PITTSBURGH – Event superstore Party City found itself in a lawsuit on Sept. 6 when plaintiffs Rachel Gniewkowski, R. David New and Access Now Inc. sued the retailer in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, alleging that Party City’s website was not accessible to visually impaired consumers.
The plaintiffs allege a lack of accommodation that violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In October, while the Pennsylvania lawsuit was pending, Party City settled a similar lawsuit filed by plaintiff Andres Gomez in Florida, entering into a confidential settlement agreement for an undisclosed amount. Based on that action, Party City unsuccessfully attempted to have the Pennsylvania suit dismissed.
“Party City tried to get the case dismissed on the theory that it had already settled another case with another plaintiff about its website, and the court rejected that argument,” Minh Vu, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, told the Pennsylvania Record.
Party City filed for a summary judgment, arguing that the Pennsylvania case should be thrown out because of a prior settlement in Florida, based on the principle of res judicata.
According to Vu, res judicata applies when three certain circumstances are present in a case — there is a final judgment in a prior case with similar merits, the same parties are involved, and a subsequent suit is based on the same cause of action. On Jan. 27, the Pennsylvania federal court denied the motion, stating that Party City could not prove the second element.
The case will move forward and will eventually be decided on the merits.
“There is nothing surprising about the court’s decision. The usual rule is that when you settle with one plaintiff, only that plaintiff is bound by the settlement. The settlement does not act as a bar to the claims of other plaintiffs,” Vu said.
“The only exception is a class action settlement when the new plaintiffs are members of the class covered by the settlement.”
Judge Arthur Schwab ruled that Gomez was not acting in a representative manner in the Florida lawsuit.
The complaint in Gomez’s lawsuit made clear that Gomez brought his lawsuit 'individually,'" Schwab wrote. "He did not purport to represent anyone other than himself."