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.
ADA – serial litigation
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
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Litigation Procedure, ADA Mootness, ADA regulations, ADA Web Access, ADA Website Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, ADA reasonable accommodation, ADA standing, FHA Defense, Strojnik
Halloween is a month away, but the candy is on the shelves at our local grocery stores and the courts are already delivering tricks and treats for those of us concerned with accessibility lawsuits.
The complexities of accessibility in federal programs.
Ramos v. Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, 2019 WL 4316575 (D.N.J. Sept. 12, 2019) contains more law than can be easily summarized, covering:
- HUD and federal sovereign immunity under the ADA, FHA and Rehabilitation Act
- Standing for complaints of administrative action where federal sovereign immunity is waived.
- State sovereign immunity under the ADA and FHA
- The elements of a failure to accommodate claim
- And of intentional discrimination claims.
The most interesting thing to me about the case is the facts that gave rise to it, for the complaints that will ultimately go forward seem to reflect the state agency’s stubborn refusal to be helpful to a disabled couple. If the allegations are true the state would not provide forms and letters with a font big enough for the vision disabled plaintiffs to read them and refused to meet either at their residence or by video conference to accommodate their inability to travel. This, by the way, was after the parties had reached a conciliation agreement that supposedly resolved the matter. Agencies, landlords and others who want to stay out of court should think of the accommodation process as a shared effort to solve a problem, not an adversary proceeding to be won or lost.
Bone v. U. of N. Carolina Health Care System, 2019 WL 4393531 (M.D.N.C. Sept. 13, 2019), like Ramos, has a complicated set of facts and an equally complicated series of rulings on issues that include associational standing and liability for the acts of contractors. It also shares the appearance that nobody associated with the defendants was really paying attention, which is always a problem in a bureaucracy. It’s quite possible the low level employee charged with delivering braille invoices to the plaintiffs thought a few months was reasonable turn around time given the seemingly eternal delays associated with hospital billing and reimbursement, but from the plaintiff’s standpoint getting collection notices for invoices he couldn’t read was disturbing. One question, however, is never raised or answered. There are a large number of handheld text reading devices available for the blind, and it would seem such devices could be a reasonable substitute for braille. At what point does the refusal of a disabled person to take advantage of new technologies make his or her request for accommodation unreasonable? More
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Mootness, FHA, FHA design/build litigation, FHA Emotional Support Animals Tags: ADA defense, ADA Stadium, ADA standing, ADA Website Litigation, FHA Defense, Olmstead
A hodgepodge, I just learned, is a not just a word for a confusing mixture, but also the name of a vegetable stew. The FHA and ADA decisions of the last few weeks may not be tasty, but they are varied. I’ve put the FHA case first because it involved an unforced error and illustrates why landlords of all sizes need to be aware of what the FHA permits and denies.
FHA disability claims – get it right the first time.
In Root v. Salazar, 2019 WL 4040405 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 27, 2019) made a critical mistake. Having in hand a legitimate non-discriminatory reason to refuse to rent he instead made an excuse that probably seemed more legitimate but wasn’t. The legitimate excuse was the tenant’s lack of steady income. The FHA does not require that landlords take financial risks to accommodate disabled tenants. The illegitimate excuse was that the duplex in question did not meet the FHA’s accessibility guidelines. A fundamental principle under the FHA, ADA and other similar disability laws is that the tenant gets to decide what he or she needs. It may seem helpful to tell a prospective tenant why they should rent elsewhere, but if the tenant is disabled or a member of a protected class that helpfulness will look like illegal discrimination. More