Articles Posted in Litigation

male-lawyer-turning-documents-courtroom-wooden-desk_23-2147898330-300x169
Title III of the ADA allows customers and visitors to sue businesses and landlords for disability discrimination in court. The alleged violations range from everything from parking lot slope to website design. What should you do if you’ve been sued under Title III of the ADA?

  1. Take a deep breath.

Title III ADA cases are very seldom “bet the business” size cases. They can generally be resolved through settlement negotiations or court motions without threatening continued operation of the business. But you need to take action as soon as you’re aware of the lawsuit or threatened lawsuit.

See Part 1 – What you need to know about how we got here
See Part 3 – Website litigation specific to hotels

This article was first published by Law360® Expert Analysis, © 2019 Portfolio Media Group Inc. and is reprinted with permission. 

The Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit: Rights to due process

On October 7, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Domino’s Pizza LLC, sending Domino’s back to the trial court to determine if it can be held liable under the ADA for website accessibility. The high Court’s refusal to accept certiorari in this case was a disappointment to the hospitality industry and others. What happened?

In 2017, a federal district judge dismissed the website accessibility suit filed against Domino’s by a prolific ADA plaintiff (Robles v Domino’s Pizza LLC) on grounds that the failure of the DOJ to issue clear guidelines for website accessibility standards violated Domino’s constitutional right to due process. It appears that the DOJ was unaware of the lawsuit or that Domino’s filed a dispositive motion in the case, otherwise it likely would have intervened or filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in opposition to the motion. Domino’s convinced the court that the DOJ had inconsistently applied the WCAG criteria in settlements, Consent Decrees and litigation. Domino’s convinced the court that such inconsistent application left businesses guessing which criteria to follow when developing their websites – the due process violation.

However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision and on January 15, 2019, determined that the ADA applies to Domino’s website, writing in its Opinion that: “Finally, the lack of specific regulations, not yet promulgated by the Department of Justice, did not eliminate Domino’s statutory duty.”

Now that the Supreme Court has declined to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the case returns to the District Court to be tried on its merits. Whether that will happen is yet to be seen – it’s possible the case will be settled soon after remand. Continue ›

See Part 2 – Rights to due process and standing requirements
See Part 3 – Website reservations: ADA litigation specific to hotels

This article was first published by Law360® Expert Analysis, © 2019 Portfolio Media Group Inc., and is reprinted with permission.

Part 1 – What you need to know about how we got here

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted by Congress in July 1990, the Internet was in its infancy and few, if any, considered its applicability to cyberspace. But in 2006, a California federal judge ruled that the ADA applied not just to brick and mortar establishments, but to websites: National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp brought the ADA into the digital age. Application of the ADA to mobile apps would follow nearly a decade later.

In October of this year, thirteen years after Target, the U.S. Supreme Court’s declination to hear an appeal by Domino’s Pizza LLC to determine if it can be liable under the ADA for website accessibility, was a blow felt throughout the hospitality industry and others, which hoped to gain clarity on accessible website standards under the ADA. (See Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC.)

Following Ninth Circuit rulings, the decision reaffirms the principle that companies whose Internet activities are related to their brick and mortar stores may be held liable for violating the ADA even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to issue express website guidelines.

What’s going on?

Since Target, thousands of businesses – including hotels and restaurants – have been the subject of lawsuits claiming violations of Title III under the ADA because their websites and mobile applications are inaccessible to individuals who are blind and sight impaired and use screen reading software. Continue ›

When will businesses get clear direction on ADA website compliance?

On October 7, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Domino’s Pizza LLC, sending Domino’s back to the trial court to determine if it can be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by a blind customer who alleged Domino’s website and mobile application were not accessible to people who are blind or sight impaired and use the website and mobile app with standard screen reading capabilities.

The high court’s refusal to accept certiorari in this case was a blow felt not only by Domino’s – but throughout the business community, which hoped to gain clarity on accessible website standards under the ADA.

A growing number of U.S. District Court judges in the Central District of California have taken steps to manage the growing number of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits, particularly against hotels and retailers, and to curb ADA abuse.  Since June 2019, five Central District judges have issued over 80 Orders to Show Cause (OSC) why the Court should exercise supplemental jurisdiction over their state law claims – the claims that can make ADA litigation a lucrative endeavor for serial plaintiffs and their counsel.

How did we get here?

Federal Courts have original jurisdiction over federal ADA cases.  Under the ADA, a private litigant can only obtain injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.  Damages are not recoverable under federal law.

Serial Plaintiff Who Filed Nearly 3,000 Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’) Lawsuits is Indicted by a Federal Grand Jury
and Faces Possible Imprisonment and Fines for Income Tax Evasion

In an ironic twist of fate, Scott N. Johnson, Esq., a disabled Sacramento attorney, who has filed nearly 3,000 ADA lawsuits as plaintiff, starting in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, now faces possible jail time for felony income tax fraud according to a Federal Grand Jury Indictment.

On May 23, 2019, United States Attorneys filed a Grand Jury Indictment, United States of America v. Scott Norris Johnson, accusing Johnson of three counts of “Making and Subscribing a False Tax Return” by failing to declare substantial income derived from ADA settlements on his U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns and his U.S. Corporation Income Tax Returns for the tax years 2012-2014.

