Michigan Court Rules Against Credit Unions In Ongoing ADA Litigation

July 27, 2018 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

It appears that reports of the demise of ADA website litigation have been greatly exaggerated. Earlier this week a Federal District Court in Michigan held that a blind person had the right to sue a credit union she claims has an inaccessible website even though she is not eligible for membership. By refusing to dismiss the lawsuit the court ruled that credit unions could potentially be found to violate the ADA.

There are three basic issues involved in the ADA litigation. (1) Does a plaintiff have standing to sue a credit union for which she does not qualify for membership? (2) Does the ADA apply to websites? (3) If it does, does the lack of regulatory guidance on the issue mean that credit unions do not have adequate notice of what they have to do to comply with the website mandate?

As readers of this blog know, in a string of rulings, Federal courts in Virginia have thrown out lawsuits brought by disabled plaintiffs seeking to sue credit unions that they claim have inaccessible websites. These cases have not even addressed questions (2) and (3) because none of the plaintiffs qualified for membership in the credit unions they were seeking to sue. In contrast, in KARLA BRINTLEY v. BELLE RIVER COMMUNITY CREDIT UNION, Case No. 17-13915, a federal district court in Michigan addressed all three of these questions and concluded that the ADA does potentially apply to credit union websites.

The Michigan plaintiff did not qualify for membership in Belle River Community Credit Union but this court ruled that she could prove she was harmed even though she could not be a member. Why? “Because of these barriers, Plaintiff has been denied the ability to effectively browse for Defendant’s services and locations, determine eligibility for membership, and compare Defendant’s services and advantages with its competitors.”

Once the court made that finding it also held for the plaintiff on the other two issues. The court determined that websites are subject to the ADA’s accessibility requirements whenever there is a Nexus between a website and the goods and services being sold by the physical location. The court held that so long as the website provides information such as branch locations and potential products that could be purchased at physical branch locations this standard could be satisfied.

Finally, the court had little patience for the argument that there is insufficient guidance for websites to comply with the ADA. “Plaintiff is simply seeking an order requiring Defendant to comply with Title III; she is not dictating how Defendant must comply with the statute.”

This ruling is important for several reasons. First, it provides a good faith basis for plaintiffs to continue to bring these lawsuits undermining the contention that these lawsuits are frivolous. Second, by creating a split in the circuits (Michigan is in the 6th Circuit, Virginia is in the 4th Circuit) this ruling increases the likelihood that the precise issue of credit union website compliance will be scrutinized by the Courts of Appeals.

This is just my opinion and not legal advice but if you are not taking the time to update your website there is a good chance your credit union is being pennywise and pound foolish. Eventually you will have to make your website ADA compliant; the most cost-effective way of doing that is to work on your own schedule as opposed to following a regulatory mandate or legal settlement.

Entry filed under: Legal Watch, Regulatory. Tags: , .

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., Senior Vice President, General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association. In addition, although Henry strives to give his readers useful and accurate information on a broad range of subjects, many of which involve legal disputes, his views are not a substitute for legal advise from retained counsel.

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