In 2020, we saw an explosion of federal lawsuits against hotels alleging that they failed to comply with 28 C.F.R. 36.302(e) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not identifying accessible features on their own and third party booking agents' websites.
Twice this year, we reported that ADA website lawsuits filed against hotels by serial plaintiff Deborah Laufer were dismissed as she failed to show she had standing to sue. Is the third time a charm, or is it the prelude to an appeal?
On November 19, 2020, a federal district court judge dismissed yet another ADA website lawsuit because Ms. Laufer failed to show she had standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution because she did not show "individual" or "particularized" injury.
Ms. 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. Testers such as Ms. Laufer – who is disabled and allegedly requires disability accommodations when visiting hotels – reviews hotel websites to determine if the websites meet the ADA's requirements for providing disability information about the hotel's accommodations under Section 302(e). If they do not, she sues them, using the same lawyers and the same cookie-cutter complaint.
Ms. Laufer, who resides in Florida, has filed nearly 500 ADA website lawsuits against hotels in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Texas and other states. Whether testers such as Laufer intend to actually visit these hotels (and return to the website to make a reservation) is unknown.
Article III Standing to Sue – Individual or Particularized Injury
In the current case, Deborah Laufer v. BRE/ESA Portfolio, LLC, Judge Stephanie Gallagher of the United States District for the District of Maryland explains that "Article III of the United States Constitution restricts the jurisdiction of the federal courts to actual "cases" and "controversies."
Judge Gallagher refers to the Opinion in another ADA website tester's lawsuit, Griffin v. Dep't. of Labor Fed. Credit Union:
"Laufer's Complaint is defective because she too has failed to plead individual or particularized injury. Like Griffin, she asserts that the reservation websites do not comport with the ADA's requirements, causing her informational injury because she is unable to assess the suitability of the facility and to reserve a room that adequately accommodates her disability. Her Complaint, however, contains no facts suggesting that she harbored any present intent to stay at ESA or even to set foot in Maryland. Instead, the Complaint clearly and simply alleges that she maintains a list of properties she has sued and continues to monitor their compliance by re-visiting their reservation websites."
In our earlier blog regarding a previous lawsuit, Federal Judges Deal Further Blows to Deborah Laufer's Nationwide ADA Lawsuits Against the Hospitality Industry, we reported that Paula Xinis a United States District Judge for the District of Maryland, wrote of Laufer:
"She does not present any facts to make plausible that she would or could stay at the hotel or even travel to Maryland."
Judge Xinis also determined that "Laufer's claimed injuries are hardly imminent because as pleaded, she has failed to make plausible that she would return to the website "other than . . . as a tester, which alone is insufficient."
Could the results in these cases indicate an end to the serial lawsuits filed by ADA website testers? Rather, it is likely that these decisions will result in appeals.
How to avoid ADA website litigation
Whether or not testers have standing to sue hotels for not complying with ADA standards on their websites, hoteliers still have to deal with the headache and expense required to respond to these lawsuits. The best course of action is to update your websites to comply with the ADA and make sure OTAs that present your properties on their sites do the same. For more information on requirements, see ADA Requires Hotels To Describe Accessibility Features On Website.
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