According to the Indictment, from no later than “on or about January 28, 2008, SCOTT NORRIS JOHNSON owned and operated Disabled Access Prevents Injury, Inc. (“DAPI”), a corporation registered in the State of California. DAPI was treated as a C corporation for tax purposes.” The Indictment alleges that Johnson was DAPI’s sole shareholder and that DAPI “provided legal services associated with lawsuits that it filed on behalf of SCOTT NORRIS JOHNSON as the plaintiff.” Continue ›

In an extraordinary case charging ADA litigation abuse, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office filed an action on behalf of the People of California seeking to permanently prevent serial ADA plaintiff James Rutherford and two law firms that regularly represent him (Manning Law and the Law Offices of Babak Hashemi, and individual members of the firms) from filing abusive lawsuits. The Complaint alleges that the defendants violated various Business & Professions Code sections designed to protect the public against “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent acts or practices” and seeks civil penalties not to exceed $2,500 for each violation and other equitable relief. Civil penalties in this case could exceed $800,000 if the allegations prove true.

The Complaint alleges that “Defendants filed 323 lawsuits based on alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act” in federal and state courts. Many of these lawsuits were filed against hotels and retailers. According to court papers, the pleadings filed by the defendants follow a pattern of near-identical “allegations, except for the identity of the named defendants and the date of the alleged harm.”

This lawsuit is eerily similar to a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General against Peter Strojnik, Sr., who filed nearly 2,000 identical ADA lawsuits against Phoenix/Scottsdale businesses. Suspended from practicing law, Mr. Strojnik surrendered his license to avoid disbarment. Another lawyer in New Mexico also surrendered her license in lieu of disbarment over ADA litigation abuse.

Continue ›

On October 26, 2017, a judge dismissed 99 ADA lawsuits, ordered an in forma pauperis plaintiff  (a person without funds to pursue the cost of a lawsuit) to pay filing fees of $38,300 and authorized the defendants to file fee and sanction motions.

Surely, this plaintiff’s lawyer rues the day she answered an ad on Craigslist looking for a civil rights lawyer to file ADA litigation in her jurisdiction.

What’s going on?

A Strange Set of Circumstances

The Arizona-based organization, Litigation Management and Financial Services, Inc. (LMFS), a descendant of the notorious ADA plaintiffs’ group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities, used Craigslist, indeed.com and other online media to find and engage disabled plaintiffs to file ADA lawsuits, and lawyers to represent them. The online advertisements resulted in hundreds of ADA lawsuits filed against businesses in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and Utah.

It is also how a disabled plaintiff and her lawyer came to file 99 ADA lawsuits in New Mexico, alleging each defendant’s business violated the ADA and related anti-discrimination laws.  According to court documents, the deal LMFS made with this plaintiff and her counsel, worked like this:

  • The plaintiff was paid $50.00 per lawsuit filed.
  • The plaintiff’s counsel received $100 per filing for serving as counsel of record for each lawsuit filed.
  • LMFS drafted all pleadings and defended any motion practice in exchange for the lion’s share of any settlements that resulted from the lawsuits.
  • LMFS also arranged for a driver to take the plaintiff to some — but apparently not all — of the businesses that were sued, for a photo-op.

Continue ›

In September 2016, we published an alert that a group of plaintiff’s ADA lawyers had threatened a number of businesses – including hotels – with litigation claiming their websites failed to comply with “ADA Guidelines.”  (Read ADA Compliance & Defense Lawyer: ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits Escalate.) These lawsuits have since been filed with greater frequency.

Since then, a number of threats have turned into lawsuits seeking injunctive relief (website accessibility), a multiple of $4,000 minimum statutory damages under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act (per visit to the website or from being deterred from visiting the website), attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.

Years ago, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) adopted rules requiring all federal agency websites to conform to the WCAG 2.0 A and AA Success Criteria as a means of providing accessible websites to persons who are blind, low vision, color blind or who suffer cognitive disabilities. In 2010, the DOJ issued a Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) stating that it intended to adopt formal ADA Guidelines for state and local government agencies to meet when designing websites. The DOJ intended to adopt the WCAG 2.0 A and AA Success Criteria for state and local government websites.  Justice then announced that it intended to adopt these same basic standards for private businesses’ websites.  But the DOJ withdrew its NOPR and has yet to issue final rules regarding web access standards for state and local agencies or private businesses.

ADA website lawsuit violates due process

Last week, in what is a ground breaking decision of particular importance to the hospitality industry, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California threw out a serial plaintiff’s lawsuit which alleged that Domino’s Pizza’s website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and related California anti-discrimination laws by not conforming to the WCAG 2.0 A and AA Success Criteria. Continue ›

How many judges does it take to rule that shopping center tenants
are not liable for ADA violations in common areas?

This article was first published in the October 2015 issue of the California State Bar’s Real Property Law Section E-Bulletin.

Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) “to provide clear, strong consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities” in employment, public accommodations, transportation and federal, state and local government services. 42 U.S.C.§12101(b)(2). Title III of the ADA applies to public accommodations including shopping centers, theaters, arenas, restaurants, health clubs, hotels, banks, public space in office buildings, and nearly every manner of retail premises. Virtually every leased location which serves the general public and is engaged in commerce is subject to the accessibility requirements of the ADA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (“ADAAG”) were developed in the early 1990s by the Access Board and implemented by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA. The ADAAG Standards were amended effective March 15, 2012.

The DOJ has been actively investigating national retailers for ADA compliance. In addition to voluntary compliance and federal enforcement, the ADA contemplates that private litigants will enforce ADA compliance. To that end, federal court filings demonstrate that since 2000, more than 20,000 ADA private lawsuits have been filed in the federal courts. Over 8,000 ADA lawsuits have been filed in California’s federal district courts during this time period. From September 2012 through December 2013, 627 federal cases, 2,078 state cases and 342 demand letters were submitted to the California Commission on Disability Access. See 2013 Annual Report to the California State Legislative in Compliance with Government Code Sections 8299.07(a) and 8299.08(d). The overwhelming majority of these ADA lawsuits and compliance demands involved owners and tenants of leased properties. Continue ›