Gomez from fully enjoying a service of the physical store, GNC is discriminating against Gomez and violating the ADA.” Judge Cooke left open the issue of remedy in denying summary judgment as to remedy.
The importance of the partial summary judgment in the Gomez case cannot be understated in that Judge Cooke found that the Defendant had violated the ADA without a trial. In Gil v. Winn-Dixie, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90204, the first website accessibility case where there was a decision on the merits, Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr., also of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, ruled in favor of the Plaintiff and against Winn-Dixie but only after a full trial. That case, by the way, is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit which heard oral argument over four months ago. There has been no decision yet on the appeal.
About a month before the decision in Gomez, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, in Haynes v. Dunkin’ Donuts, LLC et al., an appeal of the dismissal of a website accessibility case that had been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, reversed that dismissal, ruling that the blind plaintiff could pursue his claim that the website in question was inaccessible. The case was remanded back down to the trial court to conduct further proceedings.