No. 21-1410, 2022 WestLaw 5074596
United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit
October 5, 2022
Keywords: hotels, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), regulations, “Reservation Rule,” public accommodations, accessible features, reservation service, website, standing, injunctive relief, disability, wheelchair, cane, visual impairment.
Status Note (update 10/5/2023)
- July 26, 2023
Deborah Laufer, plaintiff in Acheson v. Laufer, asked that this case be dismissed with prejudice, meaning that she asked that the case be dismissed permanently, after her attorney was suspended by the U.S. District Court of Maryland for unethical behavior. The Acheson Hotel chain, however, is opposing the dismissal.
- August 10, 2023
- The Supreme Court ordered that Laufer’s request to dismiss her case was denied. This decision means the court will hear arguments as to whether “testers” who never intend to visit a place of public accommodation have standing to file ADA lawsuits.
- Eighteen leading disability advocacy organizations filed a “friend-of-the-court” amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court for Laufer v. Acheson Hotels, a case that will decide whether “testers” who investigate compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have the ability to sue businesses for discrimination when their rights under the ADA are violated.
Amicus Brief Filed in U.S. Supreme Court Case Emphasizes Importance of Testers to ADA Enforcement
Source: Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
- October 4, 2023
The case began and arguments of the case were heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Acheson Hotels runs a hotel in Maine. Deborah Laufer lives in Florida and has a disability. While on the Acheson Hotels’ website, Laufer noticed the website had no information on room accessibility.
Laufer sued Acheson Hotels in federal court for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The lower court turned down Laufer’s claim, saying she did not plan to book a room, so she had no right to sue Acheson Hotels. Laufer asked a higher court (the First Circuit Court of Appeals) to review the trial court’s decision.
Facts of the Case
Deborah Laufer uses either a wheelchair or cane as a mobility aid. She also has a visual impairment. Laufer calls herself a “tester”, meaning she regularly visits business websites all over the country “testing” whether they are accessible.
Laufer found that information like accessible parking, wide passageways for wheelchair users, and accessible bathrooms was not available on the Acheson website. The information was also not found on “third party” hotel booking websites, like Expedia.
Issues of the Case
- Does Ms. Laufer have the right (or standing) to sue Acheson Hotels for not having accessibility information on its website, even if she had no plan to book a room or travel to Maine?
Arguments and Analysis
1. Does Ms. Laufer have the right (or standing) to sue Acheson Hotels for not having accessibility information on its website, even if she had no plan to book a room or travel to Maine?
The First Circuit Court of Appeals believed that the lack of information on room accessibility on the hotel’s reservation website does discriminate against a person with a disability. This meant Laufer had “standing” or the right to sue.
The Court noted a Department of Justice (DOJ) “Reservation Rule” under the ADA. This rule ensures that people with disabilities can “independently decide whether a hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs”. This rule also says that accessibility information is needed to make sure people with disabilities can reserve hotel rooms in the same way as people who do not need accessible guest rooms.
It is important to understand that refusing information to someone who has a legal right to that information can be considered an injury under the law. An injury under the law means the person has “standing” or the right to sue. The Court believed it was Ms. Laufer’s legal right to have accessibility information to know what accommodations were available at Acheson’s hotel.
The Court said Ms. Laufer’s “injury” was her feelings of frustration, humiliation, and being treated as a second-class citizen. She suffered because of the lack of accessibility information on Acheson’s website.
The Court also said putting a statement on the hotel website saying their rooms were not accessible after Ms. Laufer had sued did not mean the lawsuit was settled.
The decision of the lower court was overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
The U.S. Department of Justice has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web. The ADA provides a legal right to hotel accessibility information on websites for people with disabilities. If that information is not found on a website, a person with a disability can sue, even if they never plan to book the hotel.
It is the legal right to the information that matters, not what the user intends to do with the information.
Policy and Practice
Under the ADA, a hotel must give enough detail about its accessibility on its website for people with disabilities to know what services they can enjoy. If it does not, a person with a disability has standing and can bring suit.
- Legal Information Institute (LII) Supreme Court Bulletin: Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer
Source: Cornell Law School
- Full Case: Deborah Laufer, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Acheson Hotels, LLC [PDF file],
Defendant, Appellee, No. 21-1410, 2022 WestLaw 5074596 (1st Cir. October 5, 2022)