Declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, the United States District Court Central District of California (Central District) is addressing high frequency litigants who file lawsuits in federal court alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Central District has been inundated with ADA lawsuits by California plaintiffs. According to its Minutes of March 8, 2021 noted in James Shayler v. JPMorgan Chase Bank there were 419 ADA cases filed in the Central District in 2013, constituting 3 percent of the civil actions filed. Fast forward to 2019, when in the first six months alone, ADA lawsuits comprised 24 percent of its civil cases (1,868 matters). ADA cases filed in 2021 are on pace for even more.

Similar numbers of ADA cases are being filed in California’s Northern District which has seen a significant increase in ADA cases alleging 28 C.F.R. Section 36. 302 (e) hotel reservation lawsuits. In an effort to curb or streamline the plethora of ADA litigation, the Northern District recently revised its General Order 56. Continue ›

In a unanimous published opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Ninth Circuit) affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of Whitaker v. Tesla Motors, for failure to state a claim of an action under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This case may have broad application for ADA defense lawyers because very similar “form” complaints are used widely in Southern California. According to the Ninth Circuit, these complaints are defective. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of virtually identical Complaints on Federal Court dockets in California and across the country.

About Whitaker v. Tesla Motors

Brian Whitaker, whose complaint states he uses a wheelchair for mobility, is a “tester” who visits businesses to ascertain whether their facilities comply with the ADA. Whitaker files lawsuits against those he determines are non-compliant, using complaints that are little more than a “fill-in-the-blanks” form.

In this case, Whitaker visited a Tesla dealership and alleged its service counters denied him full and equal access and “created difficulty and discomfort”. He further alleged that Tesla’s failure to provide accessible service counters prevented him from returning to the dealership. Continue ›

We previously warned the hotel industry of the inevitable explosion of ADA website lawsuit filed against hotels. Well, that time is here.

In 2020, we saw a surge of lawsuits filed against those in the hotel industry, alleging the failure to comply with 28 C.F.R. Section 36.302 (e) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires hotels to list their accessible features on their websites as well as on the websites of online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Travelocity, Orbitz, hotels.com, etc. We expect this surge of lawsuits to continue well into 2021.

Whether you are a national “flag” or the owner of a small portfolio of hotels, the 2010 ADA’s, C.F.R. Section 36.302 (e) applies to your hotel properties and websites. This section of the ADA has been effective since March 15, 2012 and requires hotels to describe accessible features in hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations services in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a hotel or guest room meets their accessibility needs.

The Court Dismisses ADA Lawsuit for Lack of Standing – Proving Once Again These Cases Can Be Won

Anthony Bouyer v. LAXMI Hospitality, LLC

By Martin H. Orlick

It’s important to remember federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.  That limited jurisdiction derives from Article III of the U.S. Constitution. To establish standing under Article III, an ADA plaintiff must show actual or imminent injury. Injunctive Relief to remove access barriers is the only relief available to an individual ADA plaintiff in Federal Court.

In August, 2020, the plaintiff in Anthony Bouyer v. LAXMI Hospitality, LLC filed an action alleging the defendant’s hotel in Woodland Hills, California violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  According to the Complaint, the plaintiff is substantially limited in performing regular life activities and uses a wheelchair when traveling in public.  The Complaint alleges that the plaintiff visited the hotel where he encountered ADA violations.  The hotel had no record of the plaintiff’s alleged visit.  The plaintiff’s Complaint sought injunctive relief requiring the defendant to make the hotel accessible.
Continue ›

In 2020, we saw an explosion of federal lawsuits against hotels alleging that they failed to comply with 28 C.F.R. 36.302(e) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not identifying accessible features on their own and third party booking agents’ websites.

Twice this year, we reported that ADA website lawsuits filed against hotels by serial plaintiff Deborah Laufer were dismissed as she failed to show she had standing to sue. Is the third time a charm, or is it the prelude to an appeal?

On November 19, 2020, a federal district court judge dismissed yet another ADA website lawsuit because Ms. Laufer failed to show she had standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution because she did not show “individual” or “particularized” injury.

Emotional Support Animals Now Banned on Commercial Flights — Airlines are Crying “Woof”

News accounts abound of passengers bringing a variety of so-called “emotional support” animals aboard commercial air flights. Who hasn’t seen a cute, expensive dog, cat or other animals on flights?  And we have also heard about passengers bringing along cats, turkeys, lizards and emotional support snakes aboard commercial flights. Well, the days of flying pets for free are over, according to new federal rules.

Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted new rules that only specially trained dogs can assist passengers with physical or psychiatric disabilities on commercial flights.  This rule comes after years of abuse by passengers who want to have their pets fly free.

Federal Judges Deal Further Blows to Deborah Laufer’s Nationwide ADA Lawsuits Against the Hospitality Industry: ADA Lawsuits Are Defensible

by Martin H. Orlick

On June 8, 2020, we reported on the opinions of a New York federal judge that 30 of Deborah Laufer’s Complaints had no place in federal court.  Since then, in other jurisdictions, federal judges have dealt further blows to Ms. Laufer’s campaign of lawsuits alleging that hotels and online travel agencies’ (OTA) websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(1) by failing to identify the accessibility features of their hotels. On November 10, 2020 in Deborah Laufer v. Ft. Meade Hospitality, Civ. 8:20-cv-1974, a Maryland judge dismissed Ms. Laufer’s Complaint for lack of Article III standing.

