Just a brief note about another alleged abuse of the ADA. According to a press release from the Department of Justice an attorney living in Florida filed hundreds of lawsuits naming as plaintiff individuals whose identities he stole. You can read the press release at this link. If you take the nearly 1000 cases filed by Mr. Finkelstein and add them to the lawsuits filed by Oscar Rosales, Peter Strojnik Sr., and Scott Dinan it starts to become clear that a significant percentage of ADA Title III lawsuits are filed solely to enrich a lawyer and often without any substantive merit. While some commentators say the ADA needs to be scrapped, the real solution is simply to provide a procedure for early dismissal with minimum expenditure of defense attorneys’ fees. Some courts have instituted mandatory mediation programs with this goal, but in many cases the cost of mediation alone makes defense impractical. The real solution is simply a heightened standard for standing that requires plaintiffs to have suffered a real injury and a heightened standard for pleading that requires plaintiffs to identify specifically the ADA violations they claim to have encountered. With that and a program of referring every Title III complaint to a magistrate judge for examination (similar to the way most courts handle pro se complaints) abusive lawsuits could be substantially reduced. The goal is not to make it impossible for plaintiffs to file ADA lawsuits, but rather to limit such lawsuits to those who have suffered a real injury.
Accessibility Litigation Trends
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Class Actions, ADA Internet Web, ADA Mootness, ADA Web Access, FHA, Uncategorized Tags: ADA defense, ADA web access, driveby lawsuits, FHA Defense, Serial filers
Being slow but steady the tortoise, as we all know, won the race. The picture on the left tells you the strategy I ended up using. In any case the news is current as of November 14, the last day I checked for new ADA and FHA decisions. There’s plenty of interest, as usual.
A pre-emptive strike on website accessibility succeeds.
The plaintiff in Expensify, Inc. v. White, 2019 WL 5295064 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2019) sought to take matters into its own hands and local court by suing a pair of serial website filers for a declaratory judgment that its website was not in violations of the ADA. The defendants almost immediately agreed to waive their claims, presumably because they did not want to litigate without the home field advantage they command in the Western District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff was not content and tried to keep the case alive, but the Court found the waivers mooted its claims. The key finding is that there was a dispute justifying the complaint for declaratory relief. It is only a district court decision, but Defendants who receive a demand letter without a lawsuit should consider this kind of pre-emptive strike as a good way to avoid an unfriendly jurisdiction. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Mootness Tags: ADA defense, ADA Mootness, ADA standing, FHA Defense, Landis v Mariners, unruh act
The blog a day pace I thought I might hit hasn’t happened but I’m not giving up. Here is the first of several Quick Hits on recent ADA and FHA developments.
ADA standing – aiming to high leads to a crash and burn.
It appears the plaintiff in Rizzi v. Hilton Dom. Operating Co., Inc., 2019 WL 4744209 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2019) decided to attack not one, but all of the websites operated by the defendant hotel company. Unfortunately, this meant the plaintiff could not identify any single website to which he plausibly intended to return. Litigation filed in the public interest rather than to alleviate an individual harm is the proper business of the Department of Justice, which has no similar limits on standing to sue. More
There has been a lot of ADA and FHA news in the last 10 days, so in an effort to catch up I’m going to aim for a blog a day over the next few days. Today’s is dedicated to cases reported to me by colleagues and subscribers, some of which have not yet appeared in official court reports.
Standing is the Achilles heel of serial plaintiffs
Maximilian Travis of Muchmore & Associates PLLC in Brooklyn told me about a result that confirms what we all know – a serial plaintiff’s greatest weakness is standing. You can allege anything to get past a motion to dismiss, but when the truth don’t lie, as they say, the standing claims of most serial litigants won’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny. That is no doubt why the plaintiff in Wu v. Jensen-Lewis, Case No. 1:17-cv-06534-34, (EDNY)* decided to voluntarily dismiss all her claims shortly before a status conference that would have likely required her deposition and browser history. This isn’t surprising – serial plaintiffs often lose on standing when they push through to trial. The fact that defendants have to spend a of money to win on an issue that deprives the court of jurisdiction is a weakness in the ADA as interpreted by the courts. More
As I predicted, the United States Supreme Court denied Domino’s Petition for Certiorari today. It did so without any formal explanation – the case is simply listed as one of many for which cert was denied. I’m sure the blogosphere and many business groups will decry the lost opportunity for a ruling that might limit ADA website litigation, but after thinking it over I don’t think there was ever much the Supreme Court could have done that would deter ADA website filers. The split in the circuits that was used to justify the Supreme Court’s interest only concerned whether websites with no affiliated physical place of business are covered by the ADA. A favorable decision would have still left the vast majority of businesses at risk. Equally important, the U.S. Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over state versions of the ADA, meaning that plaintiffs in two of the hottest states for these lawsuits, California and New York, could keep filing under state law. Finally, and most important, almost all ADA website cases are filed only to get money for the lawyers who file them. The settlement dynamics are simple – a business pays the lawyers less than the cost of a basic defense and agrees to fix its website because it makes economic sense to do so. No matter what the Supreme Court might have done it could not have significantly changed that settlement dynamic, for even the most business friendly decision could only give defendants a reasonable chance of success on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The Supreme Court could not make that motion cheap enough to beat the certainty of settlement because the cost of such a motion is deeply embedded in the structure of the Rules of Federal Procedure. Even more important, the heads I win, tails you still lose advantage on recovery of attorneys fees for plaintiff’s is one fundamental driver of all ADA litigation and the Supreme Court can’t do anything about that without overturning decades of civil rights precedent. The Supreme Court could favorably rule on standing issues in a case I’ll blog about tomorrow, but the refusal of cert. in Domino’s is only a mild disappointment because the real solution remains with Congress.