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.
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.
James Farkus Cohan, who’s sued at least 161 businesses under California’s liberal version of the ADA as a disabled plaintiff, says he has end-stage emphysema, but a KABC investigation found him rather spry. Cohan’s other businesses, the station reports, include procurement of human organs for transplant. Lawmakers in Sacramento this year refused business pleas to tighten standards for filing the lucrative suits, which extract millions annually [via Lowering the Bar and Amy Alkon]
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.
The New York Post profiles prolific ADA filer Zoltan Hirsch, who has targeted at least 87 businesses, and his lawyer, Bradley Weitz. “[Hirsch] targeted a pedicure station at the Red & White Spa in SoHo — even though he has no feet.”
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]
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.”
After questions are raised about the timing of her claimed visits, a serial ADA plaintiff — represented by a law firm we’ve had occasion to mention before, Schwartz Zweben & Associates — drops complaints against several restaurants and other small businesses in Pennsylvania [Sunbury Item]
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]
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]