Last month, a federal district court in the Commonwealth of Virginia granted a motion to dismiss (based, in part, on mootness grounds), in a website accessibility lawsuit brought under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). This ADA lawsuit was filed by Keith Carroll (“Plaintiff”), a resident of Virginia who is legally blind, against New People’s Bank, Inc. (“NPB”) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia (1:17-cv-44).
How can a defendant in an ADA lawsuit moot a plaintiff’s claims?
Plaintiff’s ADA Lawsuit Allegations and NPB’s Response
In the instant ADA lawsuit, Plaintiff alleged that NPB’s website contained access barriers that prevented his screen reader software from being able to freely navigate NPB’s website. In particular, the alleged website access barriers included:
- (1) linked images missing alternative text;
- (2) redundant links resulting in additional navigation; and
- (3) empty or missing form labels.
Plaintiff claimed that these access barriers prevented him from using NPB’s website to find the nearest branch location—even though the closest NPB branch was 300 miles away. Importantly, Plaintiff did not argue that he intended to use NPB’s online banking services.
NPB is a regional bank, with its principal place of business in Honaker, Virginia. After the instant ADA lawsuit was filed, NPB voluntarily created a new website with “substantially expanded accessibility options.” NPB moved to dismiss the ADA lawsuit on the grounds that Plaintiff lacked standing because NPB’s voluntary website upgrades rendered Plaintiff’s claims moot.
The Court agreed with NPB and found that NPB’s “voluntary upgrades made to the website after this action was filed” mooted Plaintiff’s claim and, therefore, that the Court no longer had jurisdiction over the matter. Notably, the court also found that Plaintiff lacked standing because he did not suffer an “injury.” Specifically, Plaintiff did not argue that he intended to use NPB’s online banking services. In addition, even if the alleged “access barriers” prevented Plaintiff from using the “locator” feature available on NPB’s website, the Court did “not find it plausible that [Plaintiff] intend[ed] to visit a bank whose nearest branch is 300 miles from his house.”
Post-ADA Lawsuit Remedial Measures
Instituting post-ADA lawsuit remedial measures, such as voluntarily addressing website accessibility issues, may be a useful defense in some actions. However, please note that courts in some jurisdictions have rejected this defense, especially in cases where a court has found that there was an actual “injury,” i.e., that plaintiff intended to access the subject website in order to take advantage of certain featured services or products. In practice, though, ADA lawsuit settlements typically include remedial measures. As such, post-ADA lawsuit remedial measures will most often serve a useful purpose and may, in some cases, provide a means to get an ADA lawsuit dismissed altogether.