The Coast Village Inn in Wells, which is under new ownership, is at the center of a disability rights case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday. A Florida woman sued the previous owners of the hotel, Acheson Hotels LLC, after she saw that the hotel’s website did not include legally required information about accessibility to people with disabilities. Acheson Hotels LLC asserts that the woman, who has sued 600 other hotels across the country, had no intention of staying at the hotel. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine disability rights groups and hospitality organizations are closely watching a Supreme Court case with wide-ranging implications concerning a Maine hotel’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The justices heard opening arguments Wednesday in a case involving the previous owners of a Wells hotel who are challenging a disabled woman’s right to sue them for violating the ADA, saying she had no intention of visiting the hotel.

Deborah Laufer, a Florida woman with multiple sclerosis, originally sued Acheson Hotels LLC, the former owner of Coast Village Inn in Wells, after she saw that the inn’s website did not include legally required information about whether the facilities on its property are accessible to people with disabilities so they can determine their ability to safely use them.

In the case, which was filed with the Supreme Court last year, Acheson Hotels asserts that because Laufer had no intention of visiting Maine – based on the fact that she’s sued 600 other hotels for the same allegations – she had no right to file the lawsuit. Laufer is a self-appointed “tester” – a person who investigates how places of public accommodation comply with civil rights laws like the ADA.

If the court rules in Laufer’s favor, it will further solidify testers’ rights to continue the work that they are doing, leaving small hotels and inns, like the Coast Village Inn, open to these kinds of suits. A ruling in favor of Acheson Hotels could create a new precedent that puts the validity of civil rights testers in a precarious position.

“Without having enough government enforcement of laws like the ADA, I think it is so important that we have and rely on civil rights testers like Miss Laufer to make sure that public accommodations are really being open to everyone,” ACLU Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan said. “It underscores the importance of the availability of testers to enforce these laws, because without them, I think we really just have anti-discrimination laws on the books in theory, but not being implemented in practice on the ground,”



The ADA stipulates that all places of lodging must have reservation systems that provide sufficient details about the property’s accessible features that can help a disabled person determine if they are able to safely stay at the facility. This applies to both a hotel’s own system and websites, as well as third-party booking sites like

Accessible features can be particularly challenging in a state like Maine. Nearly 68% of buildings in Maine were built before 1990 – the year the original Americans with Disabilities Act was passed – and 22% were built before 1940, according to federal census data.

Atlee Reilly with Disability Rights Maine said the most complaints they get from residents and travelers with disabilities are about access to public accommodations.

“This and other cases are really just basic ‘get in the door’ type cases, – they literally, sometimes, can’t get in the door of their hotel room, can’t utilize the shower, in their hotel,” Reilly said.

The organization believes that despite these building challenges, hotels need to be clear about what kind of ADA-accessible features they have – even if they don’t have any.


“With travel, it kind of amplifies the stakes, because people may get where they’re going, thinking that something is all set … and then they get there and they’re not. And unfortunately, sometimes there’s not a lot that can be done in the moment,” he said.

Laufer’s attorneys, along with other disabilities rights supporters, argue that she experienced discrimination, even if she had no intention of visiting the Wells hotel, because she was denied access to this information.

These groups have been advocating for Laufer, in and out of court, because they believe that when testers make these challenges – even if they have no intention of using a facility’s services – they are by proxy advocating for people with disabilities who do want to come to Maine.

Acheson Hotels did not respond to requests for an interview.


HospitalityMaine, a trade group for restaurant and lodging businesses, agrees with the ADA rules. But the group is concerned that testers like Laufer are pursuing these cases with the assumption that hotels making these mistakes are “bad actors.”


“There’s always a minority of folks that are either neglectful or intentionally doing some form of malfeasance. But by and large, these folks want to do right by their customers and their guests and abide by the law,” said Nathan Cloutier, director of government affairs for the trade group. “When these folks who are testing have no intent of actually staying at them – and instead are trying to raise legal claims and fame and fortune – what good is that doing to actually better the future experience for somebody else? The intent should always be safety and compliance and education.”

Cloutier said that these lawsuits can have profound impacts on small businesses who, no matter the outcome, have to pay legal fees and other expenses.

In the face of this case, HospitalityMaine has been working with its members to inform them on the rules and connect them with government resources to ensure that they are in compliance with the ADA. That includes the current owner of the Coastal Village Inn, James MacNeill, who is a member of HospitalityMaine.

Coastal Village Inn has a notice on its website that the hotel does not have ADA-accessible features. But the MacNeills write that they are “in the early stages of an Implementation Plan specifically aimed at barrier removal requirements.”

“We are taking ADA compliance seriously and will be quick to respond to any accessibility questions you may have ahead of your visit. We want you to feel confident that you will have necessary accommodations available to you, if they are readily achievable, should you want to stay with us,” the notice said.

It is unknown when the Supreme Court might render its ruling.

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