Search Results for ‘unruh’

California’s Unruh Act “provokes outrage”; it’s “invoked by the wrong people”

We’ve often covered the outrageous results of California’s Unruh Act, a lawyer-enriching, endlessly abusable enactment that awards damages without actual injury, generates surprising new grounds for litigation, and tilts the playing field of litigation toward plaintiffs with one-way fee shift entitlements and other goodies. Now, whether or not with dollar signs twinkling in their eyes, some busybodies have invoked it to go after a women-in-tech conference over alleged sex discrimination, and a whole new generation of commentators have discovered that in areas like the Unruh Act, “the legal system allows meritless claims to extort compliance” and that the “threat of a lawsuit is usually enough to shut a company down, even if the company stands a good chance of winning in court, simply for one reason: it costs less to settle than it does to fight in court.” Ken at Popehat does not offer a warm outpouring of sympathy:

Here’s the thing: if you only wake up to how broken the system is when it’s abused by one of your ideological enemies, you’re a vapid partisan hack. The legal system — including, but not “only” or “especially” civil rights laws — is a tool of extortion, deceit, and thuggery. I’ve seen nothing in my 21 years as a lawyer to make me think that civil rights plaintiffs are any more likely than other plaintiffs to abuse the system. But some laws lend themselves to abuse — like laws that are deliberately broad, deliberately flexible, and that award attorney fees only to prevailing plaintiffs, removing all deterrents against frivolous suits and piling on incentives to cave to extortion. The result is a system that’s profitable for lawyers, mediocre for individual plaintiffs, and a constant burden on potential defendants in a way that utterly fails to distinguish between wrongdoers and the innocent.

If you’re only irritated by this when a group of Wrong People target a group of Right People, you’re not to be taken seriously.

ADA: two gleams on a dark horizon

Ohio has passed a bill giving targets of ADA accessibility complaints a chance to fix the issue before becoming liable for attorneys’ fees, and a California state judge has ruled that the state’s jackpot Unruh Act does not cover website accessibility claims. Those are two bits of favorable news amid a lot of continued bad news, I argue in a new Cato post.

Related: Domino’s argues before a Ninth Circuit panel in a web accessibility case [Kristina Launey, Seyfarth Shaw]:

Domino’s argued, as a possible explanation for DOJ’s inaction: “there is no such thing as an accessible website, and there never will be.” He cited the plaintiff’s expert’s statement in Winn-Dixie, also cited by the Eleventh Circuit judges in that oral argument, that the expert had never seen a website that complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). To illustrate the difficulty businesses face in applying the guidelines, Domino’s posited how detailed the alt-text behind a picture of a basketball needs to be to conform to the guidelines – if it has LeBron James’s autograph on it, for example, does the alt-text need to go to that level of detail, or can it just say “basketball.” He thinks the regulatory effort was stymied because the DOJ couldn’t “wrap its head around” this.

More: Mark Pulliam at City Journal on a serial plaintiff’s suit against the entertainer’s website Beyonce.com.

103 members of Congress to DoJ: do something to stop wave of web accessibility suits

“Responding to the surge of website accessibility lawsuits filed under Title III of the ADA, 103 members of Congress from both parties sent a letter to Attorney General Sessions urging action to stem the tide of website accessibility lawsuits.” The group is led by Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.) [Minh N. Vu and Samuel Sverdlov, Seyfarth Shaw]

Related, more trouble coming down the road: “The World Wide Web Consortium just published an expanded version of the WCAG to add 17 more requirements to address new technologies and other digital barriers for individuals with disabilities.” [Kristina M. Launey and Minh N. Vu, Seyfarth Shaw]

And yet more: federal-level reform is one thing, but a California state court decision in Los Angeles sets the stage for costly liability under the state Unruh Act no matter how Washington goes.

After lawsuit, ChristianMingle.com agrees to do gay online matchmaking

The Church of Anti-Discrimination, most confident of sects, will settle for nothing short of full establishment: under a California court settlement, ChristianMingle.com, which bills itself as the largest online Christian dating site, has agreed to establish search options for men seeking men and women seeking women. Two California men had sued under the state’s expansive Unruh Civil Rights Act. Owner Spark Networks, which admitted no wrongdoing, “agreed to pay each plaintiff $9,000 each and $450,000 in attorneys’ fees to the two men’s lawyers.” [Jacob Gershman and Sara Randazzo, WSJ Law Blog] At Patheos, David Smalley, who describes himself as a pro-gay atheist activist, says the episode is based on too broad a definition of public accommodation; declining to offer a particular service is not the same as offering it to the public but turning down some customers. “Since when can the government tell us what products or services we must offer to future customers? Every atheist, every liberal, and every business owner needs to fight for Christian Mingle’s rights to offer the products or services they choose, even if we disagree with their practices or philosophy behind it all.”

