Because a “tester” did not need to show an intention or need to actually book rooms at hotels in order to establish informational injury-based Article III standing to sue for alleged ADA-website violations, the district court erred in dismissing her suit for lack of standing. This decision deepened a split among the circuits on this question.
Deborah Laufer is a “tester” who has filed hundreds of similar lawsuits throughout the country under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Laufer complains of hotel reservation websites that do not allow for reservation of accessible guest rooms or provide sufficient accessibility information. The district court dismissed Laufer’s ADA claim for lack of Article III standing to sue.
In order to possess Article III standing to sue, “the plaintiff must have suffered an ‘injury in fact’ — an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” The second element requires “a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of.” As for the third element, “it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.”
Laufer’s ADA claim relies on 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(1)(ii), which provides that a hotel owner must “[i]dentify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs.” Similar to a First Circuit decision and a pertinent Eleventh Circuit concurring opinion, this court concludes that Laufer’s allegation of an informational injury accords her Article III standing to sue — whether or not she ever had a definite and credible plan to travel to the Baltimore area.
According to Laufer, she is entitled to the accessibility information as an individual with a disability, and Naranda’s failure to provide it constitutes discrimination under Title III of the ADA. Accepting that theory of Laufer’s ADA claim for purposes of the standing analysis, she has alleged an informational injury that gives her Article III standing to sue under Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, 455 U.S. 363 (1982), Public Citizen v. United States Department of Justice, 491 U.S. 440 (1989), and Federal Election Commission v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11 (1998).
With respect to the first element of an injury in fact, Laufer has alleged all that she needs to: that she has “fail[ed] to obtain information which must be publicly disclosed pursuant to a statute.” Under the Havens Realty line of decisions, such an informational injury is sufficiently concrete, particularized and actual to qualify for Article III standing to sue. It matters not that Laufer is a tester who may have visited Naranda’s hotel reservation websites to look for ADA violations.
Turning to the second and third Lujan elements, Naranda did not argue in its motion to dismiss before the district court that there is no “causal connection between [Laufer’s alleged informational] injury and the conduct complained of,” or that it is not “likely … that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” Moreover, the district court’s standing ruling against Laufer was confined to the first element, and this court has no basis to conclude herein that the second and third elements are not satisfied.
Of course, because Laufer seeks injunctive relief, she also must show a “real or immediate threat that [she] will be wronged again.” Naranda contends that Laufer cannot demonstrate such plausible intentions because her complaint does not allege that she would “return to the third-party websites for purposes of booking a room or availing herself of Naranda’s accommodations or services.” This court agrees with the First Circuit that Laufer has alleged plausible intentions to return to Naranda’s hotel reservation websites as part of the “system” described in her complaint for continually monitoring websites she finds to be in noncompliance.
The courts of appeals that have ruled in other cases against Laufer and a similarly-situated plaintiff have done so on the premise that those plaintiffs were obliged — but failed — to show an intention or need to actually book rooms at the defendants’ hotels in order to establish informational injury-based Article III standing to sue. In adopting that premise, the Second Circuit perceived that it was compelled to do so by TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, 141 S. Ct. 2190 (2021). Meanwhile, the Fifth and Tenth Circuits deemed the contrary decisions in Havens Realty, Public Citizen and Akins to be distinguishable and inapposite. None of those rulings withstand scrutiny.
Vacated and remanded.
Laufer v. Naranda Hotels LLC, Case No. 20-2348, Feb. 15, 2023. 4th Cir. (King), from DMD at Baltimore (Gallagher). Thomas B. Bacon for Appellant. Steven Joseph Parrott for Appellee. VLW 023-2-046. 35 pp.