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Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 19, 2018

DENNIS HAYNES, individually, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
HOOTERS OF AMERICA, LLC, a foreign limited liability company, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 0:17-cv-60663-RNS

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, MARCUS, Circuit Judge, and ROSS, [*] District Judge.

          ROSS, District Judge

         At issue in this appeal is whether the plaintiff's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq., are moot due to the fact that the defendant entered into a remediation plan as a result of a settlement between the defendant and a different plaintiff in an almost identical earlier-filed suit. After thorough review, we conclude that the plaintiff's claims are not moot. Accordingly, we vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         The essential facts, as set forth in the motion to dismiss record before the district court, are undisputed. Dennis Haynes is blind and is a disabled person within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"). In order to read and navigate internet websites, Haynes utilizes Screen Reader Software, specifically, JAWS Screen Reader Software. Hooters of America, LLC ("Hooters") owns and operates a national chain of restaurants. Hooters also operates a website, located at www.hooters.com. Prior to the inception of this lawsuit, Haynes attempted to read and navigate Hooters' website but was unable to do so because the website was not compatible with Screen Reader Software.

         On April 4, 2017, Haynes sued Hooters in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as costs and attorneys' fees, pursuant to Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq. In pertinent part, Haynes requested that (1) the district court enter an order directing Hooters to alter its website to make it accessible to, and usable by, individuals with disabilities to the full extent required by Title III of the ADA and (2) the district court enter an order directing Hooters to continually update and maintain its website to ensure that it remains fully accessible to, and usable by, visually impaired individuals.

         Prior to the initiation of Haynes' suit, on August 22, 2016, a different plaintiff filed a separate and nearly identical website-inaccessibility lawsuit against Hooters. Less than three weeks after the filing of that suit, the parties reached an agreement and settled their dispute ("Gomez Settlement Agreement"). The Gomez Settlement Agreement was executed on September 29, 2016. As part of the Gomez Settlement Agreement, Hooters agreed to place an accessibility notice on its website within six months and agreed to improve access on its website within twelve months to conform with the WCAG 2.0 web access standard, the recognized industry standard for website accessibility.[1]

         While the Gomez Settlement Agreement is in effect, the only person who can enforce any rights under it is the plaintiff in that case. After the agreement expires in September 2018, no one will have any rights under it. In any event, nothing in the agreement requires Hooters, either before or after it expires, to continuously update and maintain its website to ensure it remains accessible to the blind. Not only that but because the parties in Gomez voluntarily dismissed the case on October 5, 2016, and the district court did not retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement, the court could not order Hooters to abide by it.

         Hooters moved to dismiss Haynes' suit, arguing that, because Hooters was in the process of actively implementing a remediation plan for its website, pursuant to the Gomez Settlement Agreement, there was no live case or controversy and Haynes' claim must be dismissed on mootness grounds. At the time Hooters filed its motion to dismiss in April 2017, Hooters stated that it was in the process of remediating its website, that its website had been substantially updated, and that it complied with the first aspect of its remediation plan by placing an accessibility notice on its website. The district court granted Hooters' motion and dismissed Haynes' complaint. The district court held that Haynes' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the ADA were moot, given that Hooters agreed to remedy, in accordance with the Gomez Settlement Agreement, all of the website inaccessibility issues Haynes complained of in his suit. Additionally, the district court determined that there were no allegations that the relief requested by Haynes differed from the relief addressed by the Gomez Settlement Agreement, and, thus, the district court found no live controversy warranting the court's intervention.

         This appeal followed.

         II. Mootness

         Whether a case is moot is a question of law that we review de novo. Sheely v. MRI Radiology Network, P.A., 505 F.3d 1173, 1182 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing Troiano v. Supervisor of Elections in Palm Beach Cty., Fla., 382 F.3d 1276, 1282 (11th Cir. 2004)).

         In this appeal, we must consider whether, when a plaintiff sues a defendant for certain relief, the defendant's agreement with a third party to take actions which grant the plaintiff some of the relief ...


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