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Plaintiffs Appeal, Shift Legal Theories as Credit Unions Win Dismissals in Web Accessibility Cases

C.P. Hoffman 04/10/18

Icon of a storefront with Title IIIIn a string of recent decisions, judges in Virginia have dismissed at least four digital accessibility lawsuits against credit unions alleged to have violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But, with plaintiffs appealing—as well as shifting their legal arguments—the fight is far from over.

Each of the Virginia cases—filed against the Northwest Federal Credit Union, the Department of Labor Federal Credit Union, ABNB Federal Credit Union, and Washington Gas Light Federal Credit Union—was dismissed for lack of standing because the plaintiff was not eligible for membership in the credit union being sued. Thus, they could not demonstrate any injury caused by the allegedly inaccessible websites.

The Virginia decisions are starting to have an effect elsewhere. Recently, plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed Title III suits against Texas credit unions that had raised the same standing defense. No Texas court has yet ruled on the standing defense in a credit union suit.

Plaintiffs and their attorneys have not given up, however. On March 16, the plaintiff in the Department of Labor Federal Credit Union case filed an appeal with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, asking them to review the trial court’s dismissal of the case. The Fourth Circuit deals with most cases in about six months or less, though the appellate process can take longer, especially when oral arguments are scheduled.

Plaintiffs have also adjusted their legal theories, arguing that they can get over the standing defense on the basis of shared branching, whereby a member of one credit union can use ATMS and do business at a branch of another credit union in the same network. Shared branching allows local credit unions to offer nationwide services similar to a larger bank. Credit unions thus regularly provide services to certain non-members, potentially undercutting the standing defense.

No court has yet ruled on the shared branching theory in a Title III case, however.

Although credit unions have thus far been fairly successful at getting Title III suits dismissed, the suits still come at a significant cost. Attorneys’ fees can quickly add up and bad publicity from a lawsuit can create additional headaches. Making a website accessible in the first place can minimize the risk of lawsuit and will often cost far less than fighting the issue in court.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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