United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
CORRECTED MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Kathleen B. Burke, United States Magistrate Judge
case is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint (“the Motion”). Doc.
10. The principal question raised by the Motion is when, if
ever, a retailer's website that is inaccessible to
visually impaired persons may be the subject of a lawsuit by
such a person under Title III of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101
Motion, filed by Defendant Jo-Ann Stores, LLC
(“Jo-Ann”), contends that the Complaint filed by
Plaintiff Rebecca Castillo (“Castillo”) fails to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted under the ADA
for two reasons: (1) the ADA may not be applied to websites
at all; and (2) in the alternative, Castillo has failed to
allege to the extent required that her inability to access
Jo-Ann's website acted as a barrier to her obtaining
goods and services at Jo-Ann's physical store
locations. Castillo has filed an opposition brief
(Doc. 11) and Jo-Ann has replied (Doc. 12). For the reasons
set forth below, the Court concludes that Castillo's
Complaint states a claim under Title III of the ADA because
it sufficiently alleges a nexus between the website and
Jo-Ann's physical locations.
Allegations of the Complaint
Rebecca Castillo (“Castillo”), a resident of
California, is a blind and visually impaired person who
requires screen-reading software to read website content.
Complaint, Doc. 1, pp. 1, 3, ¶¶1 and 10. Defendant
Jo-Ann Stores, LLC (“Jo-Ann”) is a specialty
retailer of crafts and fabrics that is headquartered in the
Northern District of Ohio. Doc. 1, p. 3, ¶¶11 and
12. Consumers may purchase products from Jo-Ann in person at
its brick-and-mortar stores or online through Jo-Ann's
website, www.joann.com. Id. Castillo
alleges that Jo-Ann has failed to make its website accessible
to blind or visually impaired individuals and that such
failure discriminates against her and other blind or visually
impaired individuals in violation of Title III of the ADA and
California's Unruh Civil Rights Act (“UCRA”).
Doc. 1, pp. 13-16. She seeks a declaratory judgment that
Jo-Ann violated both Title III of the ADA and UCRA,
preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting Jo-Ann from
further violations, compensatory damages, and attorney fees
and expenses. Doc. 1, p. 17.
alleges that screen-reading software such as the software she
works only if the information on a website is capable of
being rendered into meaningful text. If not, the blind or
visually-impaired user cannot access the website content that
is available to sighted users. Doc. 1, p. 4, ¶18.
Currently, screen-reading software is the only method a blind
or visually- impaired person can use to independently access
the internet, websites and other digital content. Doc. 1, p.
website, www.joann.com, offers customers the
following: a physical store locator feature; information
about sales; offers and discounts (both in-store and online);
the ability to browse product selections and to find product
information; and the ability to make purchases. Doc. 1, pp.
3, 7-8, ¶¶12, 28. Jo-Ann's website is not
capable of being rendered into meaningful text, i.e., a
person cannot access the above-cited services on
www.joann.com using screen-reading software. Doc. 1,
pp. 8-9, ¶37. Castillo alleges that she has attempted
unsuccessfully to access www.joann.com using screen
reading software. Doc. 1, p. 8, ¶33. She alleges that
she was unable to complete an online transaction before the
website timed out, and she was unable to access graphics and
links on the website. Doc. 1, pp. 9-10, ¶¶37, 38.
makes several allegations with respect to the effect of the
website's inaccessibility on her ability to access
Jo-Ann's brick-and-mortar stores: she alleges that she
was unable to use the store locator feature on the website to
locate a physical store (Doc. 1, p. 9, ¶37(b)); that the
access barriers she has encountered on www.joann.com
have deterred her from visiting or locating Jo-Ann's
brick and mortar stores (Doc. 1, pp. 8, 10, ¶¶36,
43); and that visually impaired persons cannot learn about
in-store and online sales, offers and discounts, or schedule
shipment or in-store pickup of purchases (Doc. 1, p. 13,
survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (clarifying the plausibility standard
articulated in Twombly). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The
factual allegations of a pleading must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as
true but need not “accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation.” Id.
“Plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of
his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do.” Id. (internal
quotation marks omitted). In addition to reviewing the claims
set forth in the complaint, a court may also consider
exhibits, public records, and items appearing in the record
of the case as long as the items are referenced in the
complaint and are central to the claims contained therein.
Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n,
528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must
contain a ‘short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2)). A defendant is entitled to “fair notice of
what the . . . claim is and the ground upon which it
rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (quoting
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While
great detail is not required, “[f]actual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555;
see also Whittiker v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust
Co., 605 F.Supp.2d 914, 924-25 (N.D. Ohio 2009) (citing
and relying on Tucker v. Middleburg-Legacy Place,
539 F.3d 545, 550 (6th Cir. 2008) and Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007) for the proposition that
specific facts are not necessary)).
