Commentary

Domino's Wants Supreme Court To Limit Disabilities' Rights Law

For years, website operators have battled activists in court over whether the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to the internet.

Now, the pizza chain Domino's, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, is asking the Supreme Court to limit the reach of the landmark disabilities' rights law.

“Companies across every industry are battling website-accessibility lawsuits with no consistent message from the courts on whether or how to comply,” Domino's writes in papers filed recently with the Supreme Court. “This Court should intervene immediately so that Congress, not the courts, can decide whether or how to extend the statute it passed in 1990 to the Internet.”

Domino's is asking the Supreme Court to review a ruling issued in January by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that companies with a physical presence as well as an online presence must take steps to make their web sites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities.

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The 9th Circuit's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by Guillermo Robles, who is blind but is able to access websites by using screen-reading software. He alleged in a 2016 complaint that he attempted to place an online order for a customized pizza from Domino's, but couldn't because the company's website and app were not configured in a way his software could read.

Robles argued that Domino's violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating against people with disabilities.

A trial judge dismissed Robles' lawsuit. He then appealed to the 9th Circuit, which ruled in his favor.

“The ADA mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind,” that court wrote in a 25-page opinion.

Domino's had argued there were no clear standards regarding how to make materials accessible online. Without “established guidelines,” the company said, its right to due process of law would be violated by a ruling in Robles' favor.

The 9th Circuit rejected that argument, ruling that Domino's “received fair notice that its website and app must provide effective communication and facilitate 'full and equal enjoyment' of Domino’s goods and services to its customers who are disabled.”

Domino's and the Chamber of Commerce now want the Supreme Court to come to the opposite conclusion.

In the past, federal judges in different parts of the country have reached different decisions on the extent to which the ADA applies online. In one of the highest-profile cases, a judge in Massachusetts said in a broad ruling issued in 2012 that the disabilities' rights law applies to Netflix. The streaming video company subsequently settled a lawsuit by advocates for hearing impaired people by agreeing to close caption streaming video.

Other courts, however, have taken a narrower view.

The Supreme Court is likely to decide by later this year whether to take up Domino's appeal.

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