Deborah Laufer has filed nearly 500 lawsuits against hotels in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Texas and other states.  Until recently, hotel defendants found it easier and cheaper to settle, thereby encouraging more lawsuits.  But a recent federal court decision may signal the end of these serial ADA lawsuits filed by Ms. Laufer.

Ms. Laufer is a self-described “tester” who reviews hotel websites to determine whether these “places of public accommodation” and their websites are in compliance with the ADA.  The plaintiff, physically disabled, resides in Florida and requires assistive devices, often including a wheelchair if available.  When allegedly visiting hotels, she requires disability accommodations.  Online reservations can be made directly through the hotel’s website or at booking.com, priceline.com, expedia.com and other booking websites. Laufer alleges she visited these websites to test whether they meet the requirements by providing disability information about the hotel accommodations.  If the websites do not provide sufficient information, she files litigation through the same lawyers. Continue ›

In a case indicating that courts may be weary of serial plaintiffs filing multiple cookie-cutter lawsuits, a United States District Judge in the Northern District of New York has ordered a plaintiff to show that she has standing to bring ADA hotel website accessibility lawsuits to federal court.

The disabled plaintiff, who resides in Florida, has filed 29 nearly identical ADA website cases in the Northern District of New York seeking injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees. In this specific case, Deborah Laufer v. 1110 Western Albany LLC and Ryan LLC, the plaintiff sought an unopposed default judgement when the defendant failed to respond to the complaint.

The Court however, determined the plaintiff failed to establish Article III standing to bring the lawsuit and refused to enter the default judgement.

Achieving Article III standing in federal court

To have standing to seek injunctive relief in federal court, plaintiffs must establish they have sustained (or are in immediate danger of sustaining) a direct injury as the result of the alleged wrongdoing, and that the injury is concrete and particularized, not hypothetical or speculative.

In this case, the plaintiff claimed injury due to the alleged lack of information on a hotel’s website about accommodations for disabled guests, as is required under the ADA’s 28 C.F.R. Section 36.302(e).

But Hon. Brenda K. Sannes, of the United States District Court of the Northern District of New York states in an Order dated May 8, 2020:

“There appears to be a serious question as to whether Plaintiff has established standing, in this, or any of her other cases, and thus whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over these actions. See, e.g. Laufer v. Laxmi & Sons LLC, 1:19-cv-01501 (BKS/L) (Dkt. No. 15, at 7. May 6, 2020). (“There are no facts in the Complaint or Plaintiff’s affidavit indicating that she has ever traveled to Rensselaer, New York, or anywhere in New York, or that she has any reason to travel anywhere in New York or any reason to seek lodging anywhere in New York.”) Continue ›

See Part 1 – What you need to know about how we got here
See Part 2 – Rights to due process and standing requirements

This article was first published by Law360® Expert Analysis, © 2019 Portfolio Media Group Inc. and is reprinted with permission.

ADA website litigation against the hospitality industry involves more than whether a website is accessible using screen reading software. The DOJ speaks directly to the lodging industry in 28 CFR § 36.302(e) of the ADA’s Title III Regulation, stating that reservations made by places of lodging shall modify policies, practices or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms; that hotels must identify and describe their accessible features in public spaces and guest rooms in enough detail to permit individuals with disabilities to assess whether their needs will be met; that hotels must hold accessible guest rooms for use by individuals with disabilities until all such rooms have been rented; and must guarantee the specific accessible guest room reserved through its reservations service is held for the reserving customer.

ADA plaintiffs law firms are quite familiar with the details of this section of Title III, and ADA website lawsuits filed against hotels often include allegations that hotels do not accurately identify the hotel’s accessible features. Our clients are experiencing an explosion of such litigation by increasing numbers of law firms.

Copycat website ADA litigation is exploding

An interesting “phenomenon” or pattern is taking place in the realm of ADA cyberaccessibility litigation: copycat website litigation filed against the same hotel by different law firms around the country, alleging the same website ADA violations as the original lawsuit.  Curiously, this tactic is becoming more common in California, New York, Florida, Arizona and elsewhere. Are these copycat lawsuits coincidental? Are they the result of independent investigation? Or are the plaintiffs or their counsel sharing defendant lists? Although it is currently unclear how or why hotel defendants are confronted with multiple lawsuits by different plaintiffs over the same websites, it appears to be a growing trend. Continue ›

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Image by Erin Kelly via KPIX CBS SF Bay Area

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, imagine your astonishment when boarding the train for your morning commute to find you’re sharing the ride with a miniature horse. That’s exactly what happened to some passengers taking BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in the San Francisco Bay Area on a November morning in 2019.

Yes, the miniature horse is a service animal, as so defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and is allowed in “public accommodations” including banks, restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and on public transportation (and see our blog on ride-sharing and service animals).