Law School Case Brief
Access Now v. Southwest Airlines, Co. - 227 F. Supp. 2d 1312 (S.D. Fla. 2002)
As the United States Congress has created the statutory defined rights under the Americans With Disability Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 12101 et seq., it is the role of the United States Congress, and not the court, to specifically expand the definition of "public accommodation" under the ADA beyond physical, concrete places of public accommodation, to include "virtual" places of public accommodation. 42 U.S.C.S. § 12181.
Plaintiffs, Access Now, Inc. (Access Now), a non-profit, access advocacy organization for disabled individuals, and Robert Gumson (Gumson), a blind individual, filed an action claiming that Defendant Southwest Airlines, Co.'s (Southwest) Internet website, southwest.com, excluded Access Now and Gumson in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as the goods and services Southwest offers at its "virtual ticket counters" are inaccessible to blind persons. Southwest has moved to dismiss Access Now and Gumson’s Complaint on the grounds that southwest.com is not a "place of public accommodation" and, therefore, does not fall within the scope of Title III of the ADA.
Was an Internet website, such as the airline's, a "place of public accommodation" as defined by the ADA?
The federal district court held that an Internet website, such as the airline's, was not a "place of public accommodation" as defined by the ADA because (1) 42 U.S.C.S. § 12181(7) defined 12 particularized categories of such places, all of which were concrete places of public accommodation; (2) 28 C.F.R. § 36.104 defined "facility" as a physical location; (3) to expand the ADA to cover "virtual" spaces would be to create new rights without well-defined standards; and (4) under the rule of ejusdem generis, where general words follow a specific enumeration of persons or things, the general words were to be limited to persons or things similar to those specifically enumerated. Also, Access Now and Gumson failed to establish a nexus between the website and a physical, concrete place of public accommodation, such that their access was impeded to a specific physical, concrete space, such as a particular airline ticket counter or travel agency.
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