Serial plaintiff Theresa Brooke is back in Arizona filing more ADA accessibility lawsuits. Arizona hotel owners will remember that it was Theresa Brooke who, in 2015, opened the floodgates of accessibility lawsuits—she personally sued more than 100 hotels for failing to install wheelchair accessible pool lifts. For the past eighteen months she and her counsel, Peter K. Strojnik, have been touring California filing hundreds of “pool lift” lawsuits. She ran into problems, however, when California courts questioned her standing to file her lawsuits because she never actually visited the hotels (and therefore did not personally encounter the barriers to accessibility).
With her latest set of ADA lawsuits, Theresa Brooke attempts to get around the standing requirements by alleging that the websites of the defendant hotels (all based in the Denver area) do not allow her to reserve wheelchair accessible rooms online. This is a novel argument—and, if successful, could theoretically allow Theresa Brooke to sue hotels all across the country without personally visiting any of them. Theresa Brooke’s lawsuits are also unique because website accessibility lawsuits are typically brought by a person with visual or hearing impairments. Theresa Brooke has neither.
Theresa Brooke’s first-of-its-kind lawsuits raise a number of legal issues. For example, does the U.S. District Court of Arizona have specific personal jurisdiction over these Denver-area hotels? Courts have generally declined to assert personal jurisdiction solely on the basis of web advertising and instead look to see whether the defendants has more active contacts with a forum.
Regarding the substance of her allegations, whether websites are places of “public accommodation” for ADA purposes is a hot topic right now and courts within the Ninth Circuit have issued rulings on both sides of the argument. Theresa Brooke’s lawsuits, however, raise a more narrow issue—she is able to access the hotel websites, but allegedly cannot reserve a wheelchair accessible room on the website. As someone who has defended more than 300 ADA lawsuits over the past 24 months—including more than two dozen filed by Theresa Brooke—this is a unique issue and one that I haven’t seen addressed by any court. That being said, the usual ADA defenses of standing, mootness, etc., will still apply to these cases and could be successful.
Accordingly, the first step a business defendant should do after receiving a lawsuit from Ms. Brooke is to contact a capable and experienced ADA defense attorney.