Online Feature

Public-Law Litigation at a Crossroads: Article III Standing and “Tester” Plaintiffs

Rachel Bayefsky

Federal courts have recently grappled with an issue that falls at the intersection of Article III standing and disability, and that presents critical questions about the future of litigation promoting societal change. The issue is whether a plaintiff with disabilities has standing to challenge the failure by a place of public accommodation to provide accessibility information on its website when the plaintiff lacks concrete plans to visit the establishment. The Supreme Court heard argument in a case presenting this question—Acheson Hotels v. Laufer—in October 2023, but two months later it ruled that the case must be dismissed as moot, for case-specific reasons. The Article III standing question therefore remains unresolved, to percolate in the lower courts and plausibly to return to the Supreme Court through another vehicle. The standing issue raises doctrinal quandaries because it reveals the fault line between two models of litigation: a “public- law” model that permits plaintiffs, often backed by interest groups, to use litigation to advance public aims; and a “private-right” model that treats as the default mode of litigation a suit by A against B in tort, property, or contract. This Essay unravels the doctrinal and conceptual threads of the standing issue raised in Acheson and similar cases, and it offers proposals for courts to resolve the issue in a way that would not broadly undermine public-law litigation.