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ADA filing mills

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]

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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The Lookout News of Santa Monica, Calif. reports on obstacles to the revitalization of the Pico Boulevard commercial district:

“Businesses on Pico have been very frustrated by code compliance regulations for years,” [Pico Improvement Organization chairman Robert] Kronovet said. “You have a business that might have a sign in the wrong place or a door that isn’t right and the city fines them to the point that they don’t want to stay.

“These are small businesses. They don’t have the money to fight it.”…

Proprietor Elvira Garcia [of Caribbean restaurant Cha Cha Chicken] says business has been terrific, but that the success has been hard-won.

“We wanted to renovate our bathroom areas to make it more handicap-accessible and it took us almost three years to get all the permits,” Garcia said.

“We kept giving all the paperwork they need, but it took forever. We needed the Pico Improvement Organization to plead our case.”

California has the nation’s most active entrepreneurial corps of ADA enforcers, roaming business districts to file mass complaints against small businesses over handicap accessibility which they then settle for cash.

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