Recently, JMBM reported that it successfully defended a website accessibility lawsuit on behalf of its client Zarco Hotels, against serial plaintiff Traci Morgan. In that case, the court awarded Zarco Hotels $55,414.84 in compensation for its attorneys’ fees and costs.
JMBM and Zarco Hotels have prevailed again. On July 11, 2023, a different court awarded Zarco Hotels attorneys’ fees and costs related to a separate ADA lawsuit regarding hotel reservations.
Garcia v. Zarco Hotels, Inc., Case No. 21STCV00023 (Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles) involved claims by serial plaintiff Orlando Garcia, who has filed hundreds of similar lawsuits against businesses in California. The same law firm, Potter Handy, LLP (AKA Center for Disability Access) represented Morgan and Garcia in both cases.
Garcia alleged that the Hollywood Hotel’s reservation requirements did not comply with the ADA because the website did not provide enough information about the physical accessibility features of the hotel. See our article on this issue here: ADA Requires Hotels To Describe Accessibility Features On Website.
However, Garcia failed to recognize that the Hollywood Hotel’s website and reservation system exceeds compliance with the ADA; JMBM’s ADA Compliance and Defense team, led by Stuart K. Tubis, Esq. and Martin Orlick Esq. showed that it provides more information than the law requires about ADA accommodations at the hotel. Still, Garcia refused to dismiss the lawsuit, despite evidence showing that the claims lacked merit.
In our practice we find that ADA plaintiff will often press forward with lawsuits, even when they lack merit. This is likely because many defendants find it easier to settle the case and pay the plaintiff rather than defend themselves in court.
Zarco Hotels was not intimidated and filed its motion for summary judgement on July 15, 2022. Facing a losing battle, Garcia finally dismissed the lawsuit on October 6, 2022.
ADA Defendants Can Be Awarded Attorneys’ Fees
Despite winning the case, Zarco Hotels incurred the expense of attorneys’ fees and litigation costs by defending itself against the frivolous claims. Fortunately, the ADA allows for the award of attorneys’ fees and litigation costs to a prevailing defendant when the plaintiff’s claims are “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.”
So Zarco Hotels filed a motion for defense attorneys’ fees and costs on November 29, 2022.
The Court agreed with Zarco Hotels and found that Garcia’s claims lacked merit. Because he pursued them anyway, Zarco Hotels incurred attorneys’ fees and costs that should be recouped. As the Court pointed out in its July 11, 2023 opinion:
“The Court finds that this action was frivolous, thus meriting fees.”
“The Court here finds that the clarity of the DOJ Guidance should have intimated to Plaintiff and counsel that the accessibility information they sought against Zarco Hotels in the Complaint went far beyond that information reasonably needed to inform Plaintiff Garcia of Zarco Hotels’ ability to accommodate Plaintiff’s accessibility needs. Accordingly, the Court finds that Zarco Hotels is entitled to attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §12205.”
The Court ordered Orlando Garcia to pay Zarco Hotels $57,604.90 within 60 days of the Order.
Between the two cases, this brings the total award of attorneys fees for Zarco Hotels to $113,019.74.
You Can Win Serial Plaintiff ADA Cases
If your business is sued for violation of the ADA and California Unruh Civil Rights Act, be aware that you can win the case and recover your costs. We all recognize the importance of accessibility for society. We all either need accessibility today or are one accident or illness away from needing accessibility accommodations. However, there are career plaintiffs filing thousands of nearly-identical lawsuits against as many businesses as possible. They are bound to make mistakes.
It might be simple to settle the claims, pay the plaintiff and move on, even if the claims lack merit. But if the allegations are untrue, you can also fight the case, win, and receive an award from the court.
Case citation: Garcia v. Zarco Hotels, Inc., Case No. 21STCV00023 (Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles)
You can download a copy of the Court’s Order here.
For more details on this case, please reach out to Stuart K. Tubis, Esq.