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.”
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.”
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]
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.
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.
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.
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.”)
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.
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.