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Dennis Haynes, who is blind and disabled, can navigate the internet using screen-reader software.
He wanted to read the Hooters website, but the website was not compatible with his software. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act to compel Hooters to make its website accessible to the visually impaired.
A trial judge dismissed, saying the case was moot because Hooters had already settled a similar suit that required the company to make similar accommodations. In Haynes v. Hooters of America, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded.
Hooters Not Moot
Hooters had argued the case was moot because the company was already remediating the accessibility issue under its prior settlement. The court could do nothing more, the company said.
The Eleventh Circuit did not agree because there was no record that Hooters had actually done anything. The appeals court also said Haynes sought additional relief, including an injunction that Hooters "continually update and maintain" its website to be ADA compliant.
In addition, the appeals panel said Haynes was not part of the prior settlement. If Hooters didn't comply, Haynes would have no way of enforcing the remediation plan.
Commenting on the decision, the National Law Review said it was a blow to businesses that make settlement agreements to ward off future accessibility claims.
"In fact, as a result of this holding, places of public accommodation may start declining to settle such claims going forward, as a mere settlement agreement will not prevent future claimants from bringing copycat claims," the publication said.
It may help businesses, the publication said, to ask courts to retain jurisdiction over settlement agreements to preclude claims that seek the same relief.