ADA: Amicus briefs and pizza problems
The Credit Union National Association and the Michigan Credit Union League this week filed two amicus briefs in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of credit unions that had been hit with lawsuits involving claims related to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As has been the case in several such lawsuits over the past 15 months, the two CUs asked the respective courts to dismiss the suits because the plaintiff is ineligible to join the credit unions, and therefore “lacks standing” and cannot allege harm.
This week’s action by the two trade groups were in support of Belle River Community Credit Union, a $21 million-asset institution based in Casco, Mich., and Aeroquip Credit Union, a $44 million-asset CU in Jackson, Mich.
“CUNA has chosen to strategically focus on specific cases that could serve as important milestones in our defense of credit unions being hit with these predatory lawsuits, and this appellate-level case is one we feel that CUNA and league support can help set binding precedent,” Jim Nussle, CUNA’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “We are encouraged by our victory at the appellate level this month, and will continue our work with the leagues to ensure credit unions are not harmed by lawsuits taking advantage of a law that protects disabled Americans.”
As reported, earlier in January the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined the plaintiff in a lawsuit against $90 million-asset Department of Labor Federal Credit Union in Washington, D.C., lacked standing. The plaintiff alleged DOL FCU’s website was not compliant with the ADA.
Several cases across the country have been dismissed by courts on the grounds the plaintiff lacked standing to sue.
Could pizza mean problems for CU ADA suits?
While credit unions received good news from the Fourth Circuit in the DOL FCU case, the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions on Wednesday sounded an alarm regarding a development in an ongoing lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza.
In a post Wednesday on the trade group’s compliance blog, Brandy Bruyere, NAFCU's VP of regulatory compliance, explained the pizza chain had successfully asked a lower court to dismiss a lawsuit against it based on the argument the ADA did not contain “clear standards” as to what it means for a website to be “accessible.” The lower court agreed with Domino’s assertion that, without meaningful guidance from the Department of Justice, it was “essentially unfair” to require compliance with a private industry standard to meet ADA accessibility requirements.
However, on Jan. 15, the Ninth Circuit federal appellate court overruled the lower court’s decision. The appeals court ruled the ADA could apply to the website and mobile app of a business that is a public accommodation where there is a “nexus” between the website and/or the app and the physical locations of the business in question.
According to analysis by NAFCU, the appellate court left open the idea that it might be possible to have a situation where the inaccessibility of a website or mobile app did not “impede access to the goods and services” offered at physical locations. The trade association noted the appellate court did not reach a conclusion regarding whether a toll-free telephone number might provide “accessibility,” leaving that as an issue for a trial court to decide.
The appellate court also disagreed with the argument that the imposition of private industry standards regarding website accessibility violated the pizza chain’s legal rights. The Ninth Circuit said applying such standards could be seen as a “possible equitable remedy.”
NAFCU concluded that additional ADA suits could crop up in states covered by the Ninth Circuit – California, Oregon, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska –“but to what extent that would impact credit unions remains to be seen,” Bruyere wrote.