Remediation Plans Don’t Necessarily Moot Independent Claims for Similar Injunctive Relief Under the ADA

Can a remediation plan designed to settle one lawsuit moot claims for similar injunctive relief in another case? Maybe in some contexts, but the Eleventh Circuit rejected that argument on the facts presented in Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC, 2018 WL 3030840 (11th Cir. June 19, 2018), an ADA dispute over website accessibility for the blind.

Haynes had sued for declaratory and injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, demanding that the defendant upgrade its company website to ensure compatibility with “screen reader” software used by visitors with visual impairments. But another plaintiff had beaten Haynes to the punch: an earlier “and nearly identical website-inaccessibility lawsuit” had already settled on terms that required the same defendant to ensure that its website met the “recognized industry standard for website accessibility” (the WCAG 2.0 standard) within 12 months. The district court thus concluded that Haynes’s claims for similar relief were moot and dismissed his lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction.

In an opinion by U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross (sitting by designation from the Northern District of Georgia), the Eleventh Circuit vacated the dismissal and remanded for further proceedings. The court justified that decision first by noting that the defendant’s website might not have been fully upgraded yet—which meant that the issues were still technically “live.” Second, even if the defendant’s remediation plan would “suppl[y] Haynes with much of the relief he requested,” there was still a live controversy over whether the injunction he sought could further require the defendant to “continually update and maintain” its website. And third, the court observed that Haynes would have no way of enforcing the defendant’s remediation plan because he wasn’t a party to the earlier lawsuit or the resulting settlement agreement.

The Haynes opinion doesn’t foreclose every argument that a settlement in one lawsuit moots the claims in another. But as Judge Ross explained, “assurance[s] to an unrelated third party . . . do[] not alone moot [a plaintiff’s] claims for relief.”

Posted by Lee Peifer.

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