Quick Hits

  • A judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania recently ruled that only businesses whose websites have a connection to a physical store location open to the general public are covered by Title III of the ADA.
  • Because the Western District of Pennsylvania is a hotbed for ADA accessibility claims, demand letters, and lawsuits, the court’s ruling could provide a solid basis to resist the claims in both the judicial district and elsewhere in the Third Circuit.

In Murphy v. Spongellé LLC, the court reviewed prior decisions, as well as those of other district courts in the Third Circuit, which had generally held that a website could only be considered a place of public accommodation if a plaintiff alleged that a nexus existed between the website and the defendant’s physical store location. In other words, the Third Circuit requires an allegation that a website’s inaccessibility interferes with the “full and equal enjoyment” of the goods and services offered at a corresponding physical location. If a business is purely virtual or lacks a place open to the public, such a nexus is not possible. In dismissing the plaintiff’s website accessibility claim in Spongellé, the court reiterated that because the Third Circuit had not extended the ADA’s protections to websites beyond the nexus requirement, the district court could not do so.

Although the Third Circuit has not definitively addressed whether a website can be considered a “place of public of accommodation” under Title III of the ADA, it has previously held outside of the website context that Title III’s protections against discrimination extend only to cases of discrimination connected to a physical location.

This ruling reverses what had been the prevailing trend in this judicial district, and it provides a basis for online retailers or other businesses without connections to physical store locations to resist the many website access demand letters and lawsuits based in the district.

Ogletree Deakins’ Disability Access Practice Group will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the Disability Access and State Developments blogs as additional information becomes available.

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The lawyers in Ogletree Deakins’ Disability Access Practice Group have extensive experience helping their clients face the multiple challenges presented by Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability access laws. From defending class actions, to ensuring compliance with federal and state building standards-thereby eliminating the conditions that lead to litigation-to navigating the complicated regulations covering service animals, hotel reservations, ticketing, and Segways, our work is comprehensive.

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Ogletree Deakins is a retail industry leader with clients ranging from brick-and-mortar retailers to online merchants, and small businesses to Fortune 500 corporations. We represent companies in a range of retail sectors, including but not limited to: discount stores, department stores, luxury retailers, home goods and specialty stores, home improvement centers, grocers, pharmacies, online retailers…

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