SCOTUS leaves 9th Circuit's Ruling on ADA Violations Intact
On October 7, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition for writ of certiorari from Domino’s Pizza, LLC, a decision which will certainly impact the way corporations do business over the internet in the western United States. The denial of certiorari concerned a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the case Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC which held that Domino’s Pizza violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to make its website and mobile application fully accessible to blind and visually impaired persons. The inaction of the Supreme Court to grant certiorari on this matter has cemented the Ninth Circuit’s decision and protects blind and visually impaired people from becoming disadvantaged in a society that regularly relies on the internet for everyday ordeals. However, while this decision provides a safeguard for blind and visually impaired individuals, it leaves businesses in a state of redress as a restructured internet strategy will likely need to be implemented by many businesses in order to prevent lawsuits of this nature in the future.
Plaintiff Guillermo Robles was tempted to file suit against Domino’s Pizza after two failed attempts to order a customized pizza from Domino’s website and app. Although Robles utilized a software program which is designed to help the blind order food and merchandise online, Domino’s website and app was not designed to sufficiently accommodate the software program and Robles was unable to submit his order due to his blindness. Under Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, the ADA “as a whole is intended to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” Further, Title III of the ADA states “no 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 operates a place of public accommodation.” Ultimately, the court relied upon this framework to hold that since Domino’s website and app serve an identical function as a physical Domino’s restaurant, the ADA applies in full to both because they are considered public accommodations.
The decision in Robles serves as a statement to businesses that the Ninth Circuit will not tolerate discrimination towards those with disabilities, even something as minor as not being able to customize a pizza online. As a result of Robles, many businesses will need to think twice before releasing new applications and updated websites which may fall short of complying with the standards set by the ADA. However, the outcome of a similar cases may differ in the future. Given the Supreme Courts failure to grant certiorari, a circuit split is possible if this issue makes its way to another circuit. Further, what happens if a business operates entirely through the internet and no physical accommodation exists? A case considering whether a connection between a website and a physical place is required in order to enforce Article III of the ADA is pending within the 11th Circuit. Consequently, the future of cases concerning the internet and the ADA is cloudy, however, the law has been clarified in the west. Only time will tell whether the Ninth Circuits interpretation prevails in the long term.
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