Georgia district court allows ADA suits to proceed against credit unions for their websites’ barriers to access to blind persons

In Jones v. Lanier Fed. Credit Union, No. 2:17-CV-00282-RWS (N.D. Ga. Sept. 26, 2018) and Jones v. Piedmont Plus Fed. Credit Union, No. 1:17-CV-5214-RWS (N.D. Ga. Sept. 26, 2018) a Georgia District Court allowed claims brought by a legally blind plaintiff to proceed against credit unions because their websites denied the plaintiff full use of the credit unions’ services.

The Plaintiff in these cases is legally blind. He brought actions under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) against federal credit unions alleging that the credit unions’ websites contained barriers that deny full use to those who are visually impaired. The credit union moved to dismiss on several grounds, none of which were successful.

The first ground argued in Jones was that the Plaintiff lacked standing because since he is not and cannot be a member of the credit union, he has not suffered a concrete injury or that he faces a real threat of future harm. The court held that membership is not, however, a prerequisite for standing. It found that Plaintiff suffered a concrete injury when he attempted to access the website but was unable to fully and effectively utilize it. Additionally, he has adequately plead a threat of future discrimination by Defendant by alleging an intent to return to the website, where he will face barriers to access because he is visually-impaired.

The credit unions in both cases next argued was that although the credit unions physical locations are public accommodations, the websites are not places of public accommodation under the ADA. The courts noted a split among the courts on whether the ADA limits places of public accommodation to physical spaces. The courts found that the Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged a connection between the credit unions websites and their physical locations. The websites provided goods and services such as “information concerning the … locations it operates [and] information and descriptions of its amenities and services, privileges, advantages, and accommodations,” and they “allow[ ] users to find the locations for them to visit.” As alleged, the websites are heavily integrated with, and in many ways operates as a gateway to, the credit unions’ physical locations and the Plaintiff cannot fully and equally enjoy the goods and services offered because of the websites’ inaccessibility.

Finally, the court shot down the credit unions’ argument which is that because the Department of Justice has not promulgated standards governing the accessibility of websites under the ADA, the injunction Plaintiff sought would violate due process under the void for vagueness doctrine. The Court found that the ADA was so unclear as to be unconstitutionally vague, even without the benefit of Department of Justice regulations and that the Plaintiff was not seeking an injunction imposing standards set forth in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which are set by a private organization. Plaintiff instead was seeking to require compliance with the ADA, without dictating how a defendant must comply.

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