Deborah Laufer has filed nearly 500 lawsuits against hotels in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Texas, and other states alleging that hotel and online travel agency websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under by failing to identify the accessibility features of their hotels.
Laufer is a self-described “tester” who reviews hotel websites to determine whether these “places of public accommodation” and their websites are in compliance with the ADA.
The physically disabled woman resides in Florida and requires assistive devices, often including a wheelchair if available. When allegedly visiting hotels, she requires disability accommodations.
Online reservations that can be made directly through the hotel’s website or at booking.com, priceline.com, expedia.com, and other booking websites do not meet the requirements if they fail to provide disability information about the hotel accommodations.
Laufer visited these websites to discover whether they comply with the law and when they do not provide sufficient information, she filed litigation through her lawyers.
Until recently, hotel defendants found it easier and cheaper to settle, but United States District Judge Brenda K. Sannes in the Northern District of New York ordered Laufer to show that she has standing as a plaintiff to bring ADA lawsuits to federal court.
To have standing to seek injunctive relief in federal court, plaintiffs must establish they have sustained—or are in immediate danger of sustaining—a direct injury as the result of the alleged wrongdoing, and that the injury is concrete and particularized, not hypothetical or speculative.
Sannes, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2005 at the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, dismissed Laufer’s case.
In a subsequent case, Laufer filed a federal case in Maine, where she alleged that a website for an inn operated by Acheson Hotels in that state did not contain enough information about the inn’s accommodations for people with disabilities.
The district court threw out her lawsuit, agreeing with Acheson Hotels that Laufer did not have standing because she had no plans to visit the hotel and therefore was not injured by the lack of information on the website.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reinstated Laufer’s lawsuit, in a decision that prompted Acheson Hotels to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in.
The company pointed to a division among the courts of appeals on whether cases like Laufer’s can move forward because courts have reached different conclusions about whether Laufer can bring these kinds of cases.
And the issue has “immense practical importance,” the company stressed, describing a “cottage industry” “in which uninjured plaintiffs lob ADA lawsuits of questionable merit, while using the threat of attorney’s fees to extract settlement payments.”
The justices will likely hear arguments in the case in the fall, with a decision to follow sometime in 2024.
Some expect that the federal court decision may signal the end of such serial ADA lawsuits as those filed by Laufer.
In a case indicating that courts may be weary of serial plaintiffs filing multiple cookie-cutter lawsuits, Brenda K. Sannes, a United States District Judge in the Northern District of New York has ordered the plaintiff to show that she has standing to bring ADA hotel website accessibility lawsuits to federal court.