Federal Court Holds That Commercial Websites Are Public AccomodationsBy Carlson Lynch On May 15, 2017
On April 21, 2017, the Honorable Arthur J. Schwab, sitting in the Western District of Pennsylvania, entered a Consolidated Memorandum Opinion and Order denying motions to dismiss filed by Churchill Downs Incorporated and AmeriServ Financial Bank. Plaintiffs in both cases -- Lisa Frazier, R. David New and Access Now Inc. -- are blind individuals who attempted to use various websites owned and operated by Churchill Downs and AmeriServ but could not because the websites are inaccessible in violation of the ADA. Plaintiffs, by way of their Complaints, asserted that a permanent injunction is necessary to ensure Defendants’ websites will become, and will remain accessible to Plaintiffs and other blind or visually impaired individuals.
Churchill Downs and Ameriserv each moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaints relying largely on the same underlying arguments -- that because the websites are not “places of public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA, Defendants cannot be said to have violated the ADA by virtue of their inaccessible websites. In a thorough and well-reasoned Opinion, Judge Schwab highlighted the purpose of the ADA based on its legislative history:
The purpose of Title III of the ADA, is “to bring individuals with disabilities into the economic and social mainstream of American life . . . in a clear, balanced, and reasonable manner.” H.R.Rep. No. 485, 101st Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 2, at 99 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 303, 382. In drafting Title III, Congress intended that people with disabilities have equal access to the array of goods and services offered by private establishments and made available to those who do not have disabilities. S.Rep. No. 116, 101st Cong., 1st Sess. at 58 (1989).
Consistent with the statutory language of the ADA and case law in the 1st Circuit, 3rd Circuit and others, Judge Schwab held that because Plaintiffs’ were subject to discrimination at property which Churchill Downs and AmeriServ own and operate, and through which they offer their services, Churchill Downs and AmeriServ may be liable under Title III of the ADA.