Court rules that deaf person cannot sue Netflix under the ADA

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The San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled April 1 that the ADA does not apply to Netflix’s video streaming services, underscoring the state of flux of disability law in regard to the internet.

In a brief, three-page decision, a three-judge panel found that the internet does not qualify as a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA.

“We have previously interpreted the statutory term ‘place of public accommodation’ to require ‘some connection between the good or service complained of and an actual physical place,” the court stated. “Because Netflix’s services are not connect to any ‘actual, physical place,’ Netflix is not subject to the ADA.”

The decision comes from a class action lawsuit filed by Donald Cullen, a deaf man who filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in 2011. Cullen brought claims under both the ADA and multiple, analogous California laws.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed his case on similar grounds in 2013, a decision now affirmed by the 9th Circuit.

The decision stands in stark contrast to the recent trend toward recognizing ADA claims against internet-based services.

In 2011, the National Association of the Deaf and the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf, with legal assistance from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, filed their own lawsuit against Netflix.

The ADA lists 12 categories of places that would qualify as places of public accommodation. The U.S. District court for the District of Massachusetts, in refusing to dismiss the case, found that Netflix is a “place of public accommodation” because it could qualify as a “place of exhibition and entertainment,” a “sales or rental establishment,” and a “service establishment.”

In that case, the parties reached a settlement with Netflix in 2012, which required the company to provide closed captioning services for all of its content by 2014.