Acheson Hotels v. Laufer: Revenge of the Data Nerds

Fox & Robertson along with a dream team of drafting partners filed an amicus brief today in the case of Acheson Hotels v. Laufer, currently pending in the Supreme Court. The case addresses the issue of “tester standing,” that is, whether people protected by civil rights laws have standing to sue when they intentionally investigate compliance and encounter discrimination.

Because tester litigation has been responsible for calling out and challenging widespread disability discrimination, businesses hate it. The amicus briefs they filed were full of hair-on-fire numbers — of pending ADA lawsuits — that they characterize as a “staggering,” “unrelenting tide” that is “clog[ging] federal court dockets.” Chamber of Commerce Br. 7, 11; Retail Litig. Ctr. Br. 4, 11, 20, 22. One business brief asserted that tester standing “threat[ened] . . . the cohesiveness of our union.” Ctr. for Constitutional Responsibility Br. 1. Drama much?

Of course numbers are catnip to the data nerds here at Fox & Robertson World Headquarters, so we decided to take a look at the actual numbers of ADA cases filed in federal court — based on data gathered by the United States Courts on its website — and see how they looked in context. Here’s a chart comparing the “ADA-Other” category — roughly speaking, non-employment ADA cases, including the Title III cases that cause flaming hair on the business side — with six other common types of cases. Note the bright red ADA-Other line at the bottom.

Image:  a line graph titled “Case Filings by Type (Table C-2),” with the years 2008 to 2022 on the x axis and numbers 0 to 300,000 on the y axis. Seven colored lines cross the graph horizontally, each representing a type of case. The top line is a jagged line representing tort cases (varying between approximately 50,000 and 135,000). The line representing the category "ADA - Other" is in red.  It starts and ends at the bottom of the seven lines, intermingling with them in 2020.  ADA-Other cases vary from approximately 1,700 to approximately 12,000.  Other types of cases are as follows:  Contract cases, in green, vary from approximately 23,000 to 35,000. Labor law cases, in light blue, vary from approximately 13,000 to 19,000. Other civil rights laws, in dark green, vary from approximately 11,000 to 16,000.  Employment cases, in purple, vary from approximately 11,000 to 15,000.  Intellectual property, in blue, vary from approximately 8,000 to 14,000.

See? Not so bad after all! If business put half the effort into compliance that they put into whining, the world would be pretty damn accessible by now.

Be sure to check out our amicus brief with other fun facts and incisive arguments from the dream team: free agent disability rights rockstar Karla Gilbride, Michelle Uzeta at Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Tom Zito at Disability Rights Advocates, Justin Ormand at Allen & Overy and yours truly here at the World HQ.

F&R, DREDF submit amicus brief in support of proactive ADA enforcement.

Fox & Robertson, along with Michelle Uzeta of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (“DREDF”) drafted an amicus — or “friend of the court” — brief to the Ninth Circuit supporting the time-honored and effective civil rights enforcement technique called “testing.” The amici filing the brief were DREDF, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (“CREEC”) as well as four disabled women who both need accessible businesses and facilities and have served as testers: Corbett O’Toole, Julie Reiskin, Ann Cupolo-Freeman, and Ruthee Goldkorn.

The Ninth Circuit recently issued a decision in the case of Langer v. Kiser, 57 F. 4th 1085 (9th Cir. 2023), strongly supporting civil rights testing in the context of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits disability discrimination by places of public accommodation. In response, the defendant business — and several supporting businesses and trade associations as amici — are petitioning the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case. Our brief asks the court to deny that petition.

We were inspired to write by the truly astonishing level of invective and baloney in the petition and amicus briefs urging rehearing. Title III testing involves people with disabilities intentionally putting themselves in a situation to experience, observe, and challenge discrimination. Given the vast number of businesses and facilities governed by Title III, testing is essential to full compliance, so people with disabilities can go about their days integrated and included in our society.

In this case, the plaintiff, Chris Langer, is a wheelchair-user who attempted to patronize a lobster shop in San Diego, but was unable to park due to the lack of accessible spaces. Mr. Langer sued the owners of the shop in 2018 and — rather than applying a bit of paint to asphalt to bring their parking lot into compliance — the owners fought back, challenging Mr. Langer’s standing to sue, that is, his right to be in court in the first place. They did not claim that their parking lot was accessible or vow to correct their violations; they just wanted to take away Mr. Langer’s right to challenge those violations and, along with it, both the rights of other plaintiffs to challenge other Title III violations and the rights of people with disabilities in general to use and enjoy the accessible facilities that result from these lawsuits.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision — almost precisely five years after the case was filed — strongly upheld Mr. Langer’s standing as both a patron and a tester, holding that “a plaintiff’s motive for going to a place of public accommodation is irrelevant to standing.” Langer, 57 F.4th at 1084.

