This post was inspired by an article forwarded from fellow ADA blogger William Goren, whose blog contains excellent analysis of current cases. The article describes a Florida hotel’s fight against a local serial ADA complainant who, it appears, may be afraid to go to trial on the lawsuit he filed. It isn’t clear how the case will end, but the defendant has William Norkunas on its side. Norkunas is himself a frequent ADA plaintiff and has served as an expert witness in more than a thousand cases. He is clearly an advocate for ADA enforcement, but is quoted as saying that the plaintiff in this particular case is operating a “continuing criminal enterprise that boils down to extortion.” More
ADA Attorney’s Fees
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA FHA Litigation General, ADA Policies, Policies and Procedures FHA ADA, Restaurants, Retail, Shopping Centers Tags: ada litigation, ADA Policies, private lawsuits, restaurants, retail
One of the many ADA risks that businesses face is the risk of sliding into non-compliance through maintenance failures. This seems to come up most often in the context of parking, because the markings required for accessible parking are exposed to the weather and to wear from car tires. I recently settled a case of this type, and a reported opinion from California was a reminder of how important maintenance can be.
In Lozano v. C.A. Martinez Family Ltd. P’ship, 2015 WL 5227869, at *4 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 8, 2015), the complaint concerned nothing more complicated than striping accessible parking. The paint had faded and on repeated occasions over months the access aisles were blocked. As soon as the lawsuit was filed the owner repainted, but that was too late for the Court, which found that a policy of re-striping that apparently had not been followed would not let the owner escape an injunction and, of course, paying fees to the plaintiff’s attorney. More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA FHA Litigation General, DOJ Tags: ADA Anniversary, ada litigation, ada violation, Department of Justice, private lawsuits
The Department of Justice and various disabilities rights groups are busy celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a peculiarly American kind of celebration, because much of the focus is on stepped up enforcement; that is, filing a lot of new lawsuits. The lead sentence from an article in the Austin American-Statesman sums up the party atmosphere:
“A quarter-century after the American Disabilities Act banned the discrimination of disabled Americans, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed 32 lawsuits across Texas.” — including 14 in Austin — that shared a common theme: Access is a civil right.”
This is a short follow-up to my May 14 blog “know when to fold ’em.” A couple of weeks after I published that piece a decision came out from the Northern District of Georgia that dramatically illustrates the risk of a vigorous defense in a losing case.
Defense counsel interested in the legal principles that guide attorney’s fee awards in ADA cases will find it useful to read the full opinion in Gaylor v. Greenbriar of Dahlonega: Shopping Center, Inc., 2014 WL 2195719 (N.D. Ga., May 27, 2014) . However, the gist of the holding can be found in one short paragraph: More
In the classic Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” a mysterious stranger advises him to “know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” You can’t walk or run away from an ADA lawsuit, but a spate of new decisions illustrate the dangers of not knowing when it is time to stop fighting and start settling.
I’ll start with Kalani v. Nat’l Seating & Mobility, Inc., 2014 WL 1665226 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 25, 2014), a typical ADA lawsuit claiming problems with parking and an accessible restroom. The defendant contest the truth of the plaintiff’s allegations, arguing instead that some of the evidence in a summary judgment proceeding was inadequate. After thinking the matter over in a Motion for Reconsideration the Court granted the plaintiff statutory damages under California’s Unruh Act. The damages were not large ($4,000), but as other cases show choosing to fight on procedural rather than substantive grounds can cost far more when it comes time to award the plaintiff attorney’s fee. And of course all the money spent on the non-substantive defenses was completely wasted.
Griffin v. J.A.R.S., LLC, 2014 WL 1600315 (S.D. Fla. Apr. 21, 2014) is another decision that might be regarded as a prelude to the fight over attorney’s fees. In Griffin the defendant claimed that the complaint was inadequate because it referred to violations of “Section 208” of the ADA standards. As examples the defendant cited specific parts of Section 208 that would not apply to the defendant. The Court was not impressed, writing that:
Defendants point to parts of Section 208 that they have picked and chosen and that they know do not apply to them and use those aspects of the Standards to argue that Section 208 as a whole does not apply to them when they know full well that the general parts of Section 208 do appear to apply to them. Worse yet, they appear to attempt to hide the relevant parts of Section 208 by attaching only the irrelevant parts of the Standard to their Motion. This does not comply with the duty of candor to the Court, and it is frivolous at best and disingenuous at worst. Defendants’ other challenges to the Complaint are similarly without basis, and the Court will not belabor this Order further pointing out the faults with them.
Losing this particular motion to dismiss probably stung, but losing the Court’s confidence in the defendant’s honesty is likely to be very expensive in the long run.
Lema v. Comfort Inn Merced, 2014 WL 1577042 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 17, 2014) is a case in which the defendant’s tactics resulted in a higher award of attorney’s fees to the plaintiff. In Lema the defendants refused to settle the substantive claims in the lawsuit because the plaintiff failed to produce billing records. The defendants argued that without the records they could not settle the attorneys fee claims. The court, which referred to the defendants’ “extensive delaying tactics,” refused to adjust the plaintiffs fees on this basis. It noted instead that if the defendants had settled the substantive claims — which did not seem to be disputed — they would have eliminated the cause of action giving rise to attorney’s fees and thus limited further fees. By refusing to settle the substantive claims the defendants gave the plaintiff to continue incurring recoverable fees.
Finally, in Hernandez v. Grullense, 2014 WL 1724356 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 30, 2014) the defendants managed to turn a judge with grave doubts about the plaintiff’s attorney’s claim for fees into an award of very high fees simply because they refused to admit the obvious; that is, that the property was not ADA compliant. To understand the case it is helpful to start with the Court’s attitude toward the plaintiff’s lawyers:
This motion presents the problem of determining a fair award in an uncomplicated ADA matter to an experienced law firm that has been repeatedly criticized for the same unreasonable billing practices that it used in this case.