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Third appeals court sides with credit unions in ADA litigation

Credit unions scored their third appellate court victory in the ongoing legal battle over compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned on Tuesday a lower court decision in litigation that alleges the websites of two Michigan CUs were not compliant with the ADA.

The same individual had filed suit against the $45 million-asset Aeroquip Credit Union in Jackson, Mich., and the $21 million-asset Belle River Community Credit Union in Casco, Mich. In January the Credit Union National Association and the Michigan Credit Union League filed two amicus briefs in the Sixth Circuit in support of the institutions.

The Sixth Circuit determined the plaintiff was not within the field of membership of either credit union, and she did not convey any interest in joining either CU. Because of that, the plaintiff did not suffer an injury entitling her to standing to sue.

The ruling was similar to those issued by other courts this year, most recently in July, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit dismissed a lawsuit against Aurora Policemen Credit Union in Aurora, Ill. In that case, the Seventh Circuit upheld the finding by a district court that the plaintiff “had not suffered an injury-in-fact,” and therefore had no standing to file a suit against the credit union.

In March, an Ohio court dismissed a suit against BMI Federal Credit Union in Dublin, Ohio, finding the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the lawsuit. In January, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit filed against Smart Financial Credit Union in Houston. The court said the plaintiff did have standing as he “seemed to fall” in Smart Financial Credit Union's field of membership. However, the court ruled a website is “not a physical place,” meaning the credit union would not be liable under the ADA.

The first appeals court to side with credit unions on the ADA website issue was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which determined the plaintiff in the case lacked standing to sue the $90 million-asset Department of Labor Federal Credit Union in Washington, D.C.,

Dave Adams, president and CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League, said in a statement on Tuesday that he was “thrilled that the Sixth Circuit has now joined with the Fourth and Seventh Circuit” when it reversed a Michigan federal court’s refusal to dismiss two cases.

“MCUL, along with CUNA, worked to help Aeroquip and Belle River Community Credit Unions when it was clear that the plaintiff had brought lawsuits without any legal merit,” Adams said. “We are committed to working to support credit unions from baseless claims by plaintiff law firms seeking to harass and make money on cases that lack any support in law or fact. We see this decision as a victory for Michigan credit unions as well as all credit unions nationally.”

CUNA noted it attended arguments in the case involving the two Michigan credit unions.

Both CUNA and the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions have lobbied the Department of Justice, Congress and numerous state attorneys general asking for a solution to end ADA lawsuits against credit unions.

“We are grateful that another appellate-level court has dismissed this latest lawsuit designed to exploit a law that protects disabled Americans,” said Jim Nussle, CUNA’s president and CEO. “These outcomes in the courts are encouraging, and CUNA will continue its engagement with policymakers and regulators to secure much-needed clarity on how credit unions can protect themselves from similar legal actions while ensuring website accessibility.”

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