Government and Administrative

Confusion Follows Eleventh Circuit Decision In Seminal ADA Website Case Vacating Its Prior Ruling In Favor Of Winn-Dixie Based On Mootness

Confusion Follows Eleventh Circuit Decision In Seminal ADA Website Case Vacating Its Prior Ruling In Favor Of Winn-Dixie Based On Mootness

The litigation landscape for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website claims grew murkier after the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated its previous ruling in the grocery store chain’s favor. In Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.,[1] the court held that, due to the expiration of the injunction while the appeal was pending and the absence of any formal award of declaratory relief, the appeal was rendered moot. The appeals court order also vacates the underlying judgment, dismisses the appeal and remands for the district court to dismiss the case as moot.

The court’s now-vacated decision[2] overturned what had been a ground-breaking Florida district court ruling,[3] finding Winn-Dixie liable to blind Plaintiff Gil under the ADA based on the inaccessibility of its website. In holding that websites were not places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA because websites are not actual, physical places under the express language of the Act, the Eleventh Circuit’s decision was a rare victory for businesses that had faced an onslaught of ADA website lawsuits in recent years without federal guidance.

But the panel decision in Winn-Dixie’s favor included a vigorous dissent authored by Judge Jill A. Pryor. Following the decision, the Eleventh Circuit issued an order stating that a judge of the court withheld issuance of the mandate. Gil filed a petition for rehearing en banc arguing, among other things, that the case was moot because the district court’s injunction had by its own terms expired within three years, or by July 5, 2020, while the appeal was pending. Thus, it appeared that the case was likely headed to a review by the entire court.

Instead, in a surprise outcome, the same divided panel that had hotly contested the applicability of the ADA to a website in a 67-page decision now resolved to dodge the issue altogether by finding the case moot. It is a disappointing result for those looking to the court for much-needed guidance.

The Eleventh Circuit has punted on this issue for now; however, it is likely that another federal circuit will find conflict with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the ADA extends to websites if the plaintiff can show a nexus between the services offered on the inaccessible website and the public accommodation, i.e., the actual physical location.[4] In the end, only the Supreme Court or Congress can provide the clarity businesses so desperately need.

Additional articles on this case:

Eleventh Circuit Vacates First-of-Its-Kind ADA Website Accessibility Judgment Against Grocery Store Chain

Blind Plaintiff Prevails in First-of-Its-Kind ADA Website Accessibility Trial Against Grocery Store Chain

[1]  No. 17-13467, 2021 WL 6129128 (11th Cir. December 28, 2021).

[2]  Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. 17-13467, 2021 WL 1289906 (11th Cir. April 7, 2021).

[3] Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 257 F. Supp. 3d 1340, 1345 (S.D. Fla. 2017).

[4] Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, 913 F.3d 898 (9th Cir. 2019), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 122 (2019).