An Update on the Status of the Lawsuits on the Hotel Reservations Website | Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Seyfarth Synopsis: Hotels have fought off a tsunami of lawsuits on hotel booking sites with good results so far.
Over the past few years, a dozen plaintiffs represented by a handful of law firms have sued several hundred hotels for failing to provide sufficient information about the accessibility of their accessible rooms and common areas on their websites. reservation, as required by ADA regulations. While some hotels have resolved these claims early, many have chosen to fight these lawsuits, with great results. Here are some highlights.
Center for Disability Access Lawsuits. as we have reported, a Southern California company named Center for Disability Access aka Potter Handy (CDA), has now filed more than 565 such cases with nine different plaintiffs. These plaintiffs insist that ADA regulations require the disclosure of very specific details, down to detailed measurements, for certain accessibility features in accessible rooms. Most hotels do not currently provide this level of detailed information, based on guidelines issued by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) when passing these regulations.
To date, nearly ninety district court decisions have denied such requests for detailed disclosures and dismissed such lawsuits. These courts have concluded that, based on DOJ guidelines, such a detailed list of disclosures is not necessary. The CDA has appealed four adverse rulings to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two of which are due for argument on February 14, 2022.
Two recent decisions in these CDA lawsuits are notable because they were dismissed on mootness rather than merits like the others. In Langer vs. Music City Hotel LP , U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton of the Northern District of California ruled that a hotel’s willful modification of accessibility information on its hotel reservations website successfully prompted the ADA Title III claim. . The court dismissed the case and declined to exercise additional jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s state law claims under California’s Unruh statute. Likewise, in Whitaker v. Montes, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen ruled that while defendants had to prove that “the allegedly wrongful conduct could not reasonably be repeated” to establish that a case was moot, the hotel had faced that heavy burden by taking prompt action to update accessibility information. on its website. “Although websites can easily be changed, it took time, effort and money for the hotel to make this change, and now that the information on the website is available, the hotel does not little incentive to remove it,” the court explained. .
The Tenth Circuit finds no suitability for repeat plaintiff Deborah Laufer. Plaintiff Deborah Laufer has filed at least 300 lawsuits over the past five years against hotels across the United States, alleging they failed to provide sufficient accessibility to their hotels on their booking websites. The Tenth Circuit recently issued a very detailed ruling in Laufer versus Looper finding that Ms. Laufer lacked standing to sue a hotel for insufficient accessibility information because she had no concrete plans to visit the town in which the inn was located or to book a room at the hostel. Thus, the alleged lack of information about the website’s accessibility did not result in the “concrete harm” necessary for her to have standing to sue. The court explained:[A] violation of a legal right alone is insufficient under Spokeo and Trans Union to establish that Ms. Laufer suffered concrete harm. Standing under Article III requires concrete harm even in the context of a violation of the law. And this concrete harm must affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way. (quotes and internal quotations omitted).
The analysis of the tenth circuit in Laufer reminded us of the decision of the California Court of Appeals in Thurston vs. Omni in which he held that a plaintiff must show an intention to use the services of a defendant in order to have standing to bring an action under the Unruh Act. The plaintiff asserted that she had standing because she encountered an obstacle on the defendant’s website that prevented her from using it. The Court of Appeal found that this injury had no standing implications because a jury found that she had no intention of doing business with the hotel.
There will be more decisions in cases alleging deficient accessibility information on booking websites coming out this year. The decisions in the pending Ninth Circuit appeals — they say — will end hundreds of ongoing lawsuits or encourage more lawsuits. Stay tuned for more developments.