Disability Law Spotlight: SCOTUS is expected to hear Acheson v. Laufer on October 4, 2023. Disability rights activists are watching this case closely, as it it may drastically reduce the ability of marginalized communities (including people with disabilities, people of color, and women) to use such laws to protect their communities from discrimination.Read more: Disability Activists Closely Watch SCOTUS Case
| Acheson v. Laufer Case Brief|
Note: highlighted words can be found in the Key Terms Section at the bottom of this page.
Deborah Laufer, a disabled woman, filed a lawsuit against Acheson Hotels (Acheson) in a federal district court in Maine. In this lawsuit, she alleges that the company’s website did not comply with accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Ms. Laufer’s filed lawsuit in a federal district court in Maine. This lawsuit alleges that Acheson Hotels’website did not contain sufficient information regarding the accessibility of the hotel chain’s rooms, as is required under the ADA.
In response, Acheson alleged that Ms. Lauffer lacked standing to sue, meaning she does not have the right to bring the lawsuit. Specifically, Acheson claimed that since Ms. Laufer had no actual intent to visit the hotel, but rather was merely “testing” the website for compliance, she did not experience injury from the lack of accessible information on the website. The district court agreed that Ms. Laufer lacked standing to bring the suit, and dismissed the case.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit reinstated Ms. Laufer’s case. This left unresolved the question of whether “testers,” aiming to ensure public entities’ compliance with disability and other civil rights laws, have standing to sue a particular establishment for violations of the ADA despite a lack of any intent to personally visit the establishment.
Acheson then asked the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to intervene to determine with finality whether Ms. Laufer and others like her have standing to sue in cases such as this. SCOTUS agreed to review the case. Ms. Laufer requested that the Court dismiss her case as “moot,” but the Court denied her request.
Oral arguments in the case are set to begin on October 4, 2023 in SCOTUS.
SCOTUS will decide whether Ms. Laufer has standing to sue after they hear the case argued in Washington DC.
Issue: “Whether a ‘tester’ has standing to challenge a place of public accommodation’s illegal failure to provide disability accessibility information on its website, even if she does not intend to visit that place of public accommodation.”
Why this matters:
Disability rights activists are watching this case closely. “Testers,” who check places of public accommodation for compliance with the ADA, have historically played a key role in combating discrimination and other social harms targeting disabled people.
“Testers” play a key role in other areas of civil rights law, as well. For instance, “testing” is an extremely common tactic used in enforcing fair housing law. If the Court restricts how “testers” can gain standing to sue organizations in violation of federal civil rights laws, it may drastically reduce the ability of marginalized communities (including disabled people, people of color, and women) to use such laws to protect their communities from discrimination.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.
The ADA Title III: Title III covers businesses (and many other things) that are public accommodations. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities including hotels. Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment.
Standing: Standing is a legal term and a requirement of Article III of the United States Constitution. It generally limits someone’s ability to participate in a lawsuit.
Standing also generally requires three things to be true:
- The person or group they are a part of has a real or threatened injury/has been harmed and will continue to be harmed unless the court steps in
- In the past, courts have held that it is usually not enough to say they “might” be harmed or that there is an impending harm
- In the past, courts have held that a concerned citizen generally (with certain exceptions) does not have standing, because they are not suffering the harm
- There must be a causal connection or fairly traceable connection between the injury and the suit brought by the defendant (and not a third party or independent person bringing the suit)
- It must be assumed that the court has the ability to “redress” or do something about it that will “relieve” the harm
Standing is confusing! There are certain exceptions that might allow Deborah Laufer to bring her case, even though she may not satisfy the typical standing requirements. The Court reviews potential exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Reservation Rule: Statutes are written by Congress, can be confusing, and often are not detailed enough to be easily implemented. Therefore, regulations are often issued by agencies (following a notice and comment period) to interpret them. In 2010, the Justice Department issued the Reservation Rule addressing the application of Title III of the ADA’s reasonable-modification requirement to reservation services offered by hotels and other places of lodging under 28 CFR § 36.302(e)(1). The regulation requires hotels when reservations are “made by any means, including by telephone, [online], in-person, or through a third-party” to “[i]dentify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service 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.”
Tester: “An individual associated with the ADA that evaluates and documents the accessibility of a website or application in order to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Accessibility testing or audits may be called ADA testing if being performed in order to meet ADA regulations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations. Websites and other publicly-available digital tools and programs are generally accepted as being places of public accommodation. As such, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated and reaffirmed in the past that the ADA applies to websites.”
Moot: The mootness doctrine generally requires a controversy to be ongoing for the Court to have authority. If it has lost its underlying significance, the Court has lost its “justiciability.” But there are case-by-base exceptions to this doctrine as well.
To read more about this case:
Interested in learning more about The National Center for Disability, Equity, and Intersectionality? Check out some of our work here. You can also follow us on social media @ThinkEquitable
|UPDATE: The United States Supreme Court has made a ruling on this case. For more information about this ruling click here.|