Many of them aren’t so nice, especially in California which incentivizes access complaints with $4,000 minimum per-violation damages as well as entitlement to attorney’s fees. “According to [defense attorney James] Link, more than 3,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in L.A. County in the last three years — more than 1,700 of them by attorneys Morse Mehrban of L.A. and Mark Potter of San Diego’s Center for Disability Access.” One of Potter’s prolific clients, Jon Alexander, formerly of Utah, might displace George Louie as the poster guy for controversial ADA litigants. [L.A. Weekly via Doherty]
The Northern California municipality will pay notorious serial ADA filer George Louie $15,000 in exchange for which he promises not to sue any more businesses within town limits, and drop current suits in that category. Of course he’ll go elsewhere instead. [CBS Sacramento, Sacramento Bee, Lowering the Bar] On Louie’s background, see this 2003 post.
- Whoops! Insurer’s lawyer backtracks and scrambles for cover after saying some Miami/Dade judges “are being paid off” [Daily Business Review; possibly related, scroll to mention of Miami near end]
- Climate’s different up there: Google and Wikipedia sued for libel in Canada over user-generated content [Rob Hyndman]
- Lawyers implicated in Ky. fen-phen scandal are owners of Curlin, horse that placed third in Kentucky Derby [Courier-Journal, Sun-Times, Sports Network, WSJ law blog]
- “As a lawyer, I hear stories about lawsuit abuse all the time,” but Judge Pearson’s pants suit takes the cake [Nasty Brutish & Short; also lively discussion at Digg]
- Ramps of gold: serial ADA-suit filers George Louie, David Gunther and others launch wave of sidewalk suits against Northern California towns [Contra Costa Times]
- $250 fine for releasing a balloon into the air in New Hampshire? Criminalizing nearly everything [National Law Journal; also Ayn Rand]
- Helpful, if scary: “12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs To Know” [Aviva Directory]
- U.K. lawyers ordered to pay back tens of millions of pounds in excessive fees earned for representing sick miners [Times Online Apr. 16, Apr. 25, Apr. 10; Telegraph]
- Did Rosie O’Donnell come out for loser-pays on ABC’s “The View”? Someone please get a transcript [Bill Boushka]
- Japan doesn’t furnish us with much material, but here’s one about magicians suing TV broadcasters for revealing secrets behind coin tricks [Above the Law]
- Sensitivity vs. sensitivity: female drummers allowed to sue over their (culturally authentic) exclusion from ritual drumming at Native American powwow [five years ago on Overlawyered]
We’ve linked in the past to a lot of excellent investigative journalism on the disabled-rights filing mills that have blanketed whole business districts in California and elsewhere with accessibility complaints that quickly convert to cash demands. (Some examples: Carmel (Calif.) Pine Cone on Jarek Molski and Thomas Frankovich, blogger George Wallace on Jerry Dolan, CNN on George Louie, among others; and I might as well promote my own 2004 effort for City Journal). Among the most riveting of the bunch appeared this fall in Southern California’s Orange County Weekly. (R. Scott Moxley, “The New Crips”, Orange County Weekly, Oct. 13). A few highlights:
* “Lawyers familiar with [wheelchair user David Allen] Gunther’s activities estimate he’s taken more than $400,000 in the last 36 months, mostly from mom-and-pop shops in Garden Grove, Anaheim, Fountain Valley, Orange, Tustin, Buena Park, Stanton, Seal Beach, Santa Ana, Dana Point, Huntington Beach and Los Angeles. If true, that’s quite a haul for a man who has spent most of his adult life unemployed, according to records obtained by the Weekly.”
* One of the first targets of Gunther’s suits, a flower seller in Anaheim, fought back, pointing out to a judge that she was herself wheelchair-bound and that her shop had a ramp. Gunther’s suit was dismissed, with no apology; “on the day Gunther said he drove to Gibson’s flower shop, he claimed in separate legal filings that he also wanted to patronize Gibson’s neighbors: a massage parlor, a dental office and a palm reader.” He got money from the massage parlor but not from the palm reader, who like the flower seller pointed out to Gunther’s lawyer that he did indeed have a ramp.
* “A Weekly investigation traced Gunther’s activities around the western U.S. during the last quarter of a century, uncovering evidence that not only has he exaggerated his reliance on a wheelchair, but he’s also whitewashed his own history of chronic unemployment, multiple drug addictions, narcotics trafficking, assaults, petty thefts, burglaries, a decade of missed child support payments, and more than a dozen arrests and stints in jail.”
