ADA Litigation Mill Case Heard at the U.S. Supreme Court

Legal
Published
Contact: Jeff Augello
jaugello@nahb.org
AVP, Association Counsel
(202) 266-8490

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 3 heard oral arguments in Acheson Hotels LLC v. Laufer, a case centering on whether “testers” have Article III standing to leverage the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and sue hotels for failing to provide disability accessibility information on their website.

Deborah Laufer, a self-described “tester,” is responsible for filing upwards of 600 boilerplate lawsuits targeting small hotels that fail to detail the accessibility features offered at their place of lodging through their websites. Laufer, who lives in Florida, never physically visits the hotels she sues. Acheson’s Coast Village Inn & Cottages, her latest target, is located in Wells, Maine. Despite never having visited the Coast Village Inn & Cottages, Laufer claims she suffered an injury of “frustration” and “humiliation” when she encountered Acheson’s website and its lack of accessibility information.

Laufer’s well-oiled litigation machine hit a bump soon after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. First, the U.S. Solicitor’s Office filed an amicus brief arguing the ADA and its implementing regulations do not create a free-standing informational right to accessibility information and that Laufer lacks standing. (NAHB also filed an amicus brief against Laufer, arguing her complaint should be dismissed for lack of standing.) After one of Laufer’s attorneys had his legal license suspended due to ethics violations, Laufer voluntarily dismissed her case against Acheson and filed a “suggestion of mootness.” The Supreme Court denied her request for dismissal on mootness.

It was not clear following the oral arguments whether the Supreme Court will actually rule on the standing of ADA testers. Several justices noted that the case has been dismissed by Laufer, the website at issue is now compliant with the ADA, and the original defendant has sold the hotel.

Justice Elena Kagan remarked that the case is “dead, dead, dead in all the ways that something can be dead” and using this case “as the vehicle for deciding an important issue … just doesn’t seem like something that a court should — should be anxious to do.”

Several other justices were not so keen to simply drop the case. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern over Laufer’s litigation tactic of mooting the case “to manipulate the jurisdiction of the court, after the Court’s granted cert” (cert means if four justices agree to hear a case, then the court will hear the case).

In a sentiment shared by Acheson and thousands of small businesses around the country targeted by extortionate ADA “testers,” mooting the case would be “blessing the legal strategy of filing large numbers of lawsuits … and abandoning them at the last minute” so that another lawsuit can be filed against the same small business the very next day.

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