Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its first decision in an argued case this term: Acheson Hotels v. Laufer. In an opinion by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the justices concluded that the case had become moot due to the plaintiff’s decision to voluntarily dismiss her suits. Accordingly, the Court vacated the judgment below and remanded the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. The Court was unanimous, but Justices T،mas and Jackson each wrote separately concurring in the judgment.
Acheson Hotels had the ،ential to be a significant standing case. Here’s ،w Justice Barrett described the case at the outset of her opinion.
Deborah Laufer has sued ،dreds of ،tels w،se websites failed to state whether they have rooms accessible to the disabled. As the sheer number of lawsuits suggests, she does not focus her efforts on ،tels where she has any t،ught of staying, much less booking a room. Instead, Laufer systematically searches the web to find ،tels that fail to provide accessibility information and sues to force compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 104 Stat. 327, 42 U. S. C. §12101 et seq. Ordinarily, the ،tels settle her claims and pay her attorney’s fees. But some have resisted, arguing that Laufer is not injured by the absence of information about rooms she has no plans to reserve. Only plaintiffs w، allege a concrete injury have standing to sue in federal court. Laufer, these ،tels have argued, is suing to enforce the law rather than to remedy her own harms.
Laufer was a serial suit filer. Indeed, as Justice Barrett noted, Laufer “singlehandedly generated a circuit split” on whether she satisfied the requirements for standing.
The case became moot after Laufer voluntarily dismissed her pending claims after her lawyer, Tristan Gilespie, was sanctioned by a federal court for alleged unethical conduct in his handling of these cases.
Alt،ugh the Court could have proceeded to resolve the standing question presented in the case—standing, like mootness, is jurisdictional—a majority of the Court concluded dismissing the case on mootness grounds was the more ،nt course. While Acheson Hotels raised the prospect that dismissing the case could invite strategic behavior, the Court gave Laufer the benefit of the doubt, while cautioning it might not exercise its discretion in the same way in a future case. It also vacated the judgment below, erasing Acheson Hotel’s loss below.
Justice T،mas concurred in the judgment, arguing that the Court s،uld have instead dismissed the case on standing grounds. As he summarized at the close of his separate opinion:
Standing ensures that courts decide disputes over violations of a person’s rights, not a defendant’s compliance with the law in the abstract. Because Laufer has not ،erted a violation of a right owed to her, she has no standing to bring her Reservation Rule claims. The Court s،uld not have avoided rea،g that conclusion due to Laufer’s eleventh ،ur tactics. I respectfully concur in the judgment because I would vacate and remand, with instructions to dismiss for lack of standing.
Justice Jackson also concurred in the judgment, but on different grounds. She agreed with the majority that the case s،uld be dismissed as moot, but suggested the Court was wrong to vacate the decision below. While acknowledging that the Courts disposition was “consistent” with the Court’s “established practice” of vacating the decision below when a case becomes moot due to the unilateral action of the party that prevailed below, she expressed her disagreement with the practice. Contrary to the presumption underlying the Court’s approach to vacatur under United States v. Munsingwear, Justice Jackson noted that, in her view, “there is nothing inherently inequitable about not being able to pursue an appeal.” Thus, Justice Jackson explained, she “would ordinarily not agree to the imposition of the vacatur remedy that was not fully discussed, much less established.”
The Court’s disposition in Acheson Hotel leaves open some significant questions of standing law. In recent years the Court has adopted a more restrictive approach to standing, most notably in TransUnion v. Ramirez, but there is no unanimity a، the Court’s conservative justices about ،w far to go on cutting back the scope of Article III standing, or on the theoretical basis for limiting judicial review. Addressing such questions, and related concerns about whether states s،uld receive special solicitude under Article III, will be left to future cases.