* Gunther’s lawyer is none other than longtime Overlawyered favorite Morse Mehrban, (Nov. 4-5, 2002, Mar. 12, 2004, Jul. 9, 2004). Faced “with a discovery demand for the details of Gunther’s ADA settlements, Mehrban resisted for weeks, arguing that the information was ‘confidential and proprietary.’ Said Mehrban, ‘There is nothing to be gained by examination of the documents.’ Eventually, he told a judge that the issue was moot. He routinely destroys all Gunther’s paper records and erases the memories of his office computers, he said.”
* Nor is it possible for members of the outside public or media to attend the monthly meetings of Equal Access Now, a group Gunther has set up to promote access complaints. “‘Sorry, it’s private,’ said Gunther. ‘I teach disabled people about their rights.’” Gunther often files actions in concert with three other wheelchair users, each of whom claims the $4,000 per violation entitlement.
* After ending a client relationship with his own former lawyer, Gunther sued, claiming the lawyer’s bathroom was unaccessible. The lawyer’s staff said that Gunther not only had used the bathroom without incident but that he had in fact comfortably walked into and out of the office on repeated visits.
* At a meeting of some of Gunther’s victims in Santa Ana, “Jin Kim, owner of a barbecue restaurant at 17th Street and Grand Avenue, cried. He recounted the shock of getting the lawsuit without warning, how Mehrban had coldly refused to negotiate despite pleas, and that he had to sell his wife’s ring and a vehicle to pay Gunther $16,000—and his own attorney another $4,000 in fees. His crime? His restroom mirror was allegedly mounted a few inches too high and the door was a few pounds too heavy to push.”
* And his lawyer’s own offices? As it happens, they’re up a steep flight of steps in Koreatown: “Mehrban says it would not be practical to make his office accessible to the handicapped.”
The whole article, again, is here. Note that the California legislature has shown no discernible interest in amending the Unruh Act so as to curb this kind of entrepreneurial activity. Note also that the “ADA Notification Act”, a proposal in Washington aimed at curtailing cognate abuses based on the federal ADA, was unable to attain any serious traction even in the supposedly pro-business Republican Congress now drawing to its close.
P.S. Gunther’s activities also figured in the notable and recently decided case of Gunther v. Lin, discussed by Ted Dec. 1.
“Must a rustic winery pave country lanes and a parking lot to welcome visitors in wheelchairs? … Facing off against the wineries is George Louie, the controversial head of the Americans with Disabilities Advocates in Oakland, California, who has sued hundreds of wineries, banks and stores to improve access for the disabled. ‘We hunt you down … We really do you in,’ he said in an interview. … Kathleen Finnerty, who has defended firms in many such cases, said difficult-to-meet rules to give access to the disabled have bankrupted some firms. A diaper shop in Oakland, a Berkeley winery, a Sacramento restaurant and a root beer stand have gone out of business following the suits, she said. … ‘Guys like George Louie who abuse the system, you know, create a problem for us with public perception, they create a problem with the courts,’ Wolinsky said [Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation of Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates]. ‘I’m totally opposed to that.’ Louie, who is black, said some of such criticism is fueled by racism.” (However, Disability Rights Advocates’ own more respectable uses of the ADA may prove equally or more damaging to the California economy: in a lawsuit going to trial this week, it’s trying to force the big clothing discounter Mervyn’s to uncrowd its merchandise displays so that wheelchair users can freely navigate between clothing racks, a step that if successful would markedly raise the cost of doing business.) (“California lawsuits test obligations to the disabled”, CNN, Aug. 8)(via Legal Reader).
“Virtually without exception, Louie’s defendants settle out of court by paying legal fees for both parties and the cost of facility upgrades. Bills commonly reach $10,000 — sometimes up to $100,000 — including at least $4,000 per case in awards to Americans With Disabilities Advocates. Last year alone, Louie said, revenues for Americans With Disabilities Advocates easily topped $500,000, mostly from out-of-court settlements.” Louie “likes to compare his organization to a well-oiled business” but claims not to draw a salary from AWDA. “In 1968, he was convicted of interstate transport of counterfeit checks and served more than six years in federal penitentiaries. He also said he served time in a state prison in the early 1980s for robbing a drug dealer.” (Mike Lee, “Disability activist sets sights on state’s wineries”, Sacramento Bee/Contra Costa Times, Jun. 8)(more on disabled-rights filing mills)(& welcome Reason “Hit and Run” readers).