Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Ninth Circuit Says Judge Erred in Dismissing Action Claiming Pizza Chain Violates Law Because Persons Without Sight Can’t Place Orders Using Website and App
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reversed the dismissal of an action under the Americans with Disabilities Act against Domino’s Pizza brought by a blind man who complains that he is unable to place an order using the company’s website and app despite his screen-reading software.
Circuit John B. Owens wrote the opinion which reverses an action taken on March 20, 2017, by District Court Judge S. James Otero of the Central District of California. While finding that the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) does apply to websites, he said that the plaintiff, Guillermo Robles, was asking the court to apply Department of Justice (“DOJ”) guidelines “without specifying a particular level of success criteria and without the DOJ offering meaningful guidance on this topic,” commenting:
“This request flies in the face of due process.”
Otero dismissed the action without prejudice, pursuant to the primary jurisdiction doctrine which permits a court to place a case in abeyance pending the formulation of policies by an administrative agencies possessing expertise. He called on “Congress, the Attorney General, and the Department of Justice to take action to set minimum web accessibility standards for the benefit of the disabled community.”
Owens agreed with Otero that the ADA applies to websites, but disagreed that there are due process concerns in applying the act to Domino’s. He wrote:
“[W]e hold that Domino’s has received fair notice that its website and app must comply with the ADA….
“The ADA articulates comprehensible standards to which Domino s conduct must conform. Since its enactment in 1990. the ADA has clearly stated that covered entities must provide ‘full and equal enjoyment of the[ir] goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations’ to people with disabilities…, and must ‘ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.’ ”
Lack of Guidelines
The lack of specific guidelines, the jurist said, is not tantamount to an absence of fair notice.
“While we understand why Domino’s wants DOJ to issue specific guidelines for website and app accessibility,” Owens remarked, “the Constitution only requires that Domino’s receive fair notice of its legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance with its statutory obligations.”
Otero erred in invoking the primary jurisdiction doctrine, he declared, saying that “the potential for undue delay is not just likely, but inevitable.”
“We express no opinion about whether Domino’s website or app comply with the ADA. We leave it to the district court, after discovery, to decide in the first instance whether Domino s website and app provide the blind with effective communication and full and equal enjoyment of its products and services as the ADA mandates.”
In a footnote, Owens said the court is also reversing Otero’s dismissal of Robles’s claims under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The case is Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, 17-55504.
Robles brought a similar action against Yum! Brands, Inc., doing business as Pizza Hut. District Court Judge Otis Wright II last Jan. 24 denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The case was subsequently settled.
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