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November 23, 2020

ADA Accessibility Lawsuits: NDNY Judge Dismisses All of Serial-Plaintiff Deborah Laufer's Pending Lawsuits for Lack of Standing

As we have previously reported on numerous occasions, Deborah Laufer has filed more than 500 federal lawsuits against hospitality providers across the United States, including approximately 60 lawsuits filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York (NDNY). These lawsuits generally allege the online reservation system for each property—whether directly operated by the defendant or indirectly operated through third-party websites (e.g., Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com, Booking.com)—is inaccessible to Laufer and otherwise fails to provide certain information concerning accessible features of the property in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws.

At issue in many of these ADA accessibility lawsuits is whether the plaintiff has standing, which is a threshold, constitutional requirement that must exist in every case. In the ADA context, standing exists where (1) the plaintiff alleged past injury under the ADA, (2) it was reasonable to infer the discriminatory treatment would continue, and (3) it was reasonable to infer, based on the past frequency of the plaintiff’s visits and the proximity of the defendant’s public accommodation to the plaintiff’s home, the plaintiff intended to return to the subject location. In a recent legal alert, we wrote about the Harty v. West Point Realty case, in which Judge Briccetti from the US District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed serial-plaintiff Owen Harty’s lawsuit against a Holiday Inn franchisee based on lack of standing. Harty has since appealed Judge Briccetti’s decision, and that case is currently on an expedited appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

There is now more good news for the hotels, motels, and other places of lodging named as defendants in the lawsuits filed by Laufer in the NDNY. Just last week, on November 19, 2020, Judge Brenda Sannes issued an order dismissing all of Laufer’s active lawsuits in the NDNY for lack of standing. Though Judge Sannes’s decision is certainly a significant victory for these defendants and perhaps good news for other defendants named in ADA accessibility lawsuits, it should be noted that Judge Sannes’s decision provided Laufer with an opportunity to file a motion seeking leave to amend her complaint in each case. If Laufer fails to do so within 30 days of Judge Sannes’s decision, the cases will be closed. If Laufer files a motion for leave to amend her complaint, Judge Sannes will then consider, with input from all parties, the most efficient and appropriate way to proceed with these cases in light of the ongoing questions relative to the veracity of Laufer’s standing allegations. In this regard, Judge Sannes has suggested there might be limited discovery or even an evidentiary hearing to test the credibility of Laufer’s standing allegations.  

We recommend any hospitality provider that operates a website or accepts reservations through third-party websites immediately take steps to ensure the information available on online reservation systems concerning accessible features of the property is compliant with federal, state, and local disability laws. In the unfortunate event you are served with one of these ADA accessibility lawsuits, please do not hesitate to contact one of the attorneys at Barclay Damon. We are currently representing a number of defendants in these and similar ADA accessibility lawsuits, as noted in an article recently published by the Associated Press. 

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Rob Thorpe, counsel, at rthorpe@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Area or Hotels, Hospitality & Food Service Team.

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