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Longboat Key Wednesday, Apr. 24, 2019 1 month ago

Longboat seeks dismissal of website lawsuit

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Defense team says lack of federal rules nullifies claim of man who has sued dozens of towns, cities and counties.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Joel Price, a blind Daytona Beach man who has sued Longboat Key and dozens of other Florida towns, cities and counties over access to their official websites, has filed at least a dozen more actions since early March.

All take the same basic form as the one he filed against Longboat Key in early March, which specified the town must “update all electronic documents made available to the public to remove barriers in order that individuals with visual disabilities can access the electronic documents to the full extent” of federal law. Price’s suit seeks damages determined at trial, court costs and legal fees. Voicemail messages to Price have not been returned.

Defendants in most of these suits settled, as Manatee County did in 2018: $15,000 in legal fees and $1,000 in damages.

In response to Joel’s lawsuit, lawyers for the town have sought to dismiss the suit, filed March 8 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

In their motion to dismiss the case, the town’s lawyers contend: “No legal duty exists under the current law, and Plaintiff merely alleges that the (town) is liable for failing to comply with voluntary ADA website accessibility guidelines, despite the admitted fact that no regulations have been enacted by the United States Attorney General, through the United States Department of Justice, according to the appropriate rule-making process. Such regulations need to first be created in order for there to be any legal mandate under Title II that those regulations apply to local governmental entities.’’

Attorney George Belohlavek, a member town’s defense team and a member of an Apopka law firm that has defended dozens of governments in similar proceedings, said it’s this “void” in regulations that makes compliance hard. “The town has done its best to ensure accessibility for all its visitors,” he said, adding governments “haven’t had the benefit of guidelines to follow.”

Attorney Juan Courtney Cunningham, who is representing Price, said his firm and that of Scott R. Dinin “are working on behalf of our current clients and the entire disabled community in doing the work that the Department of Justice is unable to do.’’

In June 2018, 103 members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked the U.S. Department of Justice to “state publicly that private legal action under the ADA with respect to websites is unfair and violates basic due process principles in the absence of clear statutory authority and issuance by the department of a final rule establishing website accessibility standards.” 

The House members also asked DOJ to “provide guidance and clarity with regard to website accessibility under the … ADA.’’

The Justice Department last fall responded: “The Department has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute’s requirements.” 

Since filing against Longboat Key, Price’s name as plaintiff has shown up 12 times in actions against: Melbourne, Union County, Bradford County, Satellite Beach, Titusville, Suwanee County, Bonita Springs, Clearwater, DeLand, Holly Hill, Largo and Winter Springs, the latest filed on April 18.

Most of the cases claim “deliberate indifference’’ and include a letter  from Price written to each jurisdiction claiming to “become informed about the programs, services and activities’’ of each location by way of the official website and seeks electronic reader access to specific documents in addition to a wider range of unspecified other documents.

A hearing on the motion to dismiss was scheduled for May 14, but the town’s defense lawyer Donovan Roper sought a week’s delay because of a planned family vacation. The request for a delay was not opposed by Price’s lawyers.

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