Sierra v. City of Hallandale Beach, Florida, 092718 FED11, 18-10740

Docket Nº:18-10740
Party Name:EDDIE I. SIERRA, Petitioner - Appellant, v. CITY OF HALLANDALE BEACH, FLORIDA, Respondent - Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before TJOFLAT, MARCUS, and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:September 27, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

EDDIE I. SIERRA, Petitioner - Appellant,



No. 18-10740

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

September 27, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:17-cv-24045-FAM

Before TJOFLAT, MARCUS, and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges.


This case asks us to decide 1) whether the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 creates an administrative exhaustion requirement that must be satisfied as a prerequisite to bringing certain claims under § 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and 2) whether-if exhaustion is not required- abstention is nonetheless warranted under the primary-jurisdiction doctrine. After reviewing the statutes, their histories, and relevant caselaw, we answer both questions in the negative.


Plaintiff Eddie Sierra is deaf. He filed this suit against the City of Hallandale Beach, Florida ("City"), alleging violations of § 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12132.

Sierra's Complaint focuses on video content stored on four webpages that he alleges belong to City or for which City is otherwise responsible. These webpages are 1), 2), 3) Facebook, and 4) a webpage entitled "Hallandale Beach Tour Book." With the exception of Facebook, he appends to his Complaint at Exhibit A various screenshots of each of these four webpages.

Sierra alleges that none of the four webpages provided closed captioning and that both the Rehabilitation Act and ADA require that captioning. He seeks damages as well as injunctive and declaratory relief to guarantee hard-of-hearing individuals like himself "equal, effective[, ] and timely access" to City's publicly available online video content.

City responded by moving to dismiss Sierra's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. It argued that the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 ("CVAA") presents a jurisdictional hurdle to suits like Sierra's.1 In its view, before Sierra could file a suit in district court, he was first required to lodge a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC"). Only if the FCC then failed to take action on that complaint, City argued, could Sierra sue under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA.

The District Court granted City's Motion to Dismiss, holding that the CVAA does indeed pose an exhaustion requirement and finding that the videos of City's meetings stored at fall within the CVAA's purview.2 As to the remaining three webpages referenced in Sierra's Complaint, the Court found "no affirmative indication, whatsoever, that any of the videos or websites listed in Exhibit A are government websites run by Defendant."

The District Court dismissed Sierra's Complaint without prejudice and advised him that he was free to file suit again after he files a complaint with the FCC under the CVAA and after the FCC completes its review process.


We now address the two issues on appeal: whether the CVAA poses a jurisdictional bar to Sierra's claims and whether abstention under the primary-jurisdiction doctrine is otherwise warranted. We review de novo a district court's grant of a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See Barbour v. Haley, 471 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2006).3


Congress passed the CVAA in 2010 to expand the protections offered to persons with disabilities. The legislative history reveals Congress' concern that the "extraordinary benefits" of technologies like smart phones, GPS, and video conferencing-"technologies that Americans rely on daily"-"are often still not accessible to individuals with disabilities." H.R. Rep. No. 111-563, at 19 (2010). To solve that problem, the CVAA directed the FCC to undertake, among other things, rulemaking requiring the "provision of closed captioning on video programming delivered using Internet protocol that was published or exhibited on television with captions after the effective date of such regulations." 47 U.S.C. § 613(c)(2)(A).

The CVAA left intact two other statutory provisions relevant to this appeal, both carried over from the Telecommunications Act of 1996. (Recall that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the CVAA each amended their parent statute, the Communications Act of 1934.) • The first is a savings clause that preserves all rights of action outside of the Communications Act itself. See 47 U.S.C. § 152 note (Applicability of Consent Decrees and Other Law) ("This Act and the amendments made by this Act shall not be construed to modify, impair, or supersede Federal, State, or local law unless expressly so provided in such Act or amendments.").4

• The second is a provision that both provides the FCC with exclusive jurisdiction over complaints filed under 47 U.S.C. § 613 and expresses that § 613 creates no new causes of action. See 47 U.S.C. § 613(j) ("Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize any private right of action to enforce any requirement of this section or any regulation thereunder. The Commission shall have exclusive jurisdiction with respect to any complaint under this section."). The FCC's regulations, moreover, provide a procedure whereby a person can bring a complaint against an entity in violation of the closed-captioning requirements. See 46 C.F.R. § 79.4(e).


We begin our discussion of the District Court's jurisdiction with an unremarkable proposition: the lower federal courts are creatures of Congress, which may thus limit their jurisdiction as it sees fit. See U.S. Const. art. III, § 1. Once Congress has granted jurisdiction, however, federal courts have a "virtually unflagging obligation . . . to exercise the jurisdiction given them." Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 817, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 1246 (1976) (citations omitted). Before determining that an administrative remedy bars our jurisdiction, then, we look for "clear, unequivocal terms that the judiciary is barred from hearing an action until the administrative agency has come to a decision." Avocados Plus Inc. v. Veneman, 370 F.3d 1243, 1248 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting I.A.M. Nat'l Pension Fund Benefit Plan C v. Stockton Tri Indus., 727 F.2d 1204, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1984)).

Because Sierra has pled federal causes of action, the District Court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 to hear his Rehabilitation Act and ADA claims.5 City does not dispute that Sierra has asserted claims only under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA. City instead raises two arguments on appeal to support its jurisdictional argument, neither of which we find...

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