Happy Valentine’s Day. The last few weeks have brought the usual assortment of cases, some of more interest than others. I’ll lead with a personal jurisdiction case that has the potential to be important for website accessibility lawsuits.
Mercer v. Rampart Hotel Ventures, LLC, 2020 WL 236843 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2020) presents a familiar fact pattern. The disabled plaintiff purportedly visited the hotel website for a hotel in Louisiana. She was unable to find information about accessible rooms and therefore exited without trying to book a room. She then sued based on a violation of the ADA, whose regulations require such information, and under New York Law. The Court’s discussion of long arm jurisdiction should be immensely helpful to out-of-state defendants in website cases. The Court first rejected long arm jurisdiction based on a transaction between the plaintiff and defendant because defendant never tried to book a room. It then rejected an argument that other transactions between the hotel and citizens of New York were relevant, finding they were unconnected to the plaintiff’s claims. The next round of briefing in this case will be crucial, for the plaintiff was granted leave to amend to add a claim for personal jurisdiction based on the commission of tortious acts in New York. Courts commonly analogize ADA Title III claims when choosing a statute of limitations: “because most discrimination claims involve “injury to the individual rights of a person” and are analogous to personal injury tort claims. Meriwether v. ABC Training/Safety Council Texas Gulf Coast Chapter, 2016 WL 8711726, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 24, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 WL 8711279 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 18, 2016), but to say an ADA claim is analogous to a tort is not the same as saying it is a tort. Indeed, if it were, ADA violations could give rise to a state law action in tort. If the court rejects that notion that an ADA violation constitutes “tortious conduct” under the New York Long Arm Statute it may well become impossible for serial plaintiffs to fuel the ADA litigation machine with casual visits to websites of out-of-state hotels and other businesses.