The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit brought against a hotel in Wells by a disability rights activist who has sued hundreds of hotels she didn’t intend to visit over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Portland-based Acheson Hotels, the owner and operator of Coast Village Inn and Cottages, is arguing that Deborah Laufer has no legal standing to sue over an alleged violation of the ADA since she has no intention to stay at the Maine resort.

Laufer, a self-described ADA “tester” who has sued over 600 hotels, including ones in Bar Harbor and Portland, alleges that Acheson did not disclose accessibility information about Coast Village on its website, according to a petition filed in November 2022. The ADA mandates that lodging places disclose online if the accommodations include accessible features and rooms.

The lawsuit, whose appeal has yet to be scheduled before the nation’s highest court, could have wide implications in Maine. The state is home to historic hotels dating to the 1800s and a majority of residences were built before 1980, a decade before the ADA was enacted. Small, family-run motels and bed-and-breakfasts dot coastline towns, including Wells.

Maine hotel stays generated $1.78 billion in taxable sales during 2022, according to Maine Revenue Services data. It was the highest figure in at least a decade.

“A public accommodation that owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of lodging shall … identify 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,” the ADA reads.


Neither Acheson Hotels nor Laufer responded to messages seeking an interview about the case.

Laufer, who lives in Florida, has a vision impairment, uses a cane or wheelchair to get around, and has limited use of her hands, according to court documents. Her lawsuits contend that the websites of accommodations, generally small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, are not clear enough about whether they are accessible to people with disabilities.

The original case, Laufer v. Acheson Hotels LLC, was first dismissed by the U.S. District Court of Maine in 2021. In October 2022, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Laufer’s appeal and reversed the district court’s decision.

Laufer’s lawsuits and lawsuits by other self-appointed “testers” have divided federal appeals courts. The question is whether Laufer and others have suffered an injury that gives them the ability to sue, called “standing.” Some courts have ruled that people who never intend to visit the accommodations they are challenging can nonetheless sue. Other courts have declined to allow the lawsuits.

While a ruling in Laufer’s favor could pose challenges for Maine’s older hotels built before the ADA was passed in 1990, Kim Moody with advocacy group Disability Rights Maine said the lawsuit is an opportunity for some overdue change.

“The broader issue is that, over 30 years after the passage of the ADA, people with disabilities continue to face broad and deep access barriers when trying to avail themselves of public accommodations of all kinds,” she said in a statement. “It is long past the time for people with disabilities to have equal access to travel – hotels, restaurants, theaters, sporting events and so on, and to be able to simply check accessibility online.”

Coast Village Inn and Cottages, at 867 U.S. Route 1 near Webhannet Falls Park, has posted a website notice that reads, “Please Note: Unfortunately, we do not have the capabilities to provide pet-friendly or ADA compliant lodging. We apologize for the inconvenience!”

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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