- Per The Economist, long-awaited Justice Department rules decreeing ADA accessibility for websites (earlier here, here, etc.) expected any day now, “in June. For example, each picture must have text describing it, so that screen-reader programs can tell blind people what is there.” Individual enforcement actions, as against Peapod, aren’t waiting [DoJ press release] Settlement with MOOC firm signals DOJ plans to deal with online education providers [Cooley] Contributor believes it’s a snap to include online captioning in all online Harvard and MIT courses, so what’re they waiting for? [Time]
- Rest of the Economist article is of interest too, especially on ADA filing mills in Florida and elsewhere;
- In Sheehan v. San Francisco, Ninth Circuit created right to ADA accommodation in confrontations with law enforcers, SCOTUS reversed on other (qualified immunity) grounds [Mark Pulliam, City Journal; Richard Re, Prawfs]
- Commemorations of 25th anniversary of the ADA — here’s what I had to say about the 20th — include plans “to hold [various Chicago institutions] publicly accountable for their commitments” to, inter alia, “increase civic engagement around disability issues” [Michael Waterstone, Prawfs]
- Sacramento: “Squeeze Inn owner joins fight against costly ADA lawsuits” [KCRA]
- Spread of fake service dog paraphernalia alarms groups that work with actual service dogs [BBC]
- Intended class-action plaintiff sues McDonald’s over new style Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers, saying touchscreen format unfair to disabled users [BigClassAction.com]
Fifteen years ago, I wrote the following, to considerable skepticism from some ADA advocates, about the idea that online publishers should be legally obliged to make their websites “accessible” to blind, deaf, and other disabled users:
If it’s easy for entrepreneurial litigators to stroll down the main street of a town and find stores vulnerable to an ADA suit because their water fountain or pay phone is at the wrong height, it’s even easier for them to surf the Web and find sites that flunk the most widely accepted disability guidelines. Assuming a court can be found with proper jurisdiction over them, the next logical step is the filing of accessibility complaints by the cartload.
Federal courts were cool toward the idea of obligatory web accessibility, but more recently it has been stirring back to life, in part owing to an Obama administration move to revitalize the idea. And while it’s taken me a while to catch up with the story, it appears that at least one practicing lawyer has indeed spotted a niche for the mass filing of ADA suits against small businesses over their online presence.
That lawyer is Minneapolis-based attorney Paul Hansmeier, who fittingly or otherwise was previously associated with the now-disgraced Prenda Law Group, which engaged in mass copyright complaint filing against computer users recorded as downloading certain X-rated materials. Mike Masnick at TechDirt followed the adventures of Hansmeier and his Class Justice in multiple web-accessibility filing in this 2013 post with sequel and even more entertaining followup (channeling Dan Nienaber, Mankato, Minn., Free Press). Now Tim Cushing at TechDirt reports that Hansmeier is running into a bit of resistance in the form of a counterclaim by one of his targets, Kahler Hotels.
Just because your mobility is limited doesn’t mean you can’t really get around, lawsuit-wise [Jim Boyle, Legal NewsLine]
“Manitoba’s, one of the last punk rock dive bars in New York’s East Village, owned by former Dictators frontman “Handsome Dick” Manitoba, could be headed for a premature end. Its would-be executioner is not rising rents or gentrification, but the hefty cash settlement of a lawsuit” over disabled access, one of many filed by a Rye, N.Y. man in connection with the law firm of attorney Bradley Weitz [Anthony Fisher, Reason] Overlawyered readers have met Weitz before, here (earlier client sued over Soho pedicure station although having no feet) and here.
…curb ADA bounty-hunting [Steven Greenhut, San Diego Union-Tribune, and thanks for mention]
- From the Manhattan Institute “Trial Lawyers Inc.” project, “Wheels of Fortune” (PDF), twin report on lawyers’ exploitation of SSDI (Social Security Disability) and ADA cases;
- Theodore Dalrymple on the flaws of the US litigation system [Liberty and Law]
- Testimony: “after he inquired about the 40 percent fee charged by [co-counsel] Chestnut, [Willie] Gary threatened to ‘tie up [client] Baker’s money in the courts for years so he would never live to see it.'” [Gainesville Sun]
- ATRA takes aim at rise of asbestos litigation in NYC [“Judicial Hellholes” series, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine, New York Daily News (“national scandal”)]
- Another reminder that while plaintiff’s lawyers conventionally assail pre-dispute employment arbitration agreements, they routinely use them themselves [LNL]
- New U.S. Chamber papers on litigation trends: “Lawsuit Ecosystem II“; state supreme courts review;
- Changes ahead for class action rules? [Andrew Trask]
Reports Angus Loten in the WSJ:
Small-business owners face a growing number of disabled-access lawsuits in the wake of a recent appeals-court ruling giving rise to disabled “testers,” as well as the release of detailed federal specifications for curb ramps, self-opening doors and other standards.
…A November 2013 decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a case against Marod Supermarkets found that someone who isn’t necessarily a patron could be a “tester” of disabled-access compliance. That cleared the way for individual plaintiffs to bring dozens, even hundreds, of lawsuits against multiple businesses, as serial testers….
The litigation upswing also follows the Justice Department’s release of a set of compliance standards for the 24-year-old federal disability law. Those standards, which came into force in March 2012, include detailed specifications for long-standing requirements, such as the allowable slope of a wheelchair ramp and the exact height of towel dispensers in accessible restrooms. They also introduced a new requirement for hotels with pools to provide a “pool lift” for disabled guests, which went into effect last year.
Some business owners say the lawsuits accomplish little more than providing revenue to attorneys. …
We warned about the pool-lift requirement multiple times. The article reports that plaintiffs are filing multiple suits against hotels in Florida for not having the lifts; along with Florida, California and New York account for a high share of all accessibility actions against local businesses and retailers, in part because of favorable state and city laws that increase complainants’ legal and financial leverage.
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.
- 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]
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.