In response to this clear and well-supported decision, the defendants asked the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case, and gathered four sets of amici to support them. These briefs were an eyebrow-raising collection of misconstruction and mud-slinging. Lawyers who represent disabled plaintiffs in Title III cases are “unscrupulous,” “opportunistic” and “predatory,” engaging in a “transfer of wealth.” Curiously, they call Title III litigation “meritless” and “baseless” without any argument or evidence to suggest that either the Kisers’ premises or the facilities in the cases they rely on are actually in compliance — 30 years after the deadline for compliance.

So much vitriol – so little substance!

Our amicus brief pushed back hard — not with the counter-invective that hilariously populated the authors’ text threads, but with fact and law. From our brief:

  • Congress chose to make private enforcement “the primary method of obtaining compliance with the [ADA].” Doran v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 524 F.3d 1034, 1039-40 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Trafficante v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 409 U.S. 205, 209 (1972)).
  • Based on barriers to the courthouse, “the ADA remains a chronically under-enforced statute.”
  • The “ADA regulates more than 600,000 businesses, [and] 5 million places of public accommodation.”
  • Testers have been widely accepted as enforcers of civil rights starting with Black people intentionally riding a segregated bus or using a whites-only waiting room. Evers v. Dwyer, 358 U.S. 202, 204 (1958); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 558 (1967). 
  • People with disabilities have been granted standing to challenge architectural barriers in decisions around the country — and previously in the Ninth Circuit. Suárez-Torres v. Panaderia Y Reposteria España, Inc., 988 F.3d 542, 551 (1st Cir. 2021); Mosley v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc., 942 F.3d 752, 758 (6th Cir. 2019); Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center v. Hospitality Properties Trust, 867 F.3d 1093 (9th Cir. 2017); Nanni v. Aberdeen Marketplace, Inc., 878 F.3d 447, 457 (4th Cir. 2017); Colorado Cross Disability Coal. v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co., 765 F.3d 1205, 1211 (10th Cir. 2014); Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, Inc., 733 F.3d 1323, 1332 (11th Cir. 2013); Harty v. Simon Prop. Grp., L.P., 428 F. App’x 69, 71 (2d Cir. 2011.)

We explained the value of testing in terms of the everyday experience of the amici:

It is the experience of the Individual Amici that illegal barriers are a routine impediment to their professional and personal lives. By the time a wheelchair-user arrives at a public accommodation, hoping to enjoy its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations, it’s too late for a lawsuit to be much use. You roll up to a place that should have been made accessible some time in the past 30 years only to discover that you can’t park, or you can’t get in the door, or you can’t use the restroom, or – in the case of the Individual Amici in the CREEC case – you can’t get from the airport to your hotel because the hotel’s van is inaccessible. The fact that you just achieved an injury-in-fact and an admit-one ticket to federal court does not let you park, or get in the door, or use the restroom, or get to your hotel.

Testers help solve this problem. Wheelchair-users who are intentional about investigating and challenging barriers can help move our society toward a time when they and others can go about their daily lives expecting and finding access to a wide range of facilities. . .

Throughout its decision, the Ninth Circuit cited to and relied on the CREEC case which was brought by (as the name suggests) CREEC, as well as the individual amici Corbett O’Toole, Julie Reiskin, Ann Cupolo-Freeman, and Ruthee Goldkorn. Because of their crucial role in the case on which the Ninth Circuit relied, these four women, along with CREEC and DREDF, were the amici asking the Court to turn away from the business-side invective and uphold an important tool for civil rights enforcement.

This is what a technicality looks like.

Icon showing magnifying glass on top of open book.

Defendant:  does a thing that violates a civil rights law.

Plaintiff: files suit under said civil rights law.


  • Defendant did the thing but you can’t show that it will definitely do the thing again: no standing to ask for an order to make sure Defendant does not do the thing again.
  • Defendant did the thing but then Defendant stopped doing the thing, at least for now, after you sued:  your case is moot.
  • Defendant did the thing but you can’t show that your incarcerated [maybe disabled; maybe illiterate] client filed a Step 1 grievance within 30 days, then filed a Step 2 grievance within five days of receiving the response to the Step 1 grievance, and then filed a Step 3 grievance within five days of receiving the response to the Step 2 grievance:  case dismissed. 
  • Defendant did the thing and your incarcerated [maybe disabled; maybe illiterate] client filed all the grievances and responses on time but one step of the grievance used different language from another step of the grievance: case dismissed.   
  • Defendant did the thing and your incarcerated [maybe disabled; maybe illiterate] client filed all the grievances and responses on time and used all the right language but the grievance was similar to an earlier grievance in which they were unable to follow all the rules and deadlines: case dismissed.   
  • Defendant did the thing but you can’t show that the law against the [obviously illegal] thing was well-established:  Defendant’s minions are immune from suit.
  • Defendant did the thing but you can’t prove that Defendant’s policy required doing the thing: Defendant city/county agency is not liable. 
  • Defendant did the thing but Defendant is the state, so the 11th Amendment, which doesn’t actually say anything about this situation, makes the State immune from suit: no damages.
  • Defendant did the thing but you can’t show that Defendant intended to do the thing:  no damages. 
  • Defendant did the thing but you can’t show physical or financial harm from the thing: no damages.