U.S. Supreme Court agrees to examine ADA standing for website testers

Americans with Disabilities Act
Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer
Date: March 30, 2023

Issue: Whether an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plaintiff has Article III standing to sue a company without having any intention of patronizing the business.

Case Summary: The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review whether an ADA tester has Article III standing to sue a company for violating the ADA if the tester has no intention of patronizing the company.

Deborah Laufer sued Acheson Hotels under the ADA, which requires hotel owners and operations to identify and describe accessible features of a hotel and guest rooms offered through its reservation services. Laufer is a self-proclaimed ADA “tester” who filed more than 600 ADA-related lawsuits in federal courts throughout the country since 2018. Testers often search for non-compliant websites and eventually file lawsuits in “plaintiff-friendly” jurisdictions. Under ADA regulations (28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(1)(ii)), hotels must provide information “in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.” Laufer never intended to visit the hotel.

A Maine federal court dismissed the lawsuit against Acheson Hotels, concluding Laufer could not be injured by the absence of information on a website for a hotel she never planned to visit. On appeal, the First Circuit reversed. The First Circuit determined Laufer suffered a concrete injury in the form of alleged frustration and humiliation by not obtaining adequate information about whether the hotel could accommodate her.

In its certiorari petition, Acheson Hotels emphasized there is a circuit split on ADA standing. The First Circuit ruled Laufer had standing because of the alleged “informational injury” she sustained from the absence of accessibility information on the website. Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit ruled Laufer had standing because illegal discrimination is a concrete stigmatic injury. By contrast, the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuits have rejected standing for visually impaired ADA “testers”. Acheson Hotels argued the case is jurisprudence and practical importance. According to Acheson Hotels, serial ADA tester litigation has become an industry where testers search for a given district for non-compliant businesses to sue. Courts have repeatedly and harshly criticized this litigation strategy as it clogs the courts with lawsuits and diverts focus from claims of plaintiffs who were actually harmed. Finally, Acheson Hotels urged the Court reject the theories of standing proposed by the First and Eleventh Circuits.

Bottom Line: Merits briefs for this case are due on June 17, 2023.

Documents: Petition