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.
Laufer filed a complaint against hotel operator Ft. Meade Hospitality, LLC (FMH), alleging a violation of the ADA at a hotel located in Laurel, Maryland. The plaintiff contends that FMH’s online reservation system violates the ADA’s 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(1). When FMH failed to respond, the Clerk of the Court entered a default. Laufer then filed a Motion for Default Judgment. Reviewing the Complaint, which is identical to hundreds filed by the plaintiff, the Court found that Laufer failed to allege facts which make plausible that she has standing to sue. The Court denied the Motion for Default Judgment and dismissed the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Relying on Fourth Circuit precedent, the Court ruled that “assertions of either dignitary” or “informational terms” such as those alleged by Laufer, “are not sufficiently concrete to render the claim a justiciable case or controversy.” Laufer’s Complaint contends that the hotel’s reservation websites do not allow her to access the information pertinent to making a reservation for a room that accommodates her disability, but it fails to allege she actually intended to reserve a room. The Court’s Memorandum Opinion states: “She does not present any facts to make plausible that she would or could stay at the hotel or even travel to Maryland.”
In dismissing the cases, the Court concluded:
Laufer’s claimed injuries are hardly imminent because as pleaded, she has failed to make plausible that she would return to the website “other than . . . as a tester, which alone is insufficient.”
The Court noted “that Laufer has filed scores of nearly identically drafted Complaints in several jurisdictions. Mere incantations of some amorphous intent to visit this particular hotel, without more, will not save her claim.” The Court gave Laufer leave to amend but cautioned against such amendments.
As the FMH case demonstrates, Laufer’s ADA website cases are defensible. So, do these cases spell the beginning of the end for the Laufer lawsuits? Stay tuned for future reports that have similarly dismissed Laufer Complaints.