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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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Disabled rights roundup

by Walter Olson on September 5, 2014

  • Willingness of Connecticut courts to order accommodation of mental disorders is not limitless, as in case of “dazed and confused” teacher who “frequently reported to the wrong school or for the wrong class” [Chris Engler at Dan Schwartz's Connecticut Employment Law Blog; Langello v. West Haven Board of Education]
  • “‘Seinfeld’ diner sued for not being handicap-friendly” [NY Post] Florida lawyers descend on New Jersey to file ADA suits [N.J. Civil Justice Institute]
  • “Plaintiffs want to expand lawsuit against Disney for how it treats guests with autism” [Orlando Sentinel]
  • It’s “sad that we need a federal appellate court to remind us” that ADA’s protection of alcoholism does not actually immunize worker fired after repeatedly driving municipal employer’s vehicles drunk [Jon Hyman, Ohio Employer Law Blog]
  • “Employers beware: EEOC appears to be stepping up disability discrimination enforcement” [Hyman] EEOC sues Wal-Mart over firing of intellectually disabled employee [Rockford Register-Star, EEOC]
  • Nice crowd your ADA racket attracts, California [Modesto Bee]
  • Argument: Employers that use “emotional intelligence” measurement in evaluating job applicants may be violating ADA rights of those with autism [Michael John Carley, HuffPo]

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In an update on ADA filing mills more than two years ago we noted the case of Alfredo Garcia, one of the busy class of serial plaintiffs who’ve sued hundreds of California businesses demanding money for accommodations violations, often represented by attorney Morse Mehrban, a longtime Overlawyered favorite. Garcia has also been described as an “illegal immigrant and convicted felon,” and KABC Los Angeles says that after filing more than 800 lawsuits, Garcia has actually been deported:

Based on previously disclosed settlements, Eyewitness News can estimate that Garcia has collected approximately $1.2 million from business owners since he began filing lawsuits in 2007.

At the same time, Garcia applies for and receives fee waivers from the courts by claiming he is too poor to pay the court fees associated with the lawsuits. That means taxpayers pick up the tab. …

[By 2010] he’d sued more than 500 businesses, including La Casita Mexicana in Bell. The restaurant owners were able to prove that Garcia had not been at their restaurant on the dates he claimed to have been there.

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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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Disabled rights roundup

by Walter Olson on January 13, 2014

  • “US Airways has agreed to pay $1.2 million in fines because it provided inadequate wheelchair service at the Charlotte and Philadelphia airports” [Charlotte Observer, USA Today; on abuses of the right to request wheelchair service at airports, see links in our post last May] Support animals on airplanes, cont’d [NYT]
  • In New York, indefinite leave of absence may be deemed a reasonable accommodation that employer is obliged to grant [Erin McPhail Wetty, Seyfarth] Per Second Circuit in NYC case, timely attendance not essential job function [Mark Kittaka, Barnes & Thornburg]
  • US disability rate fell 25 percent between 1977-87, then more than doubled [Tad DeHaven, Cato via Bryan Caplan] Has a Kentucky attorney found holes in the SSDI system? [Jillian Kay Melchior]
  • Per EEOC, employer may be obliged to grant employee’s request to work from home as reasonable accommodation [Johanna Wise, Seyfarth]
  • Lawprof suspended for allegedly yelling at subordinates sues under ADA [Althouse, Above the Law]
  • “None of the people who complained had even been into the store” [San Diego Reader]
  • And yet more from EEOC: employer “integrity testing” meant to assess applicants’ honesty, trustworthiness and dependability can run afoul of disabled-rights law [link]

Many of them aren’t so nice, especially in California which incentivizes access complaints with $4,000 minimum per-violation damages as well as entitlement to attorney’s fees. “According to [defense attorney James] Link, more than 3,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in L.A. County in the last three years — more than 1,700 of them by attorneys Morse Mehrban of L.A. and Mark Potter of San Diego’s Center for Disability Access.” One of Potter’s prolific clients, Jon Alexander, formerly of Utah, might displace George Louie as the poster guy for controversial ADA litigants. [L.A. Weekly via Doherty]

Never mind the colorful if creepy harassment allegations lodged by four former staffers. For purposes of the future of California-based ADA filing mills, the more salient allegation against attorney Johnson is that he cut improper corners in his assembly-line generation of accessibility complaints. [The Recorder, ABA Journal, earlier]

