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ADA filing mills

The Sacramento Bee editorializes against the state’s well-established ADA racket, which has been going for many years now and is not being cleaned up through legislative reform because too many people find financial or ideological advantage in keeping things the way they are:

California law puts a $4,000 fine on each violation and directed the proceeds to “aggrieved” parties, even if they weren’t harmed or inconvenienced by the violation. A business could be sued for faded paint on an open handicapped parking spot, a ramp 2 degrees too steep, incorrect wording on a sign. A practiced eye can spot half a dozen violations most anywhere, and that’s a $24,000 jackpot for a scammer. …

ADA rules change constantly. Two years ago, signs next to handicapped parking spaces had to read “No parking.” Now, signs must warn that the fine is $250. That’s not a barrier to a disabled person, but still could be treated like one when it comes to fines. That’s ridiculous. If a business owner hasn’t put up a new sign, he should be given an opportunity to fix it before having to pay some lawyer $4,000.

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California law provides unusually favorable financial rewards for ADA complaints, and the state’s legislature has largely ignored years’ worth of pleas from small businesses for relief from serial complainants. So John Perez is no longer taking walk-in customers [Manteca Bulletin]:

Ever since Carmichael-based lawyer Scott Johnson slapped civil rights lawsuits against at least 21 Manteca businesses seeking punitive damages for allegedly being out of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act access rules he’s been locking the front door to his South Main Street cabinet shop, Perez & Sons.

Johnson (earlier on him here and here) has announced his intent to sue The Hair Company for at least $68,000 although owner Janice Ward says none of her handicapped customers have ever complained. “A good number of the targets of Johnson’s 3,000 lawsuits throughout Northern California over the years have been forced out of business.”

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The NBC affiliate in the Bay Area investigates “what some say is legalized extortion” (watch out for annoying can’t-mute, can’t-freeze auto-play ad). The report “reviewed more than 10,000 federal ADA lawsuits filed since 2005 in the five states with the highest disabled populations. More lawsuits have been filed in California than Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and New York combined.” Among violations charged: “a mirror that was hung 1.5 inches too high, a disabled access emblem that was ‘not the correct size,’ and one that was ‘not at the correct height on a restroom door.’ …’Given the way the building codes change as often as they do, it’s virtually impossible [to be in full compliance]‘ certified access specialist Christina Stevens said.”

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  • California Supreme Court: fee shift in disabled-rights claim can go to winning defendant, not just plaintiff [Jankey v. Song Koo Lee, Bagenstos/Disability Law]
  • That’s Olsen with an “e”: “Lawmaker wants to protect cities from frivolous lawsuits over A.D.A.” [California Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen; L.A. Times] “Gas stations confront disabled-access lawsuits” [Orange County Register] Serial ADA filer hits New Orleans [Louisiana Record] ADA drive-by suits in Colorado and elsewhere [Kevin Funnell]
  • And this lawyer follows a see-no-evil policy regarding ADA filing mills: “I refuse to pass judgment on other attorneys here.” [Julia Campins]
  • Child care center could not turn away applicant with nut allergy because Iowa disabled-rights law said to have expanded its coverage of categories when the U.S. Congress expanded ADA, though Iowa lawmakers enacted no such expansion [Disability Law]
  • Feds join in LSAT accommodation suit [Recorder]
  • Official in San Francisco’s mayoral Office on Disability files disability-bias claim [KGO]
  • “Testing employees for legally prescribed medications must be done carefully” [Jon Hyman]

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AP: “SB1186 by Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and Republican Sen. Bob Dutton would ban so-called ‘demand letters’ in which lawyers threaten to sue over a violation unless a business pays a set amount. It also would require attorneys to give businesses notice before filing a lawsuit.” Sacramento Bee: “A key element of SB 1186 is that potential damages for disability access violations would drop from a minimum of $4,000 to much less, $2,000 in some cases, $1,000 in others, if the defendant corrected violations very quickly.” The damages would still remain higher than are available in most states, however, and “one-way” attorney fee shifts would remain available. The bill would also restrict “stacking” of multiple damage demands based on repeat visits to premises before the suit is heard. More: The Recorder.

We’ve been covering the disgrace of California access litigation for years and years. Because large sums will still be recoverable under the new rules, I expect the industry of complaint-filing will continue in some form, even if it becomes somewhat less lucrative.

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Although you might say they’re a little late to this story, it’s still a welcome development. I discuss the piece and its background in a new Cato post (& welcome Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit readers). Hans Bader and Jacob Sullum also weigh in.

While we’re at it, here are some more links not yet blogged in this space on this busy extraction industry: Hackensack, N.J. has its own serial ADA filer [Bergen Record; letter from Marcus Rayner, NJLRA]. California small businesses continue their protests [Lodi News-Sentinel, background on George Louie; ABC L.A. (Alfredo Garcia, who's filed hundreds of ADA suits, described as "illegal immigrant and convicted felon"; background on his attorney, Overlawyered favorite Morse Mehrban)] And in case you were wondering about the enabling role of the courts, here’s a recent Ninth Circuit decision ruling it an abuse of discretion for a trial court to have cut a lawyer’s fee award in an ADA barrier case [Bagenstos, Disability Law] Much more at our ADA filing mills tag.

