- I’ve expanded the previous post in this space on Braille gift cards into a longer Cato post with a bit more on the politics and history of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), mentioning along the way the recent closure of a popular San Jose coffee shop [Nadia Lopez, San Jose Spotlight; another San Jose deli story] Speaking of such happenings, “He says the suit could mean the end of the restaurant. ‘We would rather just close down if we have to pay that absurd amount of money,’ he says.” [Rancho Vegano in New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood; Michael Scotto, NY1 Spectrum News]
- “It’s about time! New rule could have emotional support animals bumped from planes” [Lynn Norment, Memphis Commercial Appeal; Wes Siler, Outside; David Koenig, AP]
- Videos on leading pornographic websites “lack enough closed captioning, claims the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of all deaf and hard-of-hearing people.” [Noah Goldberg, New York Daily News]
- “Federal Website Access Lawsuit Numbers Increase 7 Percent in 2019, With Possible Bump from Supreme Court Denial of Cert in Domino’s” [Kristina M. Launey and Minh N. Vu, Seyfarth Shaw; Vu on related litigation trends in 2019]
- “White students in New York City are 10 times as likely as Asian students to have a 504 designation that allows extra time on the specialized high school entrance exams.” [Kevin Quealy and Eliza Shapiro, New York Times; Dana Goldstein and Jugal K. Patel, New York Times (“it helps to have cash” in getting pricey psychological assessments in Southern California); Education Next (“number of high school students being given special allowances for test-taking, such as extra time, has surged in recent years” with students in affluent suburbs more likely to get them)]
- “Law firms settle suit accusing them of civil RICO conspiracy to collect ADA settlements” [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; Moore and Mission law firms, California; KGO/ABC7News on some Bay Area cases]
Over a period of eight days last fall, four law firms and associated clients who had earlier filed hundreds of web accessibility suits in New York launched a new wave of more than 100 putative class actions charging that retailers are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by offering gift cards but failing to provide Braille versions. [Minh N. Vu and John W. Egan, Seyfarth Shaw]
Typically, according to the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY), “a successful plaintiff in [a local web accessibility] settlement will receive only $500 per case, but attorney’s fees average many times that amount, approximately $16,000 per case or more, depending on the law firm, the court and other factors, thereby giving plaintiff’s lawyers ample incentive to file as many cases as possible.” One attorney has made about a million dollars a year this way over eight years. “The targets selected by plaintiffs in this new wave run the full gamut of retail establishments, including big box retailers, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, clothing brands, and online gaming and other services.” [Ryan P. Phair, M. Brett Burns & Torsten M. Kracht, Hunton Andrews Kurth]
Feds arrested Florida attorney Stuart Finkelstein on charges of mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, false declarations to a court, and obstruction of justice following a scheme in which they say he filed more than 300 lawsuits on behalf of two purported clients who had attempted to visit public establishments but were frustrated by lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance. In reality, prosecutors say, the two individuals “neither retained nor authorized Finkelstein to file ADA lawsuits on their behalf” and “never attempted to visit” the public establishments. The lawyer allegedly “made numerous false representations” both to the businesses and to the courts, “obstructed official judicial proceedings, and then settled these fake lawsuits in order to collect approximately $930,000 in attorney’s fees.” The suits were filed in New York and Florida. [U.S. Department of Justice press release; Jay Weaver, Miami Herald]
It’s the strings: landlords should have a right to decide for themselves whether to shoulder the Section 8 program’s only-too-real regulatory burdens, I argue in my new Cato piece, reacting to a Baltimore Sun opinion piece. Baltimore County is the scene of a long-running controversy over whether to force landlords to participate in the federal housing voucher program. Earlier here.
