By Minh N. Vu
Seyfarth synopsis: A federal judge dismisses the first two of hundreds of pending lawsuits filed against hotels for allegedly not providing enough accessibility information on their reservations websites.
Last fall, a prolific plaintiff’s firm in California began filing lawsuits against hundreds of hotels in California on behalf of seven plaintiffs. The plaintiffs alleged that the information about the hotels’ accessibility provided on their reservations websites or on Expedia (in a handful of cases), was not sufficiently detailed for them to make a choice as to whether the hotel met their accessibility needs – in violation of the ADA Title III regulation governing hotel reservations. So far, these plaintiffs – all represented by this same firm – have filed over 450 suits and the number keeps growing.
The plaintiffs insist that hotels must report on their reservations websites and third party websites specific data about accessibility features such as the dimensions of space under accessible desks and sinks. They also claim that describing an element as “accessible” is not sufficient.
A number of hotels disagree that the regulations require that level of detail and are filing motions to dismiss. Earlier this week, Judge Carney of the Central District of California issued decisions in two of these cases. In the first case, the plaintiff alleged that the hotel’s information on Expedia did not comply with the regulations because it was not sufficiently detailed. The court said the hotel was not responsible for information on Expedia because “nothing in Plaintiff’s Complaint suggests that the alleged deficiencies on Expedia’s website was due to Defendant’s failure to make information available to Expedia.” The court further stated that the information on Expedia as well as on Marriott.com was, in any event, more than adequate because “[a] website need not list its compliance or non-compliance with every ADAAG provision to satisfy 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(ii), citing the DOJ Guidance.”
Specifically, the court noted that:
Expedia identifies all of the major common areas as wheelchair-accessible (e.g., the business center, concierge desk, elevators, fitness center, restaurant, parking, registration desk, pool). (Expedia’s Website.) It indicates that the routes of travel to areas of the hotel and accessible guestrooms are accessible. It specifies that guestrooms are accessible and provides details on types of accessibility features, including a “grab bar near toilet,” a “low-height counter and sink,” and a “raised toilet seat.” It also directs customers to contact the hotel directly for additional information on accessibility features. Defendant’s website provides similar information in even more detail, listing the following “Guest Room Accessibility” features: accessible guest rooms with 32-inch wide doorways, accessible route from public entrance to accessible guest rooms, alarm clock telephone ringers, bathroom grab bars, bathtub grab bars, bathtub seat, lowered deadbolt locks, lowered door night guards, doors with level handles, lowered electrical outlets, flashing door knockers, hearing accessible rooms and kits, roll-in showers, adjustable shower wands, “TTY/TTD available,” TVs with closed-captioning, toilet seats at wheelchair height, transfer showers, accessible vanities, and lowered viewports. (D’s Website.) Defendant’s website also notes that “[f]or more information about the physical features of our accessible rooms, common areas, or special services relating to a specific disability, please call +1 714-772-6777.” This information more than satisfies Defendant’s obligation under § 36.302(e)(ii).
In the second case which involved the sufficiency of a hotel’s information on Marriott.com, Judge Carney reiterated the legal principles stated in the first decision, and concluded that the accessibility information “more than satisfies” ADA requirements.
Judge Carney’s decisions are good for the hotel industry and an important step toward countering the tsunami of lawsuits hitting California hotels during a very difficult time for the hospitality industry. Check back for more developments on these cases.
UPDATE: On February 25, 2021, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson dismissed with prejudice a third reservations website case filed by this law firm against another hotel with an even more detailed opinion which squarely rejects the plaintiff’s demand for detailed accessibility information. The court stated:
The 2010 DOJ ADAAG Guidance on this provision “recognizes that a reservations system is not intended to be an accessibility survey,” and “[b]ecause of the wide variations in the level of accessibility that travelers will encounter . . . it may be sufficient to specify that the hotel is accessible” and to provide basic facts about each accessible room.” That is exactly what Defendant does here. Defendant provides Plaintiff notice that it has accessible rooms. While Plaintiff argues that “claiming something is ‘accessible’ is a conclusion or opinion,” the term “accessible” is specifically defined in the ADAAG to describe “a site, building, facility, or portion thereof that complies with these guidelines.” 1991 ADAAG § 3.5. Thus, the Defendant’s use of the term “accessible” is not merely conclusory, it means that the features in the hotel defined by Defendant as “accessible” comply with the ADAAG.
Edited by Kristina M. Launey