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A federal appeals court on Friday reinstated an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against a Tallahassee, Florida, motel filed by a self-described “tester” who had no intention of visiting the facility.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said in its ruling in Deborah Laufer vs. Arpan LLC, d.b.a America’s Best Value Inn, that it has to decide “whether an ADA plaintiff suffered a ‘concrete’ injury when she viewed a hotel’s website that omitted the accessibility-related information required by federal regulations and as a result, she says, experienced ‘frustration and humiliation’ – even though she admits that she had (and has) no intention to personally visit the hotel.”
The decision in the case, which overturned a ruling dismissing the litigation by the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, consisted of a unanimous panel opinion and two concurring opinions, a total of 68 pages.
Ms. Laufer has trouble walking without assistive devices, cannot use her hands normally, and is visually impaired, the ruling said.
She is a self-described “tester” who monitors whether public accommodations and their websites are ADA-compliant, and has filed more than 50 ADA lawsuits against hotel owners, according to the ruling.
In dismissing the case, the district court ruled Ms. Laufer had not suffered any “concrete and particularized” injury and therefore had no standing to sue.
“Our precedents compel us to vacate and remand,” the appeals court ruling said. “The principal question before us is whether Laufer has suffered a concrete intangible injury of the sort that suffices” for standing to file suit, the ruling said.
“We conclude that under existing precedent - both our own and the Supreme Court’s – that Laufer has alleged a concrete intangible injury.”
“Because she claims not only that she suffered illegal discrimination but also that the discrimination resulted in ‘frustration and humiliation’ and a ‘sense of isolation and segregation’ she has adequately pleaded a concrete stigmatic injury.
“And because her emotional injury is her emotional injury it affects her ‘in a personal and individual way’ and is therefore sufficiently particularized,” the decision said.
“It remains for the district court to determine (or, if it has done so already, to clarify) whether as a factual matter, Laufer has shown that she suffered the requisite frustration and humiliation as a result of viewing the Value Inn’s websites,” the ruling said, in remanding the case for further proceedings.
Motel attorney Jason L. Harr of the Harr Law firm in Dayton Beach, Florida, said the ruling disagrees with opinions issued by other appeals courts and “is ripe” for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. As it stands now, he said, someone in Lexington, Kentucky, can file suit against a business in Portland, Oregon, for instance.
The plaintiff attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Last month, a federal appeals court reversed a lower court ruling and reinstated an ADA lawsuit against a Twin Cities transit agency filed by a deaf and blind man who complained bus drivers frequently failed to stop at designated stops.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated guidance on COVID-19 on Dec. 14 stating that some employees who have had the disease may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Axios reports. Not everyone who tests positive will qualify and the EEOC said that employers must individually evaluate each employee to determine if they meet the requirements.