Business & Corporate
Spring 2018

Nanni v. Aberdeen Marketplace, Inc.: Even Occasional Customers Can Sue Under the ADA

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recently confirmed the extremely wide reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”), confirming that even an occasional customer, or one who visits a business for the purpose of testing ADA compliance, can have standing to sue for violations of the ADA.

In Nanni v. Aberdeen Marketplace, Inc., a Delaware resident, John Nanni, sued a shopping center in Maryland, Aberdeen Marketplace, for hindering access to its goods and services, and thus discriminating against him in violation of the ADA.  Nanni claimed that he would visit the Marketplace several times each year on trips from his home in Delaware to sporting events in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  He claimed to intend to return to the Marketplace in the future, both as a customer and for the sole purpose of testing its ADA compliance.  The alleged ADA violations consisted of various architectural barriers — inaccessible curb ramps, sidewalk ramps, and parking, and impassable aisles. As a result of the shopping center’s failure to comply with the ADA’s accessibility requirements, the plaintiff argued that Aberdeen deprived him of his right to be free from disability discrimination.

The trial court dismissed Nanni’s claim because, it held, he had no standing to sue.  The trial court determined that he had not shown any specific prior injury, or any specific harm that he would likely suffer without relief from the court.  The court decided that his connection with the Marketplace was “tenuous at best,” and that he could stop at many other places between his home and his destination.

The appellate court determined that Nanni had clearly pled specific past injuries in the form of non-compliant curb cuts and parking spaces, and other architectural barriers.  That court also determined that he had adequately pled a threat of future injury by demonstrating a plausible intention to return.  The appellate court expressly rejected the suggestion that Nanni’s history of extensive ADA litigation or his stated intent to test the Marketplace’s compliance with the ADA deprived him of standing to sue.

This case is significant because it demonstrates the breadth of standing under the ADA.  Any injury or harm that resulted to a customer will likely confer standing, as long as the injury is one that could be fixed by a successful suit.  The court expressly rejected claims that a customer had to establish a specific intent to visit a specific store or buy specific goods or services; the inability to safely access the business was sufficient.  The court also correctly rejected the notion that Nanni lacked standing to sue because he could have obtained the same services from any number of other businesses along his route.

As an action guide, the opinion is quite instructive; it stands as a cautionary tale for small business owners.  While the costs of ADA compliance are often significant, both architecturally and in terms of business interruption, they likely pale in comparison to the costs of defending a lawsuit such as this one.