Castillo has standing to bring her lawsuit
standing to sue, a plaintiff must allege (1) an injury in
fact that is concrete and particularized, actual or imminent;
(2) a causal connection between the injury and the conduct
complained of; and (3) that it is likely that the injury will
be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders
of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992).
argues that Castillo has failed to allege that she suffered
an injury in fact necessary to establish standing to bring
her lawsuit. Doc. 10, p. 19 (citing Spokeo, Inc. v.
Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540 (2016)). Specifically, Jo-Ann
contends that, at most, Castillo's Complaint contains
allegations of “mere technical” violations of
Title III “without alleging that she was actually
unable to obtain Defendant's goods and services at its
stores” and, therefore, she does not meet the
“more rigorous” articulation of “concrete
harm” required by Spokeo. Doc. 10, p. 20.
Castillo asserts that she has experienced and pleaded an
injury in fact caused by Jo-Ann's conduct. Doc. 11, p.
Spokeo, the plaintiff alleged that a website
operator violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act when it
published inaccurate information about him. 136 S.Ct. at
1544. The Supreme Court remanded the case because the Ninth
Circuit had not discussed whether the plaintiff's injury
was “concrete, ” i.e., whether the publication of
the inaccurate information harmed him. Id. at 1550.
The Court observed that “the violation of a procedural
right granted by statute can be sufficient in some
circumstances to constitute injury in fact. In other words, a
plaintiff in such a case need not allege any additional harm
beyond the one Congress has identified.” Id.
Castillo does not allege only that Jo-Ann committed
“mere technical violations” of Title III. She
also alleges that she tried unsuccessfully to locate
Jo-Ann's brick and mortar stores and access goods and
services and information about sales and promotions on
Jo-Ann's website. She alleges further that she could not
do so because Jo-Ann's website was not accessible to her,
a person with a disability; and that she suffered harm as a
result. She alleges that the inaccessibility of the website
to her and other visually impaired persons constitutes a
violation of Title III of the ADA, which provides that no
individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of
their disability in the full and equal enjoyment of goods and
services of a place of public accommodation. See, e.g., Doc.
1, pp. 8-10, ¶¶31-40. Castillo thus has alleged an
injury in fact that is concrete. Therefore, she has standing
Castillo has stated a claim cognizable under Title III of the
III of the ADA provides:
No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of
disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods,
services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or
accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any
person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place
of public accommodation.
42 U.S.C. § 12182(a).
U.S.C. § 12181(7), the ADA lists 12 “private
entities [that] are considered public accommodations for
purposes of this subchapter, if the operations of such
entities affect commerce, ” including
(E) a bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store,
shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment;
legislative history of the ADA instructs that the twelve
categories “should be construed liberally to afford
people with disabilities equal access to the wide variety of
establishments available to the nondisabled.” PGA
Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661, 677 (2001) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
parties dispute whether Jo-Ann's website is a
“place of public accommodation” or has a
sufficient nexus to a place of public accommodation to be
covered under Title III of the ADA. Jo-Ann declares, in the
first argument heading in its opening brief, “The Sixth
Circuit has held en banc that the ADA does not apply to
websites and, even if it did, there is no nexus between
Jo-Ann Stores' website and barriers to access in a
physical location.” Doc. 10, p. 8. The en banc
decision referred to is Parker v. Metro. Life Ins.
Co., 121 F.3d 1006 (6th Cir. 1997). Jo-Ann also relies
on an earlier Sixth Circuit case cited in Parker,
Stoutenborough v. National Football League, Inc., 59
F.3d 580 (6th Cir. 1995). Jo-Ann asserts that, in both cases,
the Sixth Circuit held that a public accommodation under
Title III “is a physical place.” Doc. 10, pp.
9-11. Therefore, Jo-Ann reasons, Title III does not apply to
its website (or any website) because a website is not a
“physical place.” Id.
The Sixth Circuit's decisions in Parker and
Stoutenborough do not foreclose Castillo's ADA
Parker nor Stoutenborough involved a
website, as Jo-Ann concedes in its reply brief. Doc. 12, p.
8. Moreover, while Jo-Ann contends that Parker and
Stoutenborough are “factually
indistinguishable” from this case (Doc. 12, p. 5),
facts set forth in the two Sixth Circuit opinions, which are
summarized below, belie that assertion. The holdings in
Parker and Stoutenborough are each based on
their own facts and, while they provide some guidance, they
leave for later decisions the application of the ADA to facts
such as those presented in this case, as the majority in
Parker expressly acknowledged.