Related: Ontario won’t license grads of conservative Christian law school [Charles Lewis/National Post, earlier]

California: “New law seeks to protect small businesses from ADA lawsuits”

California’s unique Unruh Act provides automatic bounty entitlements (often $4,000, plus attorney’s fees) to successful discrimination complainants without having to show any actual injury from their treatment. For many years this has led to a distinctive cottage industry of ADA filing mills that mass-generate accessibility complaints against California businesses to settle for cash, often based on minor instances of noncompliance in facilities open to the public. Correcting the bad incentives created by the Unruh Act appears to be politically out of bounds, but now, at least, following a multi-year push from the business community, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed SB 269, which lays out two escape paths from liability for smaller businesses: by hiring a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) they can get 120 days to fix any violations, and by providing a 15-day grace period before legal penalty for small business to fix the most minor violations, typically involving signage and surface display. [KXTV, NorCal Record, L.A. Daily News] “The number one complaint [in 2015]? Non-compliant loading zones. Number two? Problems with parking lot signage.” [Capital Public Radio]

Meanwhile, in Fresno, some disabled plaintiffs are now suing the lawyers who solicited their involvement in mass ADA filings, saying they broke promises, behaved deceptively, and kept nearly all the proceeds for themselves. [KFSN]:

One of the places the Moores sued is a donut shop in Reedley and one of the problems was with the signage.

The shop had a disabled parking only sign up, but it didn’t have the half that states “Minimum Fine $250” and without that part, this is a violation.

What the Moores may not have known is Doughnuts To Go is managed by Lee Ky, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

“Here I am all my life in a wheelchair and I get around in the community just fine,” Ky explained.

Ky says she never had any accessibility problems at her own store, but she made some updates after she was sued for violations and settled with the Moore Law Firm to make the lawsuit go away.

So when an Action News reporter showed her the video of Ronald Moore, the man who sued her, lifting his wheelchair into his SUV, then walking up to the driver’s seat, she was pretty upset.

“I wish I could be him sometimes,” Ky said. “I wish I could just get up and then walking and all the sudden becoming in the wheelchair. It looks bad.”

ADA: Everyone out of the pool

Unless hotels have moved to install expensive and cumbersome wheelchair lifts, they face new fines and litigation exposure under new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations taking effect today. I explain why many pools will close as a result — and trace some of the ideological background — in my new post at Cato at Liberty (& Adler, Alkon, Frank, Adam Freedman/Ricochet (“the regulators have truly gone off the deep end,”) George Leef/Locke).

More: Notwithstanding my comments about Congressional Republicans being unhelpful, Sen. DeMint has filed a bill that would prevent the regulations from taking effect on their March 15 date. [Daily Caller] And Prof. Bagenstos defends the regulations in a way that I much fear will mislead newcomers to the topic. He emphasizes, for example, that hotel payouts resulting from federally mandated damages to complainants are for the moment unlikely. But as we know, the incentive of (one-way) attorneys’ fees has all by itself been enough to fuel a sizable volume of ADA complaint-filing, while in states like California the availability of piggyback damages under enactments like the Unruh Act turn many nominally zero-damage federal cases into highly profitable extraction propositions. As for the limitation of exposure to what is “readily achievable,” the USA Today report illustrates how uncertainty over the meaning of that term can leave pool operators exposed to risky and high-cost litigation. In the real world, fixes that wipe out the economic viability of a given pool (or the facility of which it is a part) are indeed asserted by advocacy groups to be “readily achievable.” That makes it cold comfort that some facilities can stave off liability for the moment by pledging to install the equipment by some future date.

California: “Lawmakers kill fix for disability access suits”

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.

Setback for a “Ladies’ Day” suit

Serial suit-filer Alfred Rava wanted to use his lawsuit against Bear Valley Ski Resort over a “Ladies’ Day” promotion as the basis for a class action, but a judge ruled that he’s not entitled to do that, because California’s Unruh Act already provides for him to get a $4,000 payday with no need to show injury:

“Assuming plaintiff succeeds on the merits, Bear Valley Ski Resort would be liable for mandatory statutory penalties of $4,000 X 995 putative class members,” [Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony] Mohr wrote. “The product of $3,980,000 constitutes a draconian sum that would strip Bear Valley of its assets.”

[Cal Law “Legal Pad” via Cal Biz Lit, court order in PDF]