Emory Law Journal


Saxon S. Kagume


As the electronic age has taken hold of the global community, and digital devices have become the mainstay of human interaction, new accessibility barriers have emerged for people with disabilities. Although most courts now conclude virtual inaccessibility is an injury cognizable under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, great ambiguity surrounds the injury-in-fact requirement of Article III standing in online accessibility cases. Despite pleading for elucidation and clarifying principles, federal district courts have been left to navigate the uncharted territory of the digital injury-in-fact inquiry with exiguous guidance from higher courts. The resultant confusion in the federal courts has manifested itself as diametrically contradictory injury-in-fact holdings in factually identical cases, both inter- and intra-circuit.

This Comment clarifies the digital injury-in-fact inquiry by identifying and dissecting four crucial issues dividing federal courts in ADA Title III online accessibility cases: (1) the location a plaintiff must intend to return; (2) the application of the geographic intent-to-return test factors in cyberspace; (3) the role of future injury; and (4) the scope of virtual standing.

First, this Comment argues the destination of a plaintiff’s intent to return is preordained by the type of injury alleged by the plaintiff. If a plaintiff alleges a purely virtual website injury, federal courts must assess the plaintiff’s intent to return to the inaccessible website. If a plaintiff alleges a hybrid website injury, federal courts must assess the plaintiff’s intent to return to the inaccessible website and intent to avail themselves to the goods or services of the public accommodation’s brick-and-mortar location.

Second, this Comment contends the geographic intent-to-return factors are not probative of a plaintiff’s intent to return to a website. However, federal courts cannot merely remove the geographic factors from the intent-to-return test because the resulting analysis infringes on Supreme Court precedent. Rather, federal courts must substitute the intent-to-return test’s geographic factors with factors appropriate in cyberspace.

Third, this Comment asserts the injury-in-fact inquiry cannot be satisfied by past injury alone. Instead, federal courts must assess the plaintiff’s likelihood of future injury.

Finally, this Comment argues federal courts should not adopt a lenient approach to standing because a lenient approach is not necessitated by Supreme Court precedent, it is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, and it exacerbates the extant issue of serial litigation in online accessibility cases.