A disabled person with no intention of visiting Baltimore may nevertheless sue a hotel in the city for allegedly violating a federal law requiring that it provide details of its accommodations for disabled guests on reservation websites, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said someone merely visiting the sites to test a hotel’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act has standing to bring a lawsuit if a violation is subsequently alleged.
In such cases, the “tester” has allegedly been deprived of a statutory right to information and thus suffered an “informational injury” that gives them standing to sue the hotel regardless of their travel plans, the court said in a 3-0 ruling.
The decision revives Deborah Laufer’s claim that Sleep Inn & Suites Downtown Inner Harbor violated the ADA’s Hotel Reservation Regulation provision by not listing its accommodations for disabled guests on websites provided by booking services, such as booking.com and expedia.com.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie A. Gallagher had dismissed Laufer’s lawsuit, saying the Floridian lacked standing because she had no intention of visiting Baltimore, where her federal claim was filed.
But the 4th Circuit said the plaintiff’s intent is irrelevant when the challenge is based on information the defendant was legally required to provide. The appeals court likened Laufer’s claim of informational injury to the claim by Sylvia Coleman, a Black woman who posed as a would-be tenant of Havens Realty in Virginia and alleged she was falsely told no apartments were available for rent, in violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman that she had standing to sue despite her lack of intent to rent because the law barred falsely telling someone due to their race that housing was unavailable.
“It matters not that Laufer is a tester who may have visited … hotel reservation websites to look for ADA violations in the form of noncompliance with the Hotel Reservation Regulation, and without any plan or need to book a hotel room, just as it mattered not that the Black plaintiff in Havens Realty was a tester who ‘may have approached (defendant Havens Realty) fully expecting that (she) would receive false information (in contravention of the Fair Housing Act), and without any intention of buying or renting a home,’” Judge Robert B. King wrote, quoting from the Supreme Court decision.
“Crucially, although the Hotel Reservation Regulation is designed ‘to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs,’ nothing in the Hotel Reservation Regulation or elsewhere in the ADA expressly requires an intention to book a hotel room to prove a discriminatory failure to provide accessibility information,” King added in sending Laufer’s claim back to district court.
Laufer’s attorney, Thomas B. Bacon of Orlando, Florida, said the 4th Circuit issued “a positive decision that helps civil rights advocates under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
Steven J. Parrott, the defendant’s attorney, said no decision has been made regarding an appeal. He voiced confidence that his client, which denies the alleged ADA violation, would be victorious in district court.
“We think we have a good chance to win on the merits,” said Parrott, of counsel at DeCaro, Doran, Siciliano, Gallagher & DeBlasis.
Laufer, who often uses a wheelchair due to difficulty walking, has filed similar federal lawsuits against hotels nationwide, with varying success on the standing issue. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, like the 4th, has ruled that Laufer has standing despite having no intention of visiting the cities where the hotels she sued are located. But the 5th and 10th Circuit Courts of Appeals have ruled she lacks standing as a mere tester.
The 1st Circuit’s decision affirming Laufer’s standing has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.