Federal District Court in Massachusetts First in Country to Hold that the Americans with Disabilities Act Applies to Website-Only Businesses
Judge Denies Netflix’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Allows Disability Civil Rights Case, National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Netflix, Case No. 3:11-cv-30168, to Move Forward
The National Association of the Deaf (“NAD”), the nation’s premier civil rights organization of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, won a major victory today when Judge Ponsor denied defendant Netflix’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings seeking dismissal of the case. The District Court of Massachusetts is the first court in the country to hold that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) applies to website-only businesses. The underlying lawsuit alleges that Netflix violates the ADA by failing to provide closed captioning on most of its “Watch Instantly” programming streamed on the Internet, thereby denying equal access to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Netflix argued that the ADA applies only to physical places and therefore could not apply to website-only businesses like Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” streaming service. Judge Ponsor denied the motion, stating that it would be “irrational to conclude” that: “places of public accommodation are limited to actual physical structures…In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet from the ADA would run afoul of the purposes of the ADA and would severely frustrate Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges and advantages, available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.” Moreover, Judge Ponsor stated that the fact that the ADA “does not include web-based services as a specific example of a public accommodation is irrelevant” since such web-based services did not exist when the ADA was passed in 1990 and because “the legislative history of the ADA makes clear that Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology.”
The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund’s Directing Attorney, Arlene Mayerson, stated: “By recognizing that web-sites are covered by the ADA, the court has ensured that the ADA stays relevant as much of our society moves from Main Street to the Internet. Netflix's argument that the neighborhood video store is covered by the ADA, but it, with its over 20 million subscribers, is not, was soundly rejected by the Court.”
“This victory ensures that the ADA will continue to be a powerful force in our rapidly changing lives, protecting our right to equal access on the Internet,” said NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins. “Netflix’s flat-out refusal to fully serve our community simply because it is an Internet-based business is unacceptable. Leaving millions of deaf and hard of hearing consumers without equal access is not an option.”
"This legal ruling is a major decision that ensures the ADA remains current with this technological age and makes it possible for deaf and hard of hearing people and people with disabilities to have full access to the same programs and services available to everyone else," said NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum.
In addition, Netflix argued that the case should be dismissed because it does not own copyrights to its programming and therefore cannot be forced to provide closed captions and that the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“CVAA”) “carves out” all video programming streamed on the Internet as separate from the ADA. Judge Ponsor found that at this stage, the Plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that Netflix “owns, leases..., or operates” a place of public accommodation for purposes of the ADA and that the CVAA does not “carve out” streaming programming from the ADA because there is “no conflict between the statutes” and there is no indication from Congress to the contrary.
In addition to the NAD, other Plaintiffs include the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired (WMAD/HI) and a deaf Massachusetts resident.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund in Berkeley, CA, the Oakland, CA law firm Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C., and the Boston, MA law firm Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation's premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States of America. NAD represents on behalf of 48 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing and is based in Silver Spring, Maryland. For more information, visit www.nad.org
Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired (WMAD) WMAD is an advocacy membership organization for individuals who are deaf and hearing impaired in western Massachusetts.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
Founded in 1979, by people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national law and policy center, based in Berkeley, CA, dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. www.dredf.org.
Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.
Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C. is a national law firm based in Oakland, CA, that represents plaintiffs in ERISA employee benefit and pension litigation, Civil Rights litigation, and Wage and Hour Overtime litigation. www.lewisfeinberg.com
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.
SRBC is a Boston-based civil litigation firm with 26 lawyers and more than 80 years of success in managing complex cases for local, regional and national clients. www.srbc.com