January 28, 2019

Texas court dismisses CU's ADA lawsuit

gavelThe U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Smart Financial Credit Union related to website accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. NAFCU had filed an amicus brief in support of the credit union in this case.

In its decision, the court found that the plaintiff did have standing as he seemed to fall in the credit union's field of membership; however, the court determined that a website is not a physical place and the credit union would not be liable under the ADA.

"This decision reinforces the need for the Department of Justice to provide clarity on ADA website requirements as different courts continue to come to different conclusions," said NAFCU Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel Carrie Hunt. "NAFCU will continue to press the department for guidance to ensure credit unions feel confident in their website offerings."

NAFCU has filed 16 amicus briefs in seven different states to support credit unions targeted by ADA website accessibility litigation. So far, nine of the complaints in which NAFCU has supported the credit union have been dismissed, though many of the courts determined that the plaintiff lacked standing.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the Department of Labor Federal Credit Union (DOLFCU) related to website accessibility standards. The court determined that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring the lawsuit as he did not fall within the credit union's field of membership and could not become a member.

In another recent case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that ADA requirements are applicable to websites and mobile applications. This decision did not address the issue of standing.

NAFCU has been active on this issue over the past year and has engaged with the Justice Department and Congress to provide guidance. In September, a group of senators – led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa – sent a NAFCU-sought letter to the Justice Department urging that it provide clarity on this issue.

While NAFCU and its members strongly support the protections of the ADA, it believes that these efforts are best achieved through clear guidance and standards for website compliance, not through meritless and costly lawsuits.

NAFCU will continue to monitor ADA litigation and how these recent court decisions could impact outstanding lawsuits.