Appellate Court Finds Websites Not Covered Under ADA, Sets Up Circuit Split

Websites are not considered “places of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a ruling this week from a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The decision in the case sets up a conflict with a Ninth Circuit ruling that ADA does apply to websites and mobile apps, known as a “circuit split,” which may increase the chances that the Supreme Court would resolve the dueling interpretations.

In the 11th Circuit case, which applies to Alabama, Florida and Georgia, a customer sued supermarket chain Winn-Dixie Stores over the accessibility of its website. The appellate court found that “[t]he statutory language in Title III of the ADA defining ‘public accommodation’ is unambiguous and clear,” describing 12 types of public accommodations, all of them “tangible, physical places. No intangible places or spaces, such as websites, are listed. Thus, we conclude that, pursuant to the plain language of Title III of the ADA, public accommodations are limited to actual, physical places.”

The American Bankers Association has long supported banks’ efforts to provide accessible websites while expressing concern that unclear guidance from the Justice Department has left banks and other businesses exposed to litigation risk and demand letters despite their best efforts to comply. ABA and the state bankers associations have also called for greater clarity on whether and how the requirements of the ADA apply to websites and have supported legislation that would achieve this result.