U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter, of the Southern District of New York recently held that a defendant's online business is a public accomodation covered under the ADA.
In Loadholt v. ShirtSpace, a visually-impaired plaintiff filed an ADA lawsuit against an online store, claiming that he was not able to use the website with the help of screen reading software. The defendant, ShirtSpace, filed a motion to dismiss the case based on lack of standing and the argument that a standalone website is not a place of public accommodation.
The court denied the motion to dismiss under both 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) arguments. To establish standing in an ADA website case, the plaintiff must allege when they attempted to access the website, what they were attempting to do, the specific barriers that prevented them from accessing the website, and how they intend to use the website in the future. The court found that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged injury in fact by stating that he wanted to purchase a T-shirt, which showed his intent to return to the website once it was made accessible.
In regards to the 12(b)(6) argument, the court found that although the Second Circuit has not expressly decided whether a website is a place of public accommodation, the majority of courts in the district have held that they are. The court found that the plaintiff had sufficiently alleged discrimination by stating that he was unable to access the full range of functions on the website.
Finally, the defendant's motion to dismiss the claim for civil penalties, fines, and punitive damages under the NYCHRL was premature, as damages are not an independent cause of action but rather a prayer for relief.
Overall, this case highlights the importance of ensuring that websites are accessible to all individuals, even when the business does not have a brick and mortar location, including those with visually impaired disabilities.