Sidelight: A new San Diego ordinance that took effect August 1 “orders violators to pay three times the advertised monthly rent to eligible plaintiffs who saw the ad, plus punitive damages, as well as a plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs if a judge so orders. Even after the offending ad is taken down or changed, exposure to liability from anyone who saw the illegal ad lasts for a year.” Soon thereafter enterprising attorney Christian Curry filed more than 50 lawsuits under the ordinance and has obtained many settlements, although critics suspect his clients weren’t always intent on living in properties with challenged ads; they also say some ads were targeted that were written before the law changed and not intentionally left online afterward. A spokeswoman for a property group “likened the new Section 8 cases to ‘drive-by’ lawsuits over violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” [Ashly McGlone and Jack Molmud, Voice of San Diego]
- Supreme Court declines review in Domino’s case, so no resolution is in sight of what and how much the ADA may require about web accessibility [Tucker Higgins, CNBC; Corbin Barthold, Law and Liberty; earlier]
- NYC co-ops, condos targeted: “These lawyers have one handicapped client, and they go with this person from building to building with commercial spaces.” [Marianne Schaefer, Habitat magazine] Related: John Egan, Seyfarth Shaw;
- “Airline’s Provision of Alternative Accessible Website Triggers Hefty Fine Under the Air Carrier Access Act” [Kristina M. Launey & Minh N. Vu, Seyfarth Shaw last winter]
- “A handy FAQ for service animals in the workplace” [Jon Hyman]
- “Thus far, these serial cases appear [more] designed to extract a quick settlement than rectify a real harm, as evidenced by the choice of plaintiff,” who couldn’t actually join credit union but sued anyway [Hollie Ferguson, Legal NewsLine] “Federal judge deals body blow to attorney at center of serial ADA lawsuits” [Casmira Harrison, Daytona Beach News-Journal; Minh Vu, Seyfarth Shaw]
- Law School Admissions Test will be doing away with its analytical reasoning portion, also known as logic problems, after a blind plaintiff sued saying it “it wasn’t fair for visually impaired people because the most common way to solve the problems was to draw diagrams and pictures.” [Cheyna Roth, Michigan Radio (NPR)]
Craig Ehrlich’s law firm “has filed more than 550 ADA lawsuits in the North Georgia Judicial Circuit, 86% of which have been filed in the past two years. Most of those cases list one of a half dozen of Ehrlich’s testers as plaintiffs, some of whom are party to more than 100 lawsuits since 2017.” Overall, the number of ADA lawsuits filed in Georgia’s federal courts since 2015 is up 370% over the number filed over the preceding five years. Now a lawsuit filed on behalf of businesses he has targeted, many owned by immigrants, claims that Ehrlich has abused the system and is after settlements more than reform. “It’s only abusive if you think the ADA is not important,” retorts a lawyer for Ehrlich. Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel, “a law professor and ADA expert,” also defends the mass filings. [Chris Joyner, Atlanta Journal-Constitution; more on ADA filing mills]
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.
In related news, a blind woman who sued Brooklyn Brewery over its allegedly inaccessible website has sued at least 24 other defendants as well. [Colin Mixson, Brooklyn Paper; our coverage of web accessibility and of ADA filing mills]
- “Lawmakers are doing nothing to stop wheelchair ramp scams: businesses” [Julia Marsh and Yoav Gonen, New York Post, earlier on NYC ADA shakedowns]
- Not a flattering picture: inside the politicized office of one state’s (Minnesota’s) attorney general [Rachel M. Cohen, The Intercept, Briana Bierschbach, Minnesota Public Radio, J. Patrick Coolican and Jessie Van Berkel, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Swanson releases criminal record of aide-turned-critic]
- Remembering when the U.S. went through its first moral panic about plastic guns, in 1986 [Dave Kopel]
- Until 2012, after 60 Minutes did an exposé, “it was perfectly legal for members of Congress to trade on inside information. Not for you, of course. You’d go to jail. But for some strange reason, mystifying to all, that law simply did not apply to Congress.” [Kevin Underhill, Lowering the Bar]
- “Federal Court: Miami Taxi Companies Have ‘No Right To Block Competition’ From Uber” [Nick Sibilla, Forbes]
- “Not even consumer law professors routinely read consumer contracts and disclosures” [Jeff Sovern, CL&P]
Not the first instance of this particular surprise on the part of a serial ADA complainant, and no doubt not the last instance either. [Julia Marsh, Kevin Sheehan and Ruth Brown, New York Post, more, followup editorial]