Deutsch v. Annis Enters., 882 F.3d 169 (5th Cir. 2018)
Deutsch v. Travis Cnty. Shoe Hosp., Inc., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2647 (5th Cir. 2018)
Keywords: ADA Title III, standing
Jon Deutsch, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility, brought both these two cases. In each instance, Deutsch came across an area that he could not access with his wheelchair, at two different private businesses. His lawsuits were dismissed for a lack of standing.
Travis County Shoe Hospital (Travis) is a shoe repair business in Austin, Texas. When Jon Deutsch visited Travis in August 2015, he was unable to enter the store because someone had parked too close to his vehicle. He filed suit under ADA Title III and the Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS). Deutsch claimed that Travis did not have any van-accessible parking spaces. He also claimed that the store door thresholds were too high for his wheelchair to access. Travis moved to dismiss Deutsch’s claim for a lack of standing, which the district court granted.
Color of Dawn is a women’s hair salon located on property owned by Annis. Deutsch claims that when he visited Color of Dawn, he experienced difficulty and discomfort due to a lack of ramps and parking spaces, as well as door thresholds that exceeded the height his wheelchair could cross. Deutsch sued Annis under ADA Title III. Annis moved to dismiss the claim for a lack of standing, which the district court again granted.
Standing is a concept developed by the U.S. Supreme Court. If a party has “standing” in a matter, it means that they have the capacity to bring a lawsuit on that matter. The Supreme Court in Lujan (1992) set forth a 3-part test to determine if someone has standing:
The court in each case points out another factor, from Lujan, which states that a threat of present or future harm is required for standing.
In an ADA lawsuit, a plaintiff can only get “injunctive” relief. This includes restraining orders or other orders to stop or correct certain illegal conduct. For injunctive relief, a plaintiff only has standing if they can show that there is “continuing, present adverse effects.” This generally means that they must show some concrete plan to return to the place. They can also show that the violation affects their day-to-day life.
Here, the court found that Deutsch had presented no evidence of intent to return to either location. Deutsch had visited each place only once, and had not alleged any plan to return to either in his complaint, nor shown how the ADA violation would affect his daily life.
The fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the case for lack of standing. They held that Deutsch did not have standing because there was no present or imminent injury, which meant that Deutsch’s claim failed at step 1 of the Lujan standing test.
When injunctive relief under the ADA title III is sought, a plaintiff must demonstrate either a concrete intent to return to the establishment in the future, or an impact on their day-to-day lives because of the alleged violation.
Standing is the step a plaintiff must take in order to bring a lawsuit under the ADA. In these instances, the court makes it clear that a person with a disability can only sue a place that they can prove they frequently visit.
The court also pointed out that Deutsch had filed over 380 similar lawsuits in the preceding year. In Annis Enterprises, they even noted that he filed suits on days when the court was closed. While none of this is illegal, the court’s opinion suggests frustration with the volume of ADA lawsuits, especially so-called “drive-by” lawsuits. This derisive term is used to describe lawsuits similar to the ones here, where a plaintiff seeks out ADA violations and then files a lawsuit, without being a regular patron of an establishment.