Cortnay Cymrot, CLS ’21
The Supreme Court’s decision to deny a petition to review a recent Ninth Circuit ruling—affirming a blind man’s right to access Domino’s Pizza website and mobile app—opens the door for a flood of litigation targeting website and app accessibility.
In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, the plaintiff alleged that, despite his use of common screen-reading software, he was unable to order food on Domino’s website and mobile app. He brought suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that businesses serving as “places of public accommodation”—including restaurants—remove barriers to access for the disabled. Circuit courts are split on whether—and in what circumstances—the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps.
Domino’s argued that, as the ADA does not explicitly address accessibility with regard to mobile apps and the internet, it applies only to physical spaces—not websites. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, focusing on the nexus between Domino’s website/app and its physical location to find the ADA violated. As the online inaccessibility impeded blind customers from accessing products sold at Dominos’ physical locations, the pizza chain fell short of federal disability requirements.
In declining to revisit the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court has put on alert all places of public accommodation that operate websites or mobile apps (read: the vast majority of such businesses). The ruling is expected to cause these businesses to improve their website and app accessibility, ensuring they’re optimized to enable screen-reading software to read and vocalize all content. 
Disability advocates regard the Ninth Circuit’s decision—and the Supreme Court’s subsequent denial of the appeal—as a major win. As mobile apps and the internet are an increasingly integral part of the modern economy, a contrary decision threatened to further isolate the visually impaired (and others relying on accessibility tools).
Yet some fear the decision will have a perverse impact on accessibility. Many within the retail and restaurant industries filed amicus briefs backing Domino’s, stressing the “impossibility of guessing what accessibility means in the online environment.” The threat of litigation could lead such businesses to reduce or eliminate their online presence, rather than fronting the costs necessary to ensure full accessibility.
Federal courts have already seen an increasing number of lawsuits addressing website accessibility. Over 2200 such suits were filed in federal courts in 2018—nearly tripling the prior year’s figure. The Ninth Circuit’s decision will likely give rise to an escalation of this trend, emboldening plaintiffs to bring suit against inaccessible online businesses on a much larger scale.
 Alexis Kramer, Supreme Court Won’t Hear Domino’s Pizza Website Access Dispute, Bloomberg Law (Oct. 7, 2019), https://news.bloomberglaw.com/tech-and-telecom-law/supreme-court-wont-hear-dominos-pizza-website-access-dispute.
 Steven Melendez, Domino’s Pizza Was Just Dealt a Supreme Court Blow That Could Reshape the ADA in the Digital Era, Fast Company (Oct. 7, 2019), https://www.fastcompany.com/90414147/dominos-pizza-dealt-scotus-blow-that-could-affect-ada.
 Richard Supple, Domino’s Wants to Slice Away at the Americans With Disabilities Act (Sept. 30, 2019), https://slate.com/technology/2019/09/supreme-court-dominos-web-accessibility-visually-impaired.html.
 Stephanie Condon, Supreme Court Lets Blind Man Sue Domino’s Over Website Accessibility, ZDNet (Oct. 7, 2019), https://www.zdnet.com/article/supreme-court-lets-blind-man-sue-dominos-over-website-accessibility.
 Tucker Higgins, Supreme Court Hands Victory to Blind Man Who Sued Domino’s Over Site Accessibility, CNBC (Oct. 7, 2019), https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/07/dominos-supreme-court.html.