- Report: FBI investigation of Prenda lawyer Paul Hansmeier now extends to his mass ADA filings [KSTP, KMSP, Stephen Montemayor/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Tim Cushing/TechDirt earlier]
- Meanwhile: “Sanctioned Austin ADA attorney now targeting websites” [KXAN on Omar Rosales, earlier]
- “It is a crime to ‘allow’ a pet to make a noise ‘that frightens wildlife’ on National Park Service land. Yeah.” [@KatMurti on David Rosenthal, Daily Signal]
- Looking to the states as a counterweight to dangers from Washington? Hope your federalism insurance is paid up [Rick Hills]
- A defense of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s punitive, fine-happy turn in recent years. Beleaguered manufacturers are unlikely to agree [Brian Joseph, Fair Warning; the CPSIA fiasco and magnets episode]
- Michael Greve versus Adrian Vermeule on administrative law, originalism and the Constitution [Law and Liberty]
- Wall Street Journal covers surge in web accessibility suits [Sara Randazzo, WSJ] State and local governments comment on federal proposals for public sector web accessibility;
- “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III lawsuits are up 63 percent over 2015, according to law firm Seyfarth Shaw.” [Insurance Journal]
- “Drive-by” ADA suits in Austin, Tex.: “Lawyer sanctioned $175,000 for phony email, offensive comments” [Ryan Autullo, Austin American-Statesman] Arizona mass-filing attorney responds to professional conduct complaint [East Valley Tribune, earlier]
- “Airlines seek to limit types of therapy animals allowed on planes” [L.A. Times]
- “Fired for being (twice) intoxicated on the job, a mechanic for the D.C.-area transit authority undergoes treatment, applies for his job back. But his bosses refuse, allegedly because of his alcoholism. An ADA violation? Indeed, says the D.C. Circuit.” [Alexander v. WMATA as summarized on John Ross, Short Circuits]
- Department of Justice unveils ADA regulation requiring movie theaters to offer captioning and audio description [Federal Register]
On Sunday Anderson Cooper at CBS “60 Minutes” covered one of our favorite issues: the way lawyers and clients sue retail businesses by the dozens or hundreds over defects in ADA accessibility compliance and then cash in the complaints for quick settlements. Actually entering the business is not always necessary: it can be enough to drive around the parking lot spotting technical violations.
South Florida store owner Mike Zayed says “no disabled customer had ever complained about the ramp, the sign, or the parking space,” which failed to comply with ADA specs. Zayed “doesn’t think the person who sued him was a real customer because the man claimed he encountered barriers inside the store that didn’t exist.” And now we’re beginning to see “Google lawsuits” in which the complainant consults online aerial maps to discover, for example, which motel owners haven’t yet installed the pool lifts that federal law recently made obligatory. The same attorney using the same client sued more than 60 defendants in 60 days over lack of pool lifts. “At last count, that attorney has sued nearly 600 businesses in just the last two years, many for not having pool lifts.” [Dec. 4 segment and script; full show here (segment begins 32:47).
- As filing mills, web accessibility concepts go nationwide and appeals court green-lights use of “testers”: “Disability Lawsuits Against Small Businesses Soar” [Angus Loten, Wall Street Journal]
- More on legal imperilment of universities’ free online course offerings [George Leef and thanks for quote, earlier here, here]
- Bill filed by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) would provide for “notice and cure” of some ADA violations [East Valley Tribune]
- Supreme Court’s CRST decision might open door for defendants to recover legal fees in more ADA cases that did not result in merits ruling [William Goren, earlier on CRST]
- Prenda Law founder loses law license, won’t be filing access suits for a while [Mike Masnick, earlier]
- Jury backs Austin, Tex. police officer with narcolepsy [Austin American-Statesman, h/t Mark Pulliam]
“Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III lawsuits are up 63 percent over 2015, according to law firm Seyfarth Shaw. ADA Title III prohibits businesses open to the public from discriminating on the basis of disability. The act applies to a variety of businesses and restaurants, including warehouses, movie theaters, schools, office buildings, day care facilities, doctors’ offices and any new construction of same must comply with the ADA construction standards.”…’More lawyers are finding out that this is a very…lucrative practice,’ said [Seyfarth partner Minh] Vu. The number of suits filed in federal court may top more than 7,000; more lawsuits were filed in the first half of this year than in all of 2013, according to the law firm’s research.” [Insurance Journal]
Related: “Sunshine state attorney seeks website changes, and costs and fees, from snow shoe seller” [John Breslin/Florida Record, and thanks for quote]
The “Arizona attorney general’s office on Wednesday filed a motion to dismiss more than 1,000 cases focused on business parking lots, brought by a Phoenix lawyer … The lawyer, Peter Strojnik, has filed more than 2,000 disability access cases in less than a year on behalf of Advocates for American Disabled Individuals. The plaintiff reportedly had a standard settlement offer of $7,500” and settled most of its cases for an average of $3,900 a pop, less than the cost of legal defense. The executive director of an organization that “is the federally designated disability protection and advocacy group for Arizona” criticized the AG’s action. [ABA Journal] Meanwhile, the executive director of a disabilities nonprofit represented by attorney Strojnik has resigned. The attorney “is currently under active investigation with the Arizona State Bar Association. Strojnik has been disciplined by the Arizona State Bar Association three times, according to ABC 15 KNXV-TV.” [Phoenix Business Journal, earlier]
“The hundreds of pages of technical requirements [relating to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA] have become so ‘frankly overwhelming’ that a good 95% of Arizona businesses haven’t fully complied, says Peter Strojnik, a lawyer in Phoenix. He has sued more than 500 since starting in February, and says he will hit thousands more in the state and hire staff to begin out-of-state suits. … Violators must pay all legal fees” and courts ordinarily find violations. [The Economist]
Overlawyered has been covering the phenomenon of ADA filing mills since the start of this website and the issue of web accessibility for very nearly as long. Here’s some of The Economist’s reporting on the latter topic:
“[Texas attorney Omar Weaver] Rosales says extending ADA rules to websites will allow him to begin suing companies that use color combinations problematic for the color-blind and layouts that are confusing for people with a limited field of vision.
The DOJ is supporting a National Association of the Deaf lawsuit against Harvard for not subtitling or transcribing videos and audio files posted online. As such cases multiply, content may be taken offline. Paying an accessibility consultant to spot the bits of website coding and metadata that might trip up a blind user’s screen-reading software can cost $50,000 for a website with 100 pages.”
Yes, mass production of web accessibility suits is under way: “A partner of [Pittsburgh-based] Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela & Carpenter, which represents plaintiffs in such cases, tells the [Chicago] Tribune that it sent out about 25 demand letters to real estate companies in recent months.” [ABA Journal; Kenneth Harney; our 15+ years of coverage of the slow-motion legal disaster that is web accessibility]
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.”
“IRS and federal prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into serial disability access plaintiff Scott Johnson, who has moved his lawsuit operation to the Bay Area in recent months, to determine whether he has paid taxes on his alleged millions of dollars in settlements, multiple sources told this newspaper.
“Unless a plaintiff suffered physical injuries as a result of a civil settlement, that individual must pay taxes on the monetary award, tax experts said. It is unclear whether Johnson paid any taxes on any of his Americans with Disabilities Act settlements with thousands of businesses in California that he alleged obstructed his access as a paralyzed customer using a wheelchair. He and his attorney did not return requests for comment.” [San Jose Mercury-News, more of its coverage on Scott Johnson, earlier on ADA filing mills generally and on Johnson in particular here, here, here, here, and here]