The Coast Village Inn and Cottages in Wells was at the center of a disability rights case dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a case involving a Wells hotel that could have made it harder for people with disabilities to act as so-called testers who help enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case directly addressed whether Deborah Laufer, a Florida woman with multiple sclerosis, could sue Coast Village Inn in Wells because it was not in compliance with the federal law. But there had been concerns about far-reaching impacts.

If Coast Village Inn owner Acheson Hotels LLC had won the suit, the ruling could have limited the scope of what people who “test'” ADA compliance are able to do. Hotels and other business interests had urged the justices to limit the ability of testers to file lawsuits against hotels that fail to disclose accessibility information on their websites and through other reservation services if they have no intention of visiting that establishment.

The dismissal effectively maintains the status quo. Members of Maine’s business community expressed disappointment because the dismissal lacks the certainty of a new precedent that could better protect businesses from litigation. Some disability rights groups are thankful the role of testers wasn’t limited, but they also fear the possibility that another case like this will be brought forward in the future.

In the ruling’s aftermath, however, some feel the case could raise awareness for both the business community and people with disabilities about the Americans with Disabilities Act and what it requires.

“I think there’s a silver lining to every storm,” said Nate Cloutier, the director of Government Affairs at HospitalityMaine. “It’s brought disability policy to the forefront … something that’s always there, but not necessarily at the forefront of every policy debate.”



Laufer 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.

Laufer is a self-appointed “tester” – a person who investigates how places of public accommodation comply with civil rights laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act stipulates that all places of lodging must have reservation systems that provide details about the property’s accessible features that can help a disabled person determine if they are able to safely stay there. This applies to both a hotel’s website, as well as third-party booking sites like

In the case, which was filed with the Supreme Court last year, Acheson Hotels countersued and asserted that because Laufer had no intention of visiting Maine – she’s sued 600 other hotels for the same allegations – she had no right to file the original lawsuit.

Laufer withdrew her case against Acheson Hotels in July ahead of the October opening arguments after she learned her then attorney was disciplined by a United States district court for unethical conduct in ADA cases he filed on her behalf. The Supreme Court dismissed this case, determining that Laufer did not withdraw her original cases to impact the outcome in the highest court. The Supreme Court also threw out a lower court ruling in favor of tester lawsuits.

The outcome leaves the issue unresolved nationally.


“Even though Ms. Laufer does not plan to bring further ADA cases, so long as the ADA relies on private enforcement, testing will remain an important avenue for achieving equal access for millions of disabled Americans,” said Kelsi Corkran, Laufer’s attorney.

Acheson Hotels and its legal counsel did not respond to requests for comment.


Civil liberties and disability rights groups said they were glad for the ruling, which could have profoundly limited the scope of civil rights testers.

“This decision does not disturb the long-standing law that civil rights testers have been recognized to have in a range of different cases,” ACLU Maine Legal Director Carol Garvin said. “Testers are this really critical way for people to enforce civil rights laws, both when the government doesn’t have the resources or ability to enforce those laws and when many individuals don’t have the knowledge or information they need to know whether there’s been discrimination.”

Michelle Uzeta, the deputy legal director at the California-based Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, said that some of the methods Laufer’s former legal counsel used posed challenges and problems that came at a disadvantage to upholding the rights of testers.


“This was not a great vehicle for determining this important issue,” Uzeta said. “There is that sense of relief that a decision has not been rendered on these case facts.”

The hospitality industry, however, is concerned by the lack of clarity that will allow testers to continue with business as usual. Cloutier with HospitalityMaine said that while disability advocacy is important, HospitalityMaine believes testers like Laufer “minimize the real problem.” And they come at the cost of small businesses, who might not know they aren’t in compliance with these laws but then must pay hefty legal fees and other expenses to defend themselves, he said.

Accessible facilities can be a challenging topic in 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.

Rachel Dyer, with the Maine Developmental Disabilities Council, said cases like Laufer’s aren’t demanding businesses to rebuild their facilities altogether – though that is an essential step in the council’s work to expand access for people with disabilities at private businesses.

Rather, the root of Laufer’s case started with issues about Coast Village Inn lacking information on accessibility.

“Information makes people be able to make choices, whether it’s ‘if my room faces the ocean’ or ‘if I can get into the bathroom,’ ” Dyer said. “I don’t think there’s any reason not to. There’s so much information available, this shouldn’t be that hard.”


Uzeta believes that information is the bare minimum and more can be done.

“The fact that many of the buildings in Maine are older does not excuse them from the requirement to comply with the ADA, however, there are safeguards built into the law to ensure that alterations that are too costly or difficult or would destroy the historic significance of a building are not required,” she said.

And lacking accessibility could, in a way, come at the cost of Maine’s businesses; accessibility requirements can be a tool to benefit businesses, not hinder them.

“When someone is able to travel to Maine and feel welcome and feel like they’re being treated with dignity just like any other tourists, that’s going to feed into them coming back, them telling others in their home communities to come to Maine because it’s a welcoming place,” Garvin said.


With this dismissal, the system and precedent haven’t technically changed. The First Circuit court ruling, which set a precedent enabling testers to sue even if they don’t have intent to patronize a business, was vacated by the Supreme Court.


That means Acheson Hotels didn’t spark any change in the long-standing precedent.

But it could be an opportunity to raise awareness about the ADA and how these rules can impact Maine’s businesses, residents and visitors alike.

“There needs to be more education and information out there that businesses can access about how to serve people with disabilities, about how to comply with the law and countering some of the false narratives that have been put out there which harm everyone,” Uzeta said.

Cloutier said that his work at HospitalityMaine, which represents 1,300 businesses, has revolved around disability policy in the last year thanks to the Supreme Court case.

HospitalityMaine has been disappointed by each step of the process, from Laufer pursuing litigation to the Supreme Court’s dismissal. But it’s also led to an opportunity for education. Cloutier said HospitalityMaine has been working on outreach to provide members the informational tools they need to comply with the ADA.

“I’ve taken it as ‘How can we use this as a learning experience?’ ” Cloutier said.

Uzeta emphasized, however, that this issue goes beyond what individual businesses may or may not be doing right. It’s also an opportunity for systemic improvements. This is the time for Maine’s government to support accessibility by working with businesses to update their aging infrastructure, be it through tax breaks or other monetary incentives, she said.

“I do think it has put the business community on notice, people who otherwise may not have understood how important of an issue this is, that they need to take steps to ensure that they are in compliance with the law,” she said.

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