SCOTUS Issued Term’s First Decision – Finds ADA Case Moot

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The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued the term’s first decision in an argued case. In Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer, 601 U.S. ____ (2023), the Court unanimously held the case is moot, declining to reach a closely watched issue of “tester” standing under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Facts of the Case

The Supreme Court granted review to consider whether Deborah Laufer has Article III standing to sue hotels whose websites failed to state whether they have accessible rooms for the disabled as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, even if Laufer had no thought of staying at the hotels, much less booking a room.

According to court documents, Lauter systematically searched the internet to find hotels that failed to contain enough information about the accommodations for people with disabilities. Upon finding violations, Lauter filed hundreds of lawsuits alleging the hotel websites violated the ADA.

While the district court dismissed her suit against Acheson Hotels for lack of standing, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. It held that the denial of accessibility information was an actionable Article III injury. Several other federal appeals court reached the opposite conclusion based on similar facts.

As the Court’s opinion noted,Laufer has singlehandedly generated a circuit split.” The Second, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits have held that she lacks standing; meanwhile, the First, Fourth, and Eleventh Circuits have held that she has it. The Supreme Court granted review to address the split. However, after a lower court sanctioned her lawyer, Laufer voluntarily dismissed her pending suits, including her case against Acheson Hotels, and filed a suggestion of mootness in this Court. The justices deferred a decision on mootness until after oral argument.

Supreme Court’s Decision

The Court unanimously agreed the case is moot and, thus, did not reach whether a self-proclaimed “tester” has standing to assert an alleged ADA violation.

In reaching its decision, the Court acknowledged Acheson’s argument that though “Laufer’s case is dead, the circuit split is very much alive.“ However, it did not agree that it should settle the standing issue in a case that is otherwise moot. In light of its decision, the Court remanded the case back to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit with instructions to dismiss the case.

While the Court did not reach the main issue in the case, Justice Clarence Thomas authored a concurrence concluding that Laufer lacks standing. According to Justice Thomas, Laufer’s “claim d[id] not assert a violation of a right under the ADA, much less a violation of her rights.” While not binding, lower courts may be influenced by his reasoning.

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