On July 17 of this year the District Court for the Southern District of California awarded attorney’s fees of $550,000 against Chipotle Mexican Grill in a lawsuit that had been pending since 2005. A month later, on August 28, the same Court refused to certify a class in a lawsuit brought by the same plaintiff alleging the same violations of the ADA. What happened in the two lawsuits is a perfect illustration of my own slogan for ADA defense, “Fix First Then Fight.” The story of these lawsuits also demonstrates the dangers associated with attacking the plaintiff instead of attacking the problem. More
ADA FHA Litigation General
It has been a relatively slow week for ADA accessibility filings in North Texas, with only one new lawsuit against a strip center in Plano. However, that new lawsuit provides a nice case study of the kinds of legal issues these cases raise.
The problems of standing mentioned in my last post are present in abundance. The plaintiff alleges that she went to the shopping center to visit a restaurant and “ran into” architectural barriers at the center. It is clear from the complaint itself that she didn’t run into all the barriers to access that she lists. For example, she claims that there is no accessible route to the center from the nearest public sidewalk and that there is not adequate accessible parking. If she took a car, then the public sidewalk wasn’t a problem for her. If she took a bus then the parking didn’t matter. She might have been injured by one kind of discrimination or the other, but not both. There are also general allegations of excessive slopes and a lack of accessible routes to “many of the businesses.” Since the plaintiff states that she visited the center to go to a specific restaurant the lack of accessible routes to other businesses could not have caused her any injury. More
Every few months another district court confronts the inherent tension between private enforcement of laws like the ADA and the standing requirements for individual litigants in the federal courts. The Constitution regards private lawsuits as a means to vindicate private rights, and the constitutional requirements for private litigants make an uneasy fit with the goal of promoting public policies concerning accessibility for those with disabilities. The Constitution requires that a private litigant have “ standing,” which means that the party ust have suffered an injury caused by the defendant that the courts can somehow fix. In ADA litigation neither the injury nor the court’s ability to fix it may be obvious. The result is a mishmash of inconsistent approaches to standing that leaves little certainty for litigants. More
By Richard Hunt
“Drive-by litigation.” That is how two major real estate trade groups referred to abusive ADA litigation in a letter to Congress. Do we really think a guy in a wheelchair who couldn’t get into the bathroom is like a murderous gang member killing for sport? To be fair, many members of the plaintiffs’ bar use equally strong language when describing real estate developers and owners. I’d like to suggest that if both sides focused on real problems instead of rhetoric we would have more progress and less litigation. More
By Richard Hunt
Sooner or later, almost every owner of a commercial or multi-family residential property will receive a demand letter or be served with a lawsuit claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act or Fair Housing Act accessibility standards. Although the accessibility standards are now more than 20 years old, accessibility lawsuits continue to increase, and surveys indicate that almost all commercial and multi-family properties have some accessibility violations.
Accessibility lawsuits are always irksome. More