“In a March 8 letter to fellow Democrat and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Feinstein accused plaintiffs lawyers of coercing business owners into paying five-figure settlements by threatening potentially costlier lawsuits targeting minor violations under the state’s access and civil rights laws.” Democrats in Sacramento have thus far tended to back the interests of the state’s very active ADA-mill legal sector. [The Recorder/Law.com]

More: Good column from Andrew Rose at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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March 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 15, 2012

  • Part III of Radley Balko series on painkiller access [HuffPo]
  • “Note: Add ‘Judge’s Nameplate’ to List of Things Not to Steal” [Lowering the Bar]
  • California’s business-hostile climate: if the ADA mills don’t get you, other suits might [CACALA]
  • Bottom story of the month: ABA president backs higher legal services budget [ABA Journal]
  • After string of courtroom defeats, Teva pays to settle Nevada propofol cases [Oliver, earlier]
  • Voting Rights Act has outstayed its constitutional welcome [Ilya Shapiro/Cato] More: Stuart Taylor, Jr./The Atlantic.
  • Huge bust of what NY authorities say was $279 million crash-fraud ring NY Post, NYLJ, Business Insider, Turkewitz (go after dishonest docs on both sides)]

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Disabled rights roundup

by Walter Olson on February 21, 2012

  • ADA mills continue to extract money from California small businesses with no legislative relief in sight [Auburn Journal, Andrew Ross/S.F. Chronicle, KABC (James Farkus Cohan), WTSP (Squeeze Inn owner speaks out), CJAC (Lungren proposal) and more, Chamber (San Francisco coffee shop's woes, auto-plays video)] Profile of attorney Thomas Frankovich [California Lawyer];
  • EEOC sues employer for turning away job applicant on methadone program [Jon Hyman]
  • “Maryland high court: allergy is disability requiring accommodation” [PoL]
  • “Suits could force L.A. to spend huge sums on sidewalk repair” [Los Angeles Times]
  • Under gun from Department of Justice and SCOTUS Olmstead ruling, Virginia and other states agree to massive overhaul of services for developmentally disabled; not all families, though, are happy with the insistence on relocating residents of large facilities to smaller “community” settings [Richmond Times-Dispatch, McDonnell press release, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Staunton News-Leader]
  • “New Case from W.D. Tex. Shows Effect of ADAAA on Back Injury Claims” [Disability Law]
  • Lawyer leads effort to give disabled passengers wider rights to sue airlines [Toledo Free Press]

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Democrats in Sacramento are unswayed by continuing reports that Unruh Act complaint mills are extracting millions from the state’s small businesses on accessibility claims, and throttle a bill that would require notice and a chance to fix problems before suing. [Legal Pad, The Recorder, CJAC] Opponents of the fix include the trial-lawyers’ lobby, Consumer Attorneys of California. Background here; the perennially doomed equivalent bill in the U.S. Congress is discussed here. I discussed the issue on the John Stossel show last year.

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Digging for ADA gold

by Walter Olson on May 11, 2011

Well-known serial ADA litigant George Louie has hit the California Gold Rush country [CJAC] Not that far away: “Serial ADA filer targets popular Davis burger joint” [same, Scott Johnson]

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According to Todd Roberson at CJAC, a federal court’s ruling in a 14-year dispute over street curbs and sidewalks in Riverside, California has headed off a potential “avalanche of lawsuits.” U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled the complainant in the case “had failed to demonstrate that Riverside as a whole is inaccessible to the disabled.”

Riverside’s City Attorney, Greg Priamos, was quoted in the Daily Journal saying the suit was “about money, not accessibility…The only hangup to a settlement earlier in the case was the amount of attorney’s fees. I’m offended by that.”

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Donner Lake Kitchen, a popular family-owned restaurant in rural Truckee, Calif. is closing its doors following a legal battle with attorney Scott Johnson, who is said to have filed “countless” complaints of lack of handicap accessibility at California businesses. The owner estimates that $20,000-$60,000 in repairs and upgrades would have been needed to bring the dining establishment into ADA compliance. [Sierra Sun via CJAC]

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Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) has reintroduced the ADA Notification Act, which “would provide businesses accused of an ADA violation with a 90-day grace period to make necessary modifications.” That would, among other effects, cut down on some opportunistic suit-filing that is aimed at the generating of attorneys’ fee entitlements. It is not entirely clear what effect it would have in states (like California itself) where lawyers prefer to sue under state laws that are more pro-plaintiff than the ADA itself. [East County Magazine via CJAC]

SacramentoSqueezeThese are the last few days to visit the oddball eating establishment before it moves to more conventional and less cramped quarters precipitated by an ADA lawsuit [Sacramento Bee]

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They contribute to the state’s bad reputation as a place to do business [Cal Civil Justice]

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A new state law doesn’t seem to have curbed their activities as much as some were hoping, but at least it may have put a crimp in some of their bigger monetary demands. [California Civil Justice]

squeezed by a bad lawBut the burger stand will move from its cramped quarters anyway. [Sacramento Bee, earlier] Patrick at Popehat wonders whether the lawsuit by Kimberly Block and attorney Jason Singleton would have ended differently in the days before the Internet.

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