Ninth Circuit Decision Underscores Need for Clarity on ADA’s Application in Cyberspace

patchworkDebate over whether the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) applies to websites has been raging for years—mostly in the federal courts. As happens all too often, federal legislators and regulators have remained mostly mute, leaving judges to resolve this thorny question. This default appeal to the judiciary, which has produced divergent decisions, deprives website owners the consistent and transparent fair notice that the free-enterprise system needs (and that businesses deserve under our Constitution) to function.

The Ninth Circuit is the latest court to stitch a new block onto the patchwork quilt of website-related ADA rulings. On January 15, the court held in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC that the company’s website was a service of a “place of public accommodation” (Domino’s physical stores) and thus must be accessible under the ADA. The court also rejected Domino’s argument that the Justice Department’s failure to offer formal guidance on the websites’ ADA status violated their Fifth Amendment right to due process. The Robles decision was highly anticipated and will have a broad impact, evidenced by the amicus brief filed by a coalition of business associations. Continue reading “Ninth Circuit Decision Underscores Need for Clarity on ADA’s Application in Cyberspace”

Airbnb v. NYC: Data Collection and Fourth Amendment Protection

airbnbDuring 2018, the hand-wringing demands for “better” protection of online consumers’ privacy (despite the likely costs, some of which we documented here) grew to a fever pitch. Easily forgotten amid the cacophony is data-collecting companies’ own expectation of privacy in their extremely valuable property. A federal court decision last week provides a timely reminder that businesses possess civil liberties too, which they can use to defend against unreasonable government intrusion. The decision also gives local, state, and federal regulators and legislators something to keep in mind as they rush to “do something” about data privacy.

The decision arises from New York City’s attempt to minimize the societal ills that purportedly accompany short-term rentals. Citing the difficulty of enforcing a 2010 city ordinance that prohibits certain rental arrangements, the City Council approved a second ordinance last year requiring all home-share “booking services” to hand over monthly transaction reports. Regulators could then scour the reports for violations of the 2010 law. The 2018 law, which was to take effect on February 2, imposes fines of up to $1,500 for each withheld listing. Continue reading Airbnb v. NYC: Data Collection and Fourth Amendment Protection”

Unreasonable Second Circuit Decision Sets Daunting Precedent for Packaged-Food Makers

cheez itA decision this month from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reunites us with an old friend, The Reasonable Consumer. As we’ve discussed in previous posts here and in Washington Legal Foundation publications, The Reasonable Consumer has figured prominently in consumer class-action lawsuits that allege harm from supposedly deceptive or misleading food labels. That’s because the question at issue in the Second Circuit case, Mantikas v. Kellogg Company, is a common one in Food Court litigation: would a reasonable consumer interpret the relevant information on the food package the same way the plaintiff claims to have read it, and be similarly misled? Continue reading “Unreasonable Second Circuit Decision Sets Daunting Precedent for Packaged-Food Makers”

In Ongoing Lawsuit Barrage, Professional Green Activists Disregard Due-Process Concerns

DOIAfter the Executive Branch changed hands a little over two years ago, professional environmental activists promised a steady stream of lawsuits against both private enterprises and the federal government. Such a bold pronouncement was great for the green activists’ fundraising, as environmental non-profits bragged of 100 to 700 percent increases in donations.

Those groups have certainly followed through on their pledge, filling federal district and appellate courts’ dockets with lawsuits. One group’s homepage, for instance, boasts the group has sued the administration 95 times, “and we’re nowhere near finished.” In their zeal to vastly expand the applicability of federal laws and regulations and to block reasonable federal policy changes, green activists have shown little interest in the due-process rights of businesses and individuals. Lawsuits to overturn two federal policies illustrate this disregard. Continue reading “In Ongoing Lawsuit Barrage, Professional Green Activists Disregard Due-Process Concerns”

Regulatory and Legal Barriers to Tech-Company Market Entry, Success, Stubbornly Persist

FTC_Man_Controlling_TradeLast month at The Atlantic Festival, FTC Commissioner Slaughter and former FTC Chair Ohlhausen participated in an enlightening interview on technology regulation. When discussing how the United States approaches regulation compared to other nations, Ohlhausen said the U.S. has such an “enormous presence in the tech space” due in part to America’s “lighter touch” on regulation.

Slaughter questioned whether regulation stifled innovation to the extent Ohlhausen inferred, noting that Silicon Valley is located in a state with a particularly challenging regulatory and legal environments.

Commissioner Slaughter’s comments, and the perspective they represent, merit serious reflection and analysis, especially with the FTC holding an ongoing series of Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century. Stakeholders participating in and commenting on those hearings should remind the Commission of regulation’s impact on innovation. Evidence abounds of that connection. Continue reading “Regulatory and Legal Barriers to Tech-Company Market Entry, Success, Stubbornly Persist”

Courts Reject Buyers’ Remorse and Wasted Time as Redressable Class-Wide Injuries

article IIIWe return once again (click here for past posts) to the seemingly banal legal doctrine of standing to sue—a subject that few, if any, likely contemplated when celebrating Constitution Day this week. This doctrine does, however, arise from the Constitution’s ingenious separation of powers among the three branches of government. Article III limits the judiciary’s role to resolving “cases” and “controversies.” From that the U.S. Supreme Court derived the standing doctrine as a way to test whether plaintiffs’ claims are fit for judicial resolution. A key part of the test is whether a plaintiff can factually establish that she suffered a concrete “injury in fact” that can be traced to the defendant’s conduct and can be redressed by a judicial remedy.

Legal claims based on conjectural or hypothetical harm, therefore, should not be inundating federal courts’ dockets. Unfortunately, too many no-injury class actions are passing the standing test, thanks in part to broadly worded state consumer-protection laws (and judges’ reluctance to reject jurisdiction). Just last week, for instance, a federal court ruled that state fraud laws are so broad that consumers who purchased vehicles with faulty ignition switches can recover damages even if the defect never manifested itself. And earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused to review an appellate court decision that allows eye-drop users to sue based on the speculative theory that eye-drop producers would charge the same price for a vial with a smaller dispensing hole.

Given the current trend on standing, it is critical to highlight positive outcomes in this area. We discuss two encouraging decisions here, one from the court that allowed the aforementioned eye-drop suit to proceed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the second from a federal court in California, a state with perhaps the nation’s most permissive consumer-protection laws. Continue reading “Courts Reject Buyers’ Remorse and Wasted Time as Redressable Class-Wide Injuries”

Judge’s Deference to FDA’s Interpretation of “Added Sugar” Regulation Secures Win for Food-Labeling Suit Defendant

GLFoodCourtWhen judges defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of its own rule, targets of government regulation normally lose out. Private enterprises and organizations like Washington Legal Foundation have been urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider Auer v. Robbins, the precedent that unleashed this doctrine that allows the proverbial fox to guard the hen house. We also routinely criticize class action lawsuits alleging that true statements on food labels are unlawfully false, misleading, unfair, or illegal.

It is not without a sense of irony, then, that we applaud a July 30, 2018 Central District of California opinion in Wilson v. Odwalla, which relied on “Auer deference” in granting the defenant’s motion for summary judgment in a consumer class action suit. The district court faithfully applied Auer to reach the correct decision. The Food and Drug Administration rule at issue in Wilson is clearly ambiguous—a key factor in the Auer analysis. Continue reading “Judge’s Deference to FDA’s Interpretation of “Added Sugar” Regulation Secures Win for Food-Labeling Suit Defendant”