Supreme Court Throws Out Closely Watched ADA Case
The U.S. Supreme Court is punting on a case that advocates had warned could sharply limit the rights of people with disabilities to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The high court decided this week to dismiss as moot the matter known as Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer.
At issue is whether so-called ADA “testers” have standing to sue even if they have no intention of visiting a business.
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The case originated when Deborah Laufer, a Florida resident with a vision impairment who uses a cane or wheelchair, sued Acheson Hotels arguing that the website of the Coast Village Inn and Cottages in Wells, Maine failed to provide sufficient information about disability accommodations as required under the ADA.
Laufer is one of several people with disabilities who have taken on the role of ADA tester in recent years, actively seeking out ADA violations in order to sue. She has filed more than 600 federal lawsuits since 2018 against hotel owners and operators similar to the case against Acheson Hotels.
Initially, a lower court dismissed Laufer’s suit against Acheson Hotels finding that she was not injured because she didn’t plan to visit the inn, but the decision was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit which found that “Laufer’s feelings of frustration, humiliation and second-class citizenry” were “‘downstream consequences’ and ‘adverse effects’ of the informational injury she experienced.”
With more and more cases arising from testers like Laufer, circuit courts throughout the country have split on the issue of standing. The Supreme Court sought to set a national standard when it agreed to hear arguments in the case.
However, in an unusual twist, Laufer dropped all of her pending lawsuits, including the one against Acheson Hotels, in July after an attorney who had represented her was disciplined by a federal court in Maryland. She said she would not file any other similar suits and asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the Acheson case as moot.
Acheson Hotels urged the court to rule on the issue anyway, arguing that the justices should take the opportunity to resolve the split among lower courts rather than allow Laufer to avoid the possibility of losing by abandoning her claim.
“We are sensitive to Acheson’s concern about litigants manipulating the jurisdiction of this Court. We are not convinced, however, that Laufer abandoned her case in an effort to evade our review,” reads the majority opinion written by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
“She voluntarily dismissed her pending ADA cases after a lower court sanctioned her lawyer. She represented to this Court that she will not file any others,” Barrett wrote. “Laufer’s case against Acheson is moot, and we dismiss it on that ground. We emphasize, however, that we might exercise our discretion differently in a future case.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson issued concurring opinions and there were no dissents.
The case had generated significant attention, with business groups including The Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Retail Litigation Center backing Acheson Hotels and arguing that testers are simply taking advantage of small businesses.
On the other hand, disability advocates said that more than 30 years after passage of the ADA, testers are necessary to ensure that businesses are fulfilling their obligations under the law.
“Despite the ADA’s promise to create equal access, insufficient oversight and enforcement means that businesses frequently ignore the civil rights of disabled people, making their daily lives extremely difficult and undermining the rights guaranteed by the law,” said Shira Wakschlag, senior director of legal advocacy and general counsel for The Arc, which welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. “ADA testers are essential to ensuring the rights of people with disabilities are enforced and protected and that the full promise of the ADA is realized.”
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