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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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Disabled rights roundup

by Walter Olson on December 18, 2012

  • More reactions, besides mine, to Senate’s non-ratification of U.N. disabled-rights treaty [Hans Bader, NYT Room for Debate including notably David Kopel's, Julian Ku ("Support Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Because It Doesn’t Do Anything!"), Tyler Cowen (keep powder dry for bigger ratification battles), Peter Spiro (proposes end run around Senate)] More, Sept. 2013: Eric Voeten, Monkey Cage and more (dismissing as insignificant U.N. committee reports criticizing countries for alleged violations because “these reports can be and often are ignored,” and accusing treaty critics of being mere “conservative fantasists” because they take at their word their counterpart “liberal fantasists” who expect and welcome erosion of U.S. autonomy in domestic policy.)
  • As Department of Justice rolls out Olmstead settlements to more states, battles continue between disabled rights advocates seeking closure of large congregate facilities and family members who fear mentally disabled loved ones will fare worse in “community” settings [Philadelphia City Paper via Bagenstos, NYT on Georgia, earlier, more background] More, Sept. 2013: And here’s someone claiming that I’ve got it all wrong, Olmstead has already pre-settled whatever claims to a right-to-care might reasonably be asserted under CRPD. I don’t think so.
  • “Utilityman can’t climb utility poles, but has ADA claim against utility company” [Eric Meyer]
  • Kozinski: Disney “obviously mistaken” in arguing against use of Segway by disabled visitors [Sam Bagenstos; related, Walt Disney World, Eleventh Circuit]
  • Wendy’s franchisee agrees to pay $41,500 in EEOC settlement after turning away hearing-impaired cook applicant [EEOC]
  • California enacts compromise bill aimed at curtailing ADA filing mills [Sacramento Bee, LNL]
  • “Train your managers and supervisors never to discuss employees’ medical issues.” [Jon Hyman]

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New York Post:

Wheelchair-riding Linda Slone, 64, is suing 39 shops in her neighborhood for not being handicapped-accessible.

The legal crusade is netting her thousands, but Slone, who cannot walk because of polio, insists she is simply championing the rights of the disabled.

“If you think this is a money-making scheme, you’re dead wrong,” said Slone, a speech pathologist.

The Florida-based Weitz Law Firm, which represents Slone, “also represents Zoltan Hirsch, a Brooklyn double amputee who The Post revealed last year filed 147 suits citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Scott Greenfield wonders what the brownstones of Columbus Avenue will look like by the time the shopowners and landlords somehow manage to completely ADA-proof them.

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The Northern California municipality will pay notorious serial ADA filer George Louie $15,000 in exchange for which he promises not to sue any more businesses within town limits, and drop current suits in that category. Of course he’ll go elsewhere instead. [CBS Sacramento, Sacramento Bee, Lowering the Bar] On Louie’s background, see this 2003 post.

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October 8 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 8, 2012

  • Karma in Carmichael: serial Sacramento-area filer of ADA suits Scott Johnson, often chronicled in this space, hit by sex-harass suit by four former female employees, with avert-your-eyes details [Sac Bee; News10, autoplays] One of Johnson’s suits, over a counter that was too high, recently helped close Ford’s Real Hamburgers, a 50-year-old establishment. [KTXL/The Blaze]
  • Fifth Circuit reverses decision holding Feds liable for Katrina flood damages [Reuters]
  • “Your right to resell your own stuff is in peril”: SCOTUS takes up first-sale doctrine in copyright law [Jennifer Waters, MarketWatch on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons]
  • Rubber room redux: “New York Teacher Live-Streams $75,000 Do-Nothing Job” [Lachlan Markay, Heritage] Teacher charged with hiring hitman to kill colleague should have been fired decade ago [Mike Riggs]
  • “George Zimmerman sues NBC for editing 911 audio to make him sound racist” [Jim Treacher, Daily Caller]
  • Prof. Mark J. Perry has moved his indispensable Carpe Diem economics/policy blog in-house to AEI;
  • New York will require newly licensed lawyers to do pro bono [WSJ, Scott Greenfield, Legal Ethics Forum]

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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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At Cato at Liberty, I write about how the Hollywood great’s experiences as a small businessman in California — in particular his encounters with abusive litigation and with the lawyers and politicians who decline to do anything about it — might shed some light on his much-talked-about speech last night before the Republican National Convention.

P.S. My 2008 post on lawyers who become presidents. Reason on Eastwood’s libertarian politics, and not to forget his views on gay marriage (“Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want.”)

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ADA plus ATMs

by Walter Olson on June 15, 2012

Banks’ failure to comply with automatic-teller accessibility rules could open up a “goldmine for professional plaintiffs,” thinks Kevin Funnell. [Bank Lawyers' Blog] More: Cohen/Atlas.

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  • On party-line vote, Sacramento Dems turn down bill to curb ADA access shakedown suits [ATRF, KABC, Sacramento Bee (auto-plays video ad)]
  • Illinois sues local schools for not developing standards for disabled athletic competition [Chicago Tribune]
  • Open secret: criminals exploit federally mandated IP Relay disabled-phone system [Henderson]
  • Judge certifies nationwide ADA accessibility suit against Hollister over stepped entrances to its stores [Law Week Colorado via Disability Law]
  • In settlement, AMC movie chain agrees to install captioning, audio-description at Illinois theaters [ABC Chicago]
  • “Has the Expanded Definition of Disability under the ADAA Gone Too Far?” [Russell Cawyer]
  • “Fake handicaps a growing problem for disabled sports” [Der Spiegel]