Last year we witnessed the filing of a first of its kind putative class-action lawsuit claiming that gift cards that did not contain Braille violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) along with similar state and local laws. Within weeks, more than 240 nearly identical complaints had been filed against a multitude of retailers and restaurant chains in New York. Recently, a federal judge issued the first opinions in these gift card cases dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. While the court granted the plaintiffs the ability to amend their complaints, it is unclear how they will be able to successfully retool the complaints given that the opinions soundly rejected the plaintiffs’ theories of liability.
The court’s first opinion came in a case captioned Dominguez v. Banana Republic LLC. In the following days, the same judge released similar opinions dismissing six additional Braille gift card lawsuits before him on the same grounds. The factual circumstances in the seven cases are similar. In each case, the plaintiffs alleged that they called the defendant and asked whether the defendant’s gift cards contained the information printed on the cards in Braille. After the defendant responded that the gift cards did not contain Braille, the plaintiffs filed suit alleging violations of the ADA and various state and local laws. Each case was filed as a putative class action on behalf of the named plaintiff and a nationwide class of similarly situated blind individuals.
In dismissing the cases, the judge found two fatal flaws in the complaints. The court first found that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to sue the retailers. The court explained that standing to assert an ADA violation claim requires establishing an intent to return to the defendant’s place of business again. In each case, the court found that the plaintiffs’ generic, conclusory allegations concerning prior visits to the defendants’ places of business and close proximity to their stores were insufficient to establish an intent to return.
After resolving the issue of standing, which in and of itself justified dismissal, the court turned to the merits of the ADA claims. The court found that the complaints failed to state a claim for a violation of the ADA. The court held that the ADA does not require a store to stock gift cards in Braille. Title III of the ADA regulates access to “places of public accommodation,” the court explained, not the type of merchandise the merchants sell at those places. In other words, the ADA does not require merchants to sell a particular type of product, in this case gift cards with Braille. It only requires that they provide access to the goods and services they already sell to those with disabilities. To make its point, the court offered an example of a bookstore. “[A] bookstore could not prohibit a visually impaired person from entering its store,” the court wrote in one opinion, “but it need not ensure that the books it sells are available in both Braille and standard print.”
After laying the foundation for the scope of the ADA, the court considered the argument that a gift card was a place of public accommodation not just a good sold at such a place. The court rejected the argument based on the plain meaning of the words used in the statute.
While these decisions undoubtedly provide ammunition for class action defense attorneys, it remains to be seen whether other courts deciding the myriad similar lawsuits in New York will adopt a similar reasoning and approach.
The court’s full opinion in Dominguez can be found here and the opinions in the other cases dismissed on similar grounds can be found here.
Our Chicago, Illinois business dispute and class-action law firm handles individual and class action gift card, data breach, privacy rights, deceptive advertising, predatory lending, unfair debt collection, lemon law, and other consumer fraud cases that government agencies and public interest law firms such as the Illinois Attorney General may not pursue. Class action lawsuits our law firm has been involved in or spear-headed have led to substantial awards totaling over a million dollars to organizations including the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumer Law Center, and local law school consumer programs. The Chicago class action lawyers at Lubin Austermuehle are proud of our achievements in assisting national and local consumer rights organizations to obtain the funds needed to ensure that consumers are protected and informed of their rights. By standing up to consumer fraud and consumer rip-offs, and in the right case filing consumer protection lawsuits and class-actions you too can help ensure that other consumers’ rights are protected from consumer rip-offs and unscrupulous or dishonest practices.
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