Finding that a blind plaintiff lacked standing to sue, the Seventh Circuit recently issued an opinion upholding a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against a credit union for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation and requires “reasonable modifications” be made to ensure those with a disability can fully and equally enjoy the goods, services, facilities, etc., that are generally available to the public.
The plaintiff, who tests websites for ADA compliance, sued the credit union for injunctive relief because its website did not permit him to access its visual content using a “screen reader” software program. Notably, the credit union was chartered by a state credit union law that limits membership to particularized city and county employees.
In order to meet the injury-in-fact requirement to establish standing a plaintiff must establish that he/she suffered a concrete and particularized injury. Because the plaintiff here sought injunctive relief, he was also required to demonstrate a real and immediate threat of future injury. The court found that neither of the plaintiff’s alleged bases of injury – 1) harm to his dignity and 2) informational harm caused by his inability to access the website – qualified as injuries in fact because, as a legally ineligible, non-union member, he was legally barred from using the credit union’s services.
Here, the court found the plaintiff did not suffer dignitary harm because of the “legal barrier” created by the state credit union law: he was not an employee of the city or county for which the credit union was established to serve. The court thus characterized the plaintiff’s injury as “abstract, amounting to mere indignation” that the credit union’s website did not accommodate his disability. Despite the indignation, the plaintiff’s injury is not particularized enough to affect him individually because, by law, there can be no connection between the plaintiff and the credit union, rendering his position no different from any other member of the public who is also unable to access the credit union’s services.
As to the informational harm alleged, the court found the plaintiff did not claim the credit union withheld information from him. Rather, he alleged that the website’s failure to support his visual reader software was a basis of informational injury and the reason he sought an accommodation from the credit union. The court found that seeking injunctive relief for the software accommodation on the credit union website did not constitute an informational harm for the purposes of establishing injury in fact.