Once again – as in past Memorial Day editions – I’m firing up the grill with hundred dollar bills in honor of the money wasted on lawyers, who are the only ones who really benefit from most ADA and FHA litigation. There are, however, some cases dealing addressing important substantive issues, and few in which Courts seem ready to turn the ADA and FHA into laws to help people instead of laws to make lawyers rich. More
Tester standing under the ADA – Getting it wrong, getting it right, and an interesting but irrelevant analysis.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet Web, FHA, Hotels Tags: ADA defense, ADA standing, ADA Title II, ADA Title III, Duncan, FHA Defense, FHA standing, Laufer, Laufer v Mann, Newsome, Sierra
Three cases in the last thirty days look at ADA standing and reach different conclusions about what the Constitution and the ADA require. For victims of serial litigation and for courts interested in the coherent application of the text of the ADA and similar statutes these are crucial cases.² More
By Richard Hunt in ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, Internet Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, Advocacy for Justice, FHA Defense, J. Kevin Benjamin, Jerome Ramsaran, Legal Justice Advocates, Portell Law Group, Pursuit of Respect
I had forgotten that this classic song was from Loggins & Messina until I looked it up after getting an old demand letter packaged by a new firm. I have blogged before about Legal Justice Advocates, a front for a group of attorneys who sent hundreds of demand letters making unsustainable claims about website accessibility under the Fair Housing Act.¹ Their business was taken over by the Portell Law Group² when the original members of LJA dropped out of sight and one of them was disbarred. Now another member of the group, Jerome Ramsaran, has created a new supposed disability rights group, Pursuit of Respect, Inc., to pursue the old business of making demands on website owners in different real estate related businesses. I know this because I was recently provided a demand letter sent by a lawyer in Chicago who also practices in Florida, the original home of Legal Justice Advocates. J. Kevin Benjamin is the lawyer sending demands on behalf of Pursuit of Respect, Inc. Unlike the claims from Legal Justice Advocates and the Portell Law Group Benjamin’s claims include ADA allegations, and unlike the LJA and Portell Claims the letters from Benjamin give the recipient fourteen days to correct the supposed website violations before there is a threat of a money demand. Of course the demands do not include any details about the supposed problems, and fourteen days is an impossible period for website remediation under the best circumstances. I expect the soft touch is intended to get an equally soft response that lets Benjamin solicit some kind of payment, and once the fourteen days are up there will probably be a stronger money demand. More
By Richard Hunt in ADA, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Mootness, ADA Web Access, FHA, FHA Reasonable Accommodation, Hotels, Internet Accessibility, Landlord-tenant, Policies and Procedures FHA ADA Tags: ADA and Uber, ADA defense, ADA hotel litigation, ADA tester standing, ADA vexatious litigation, ADA Website Litigation, ASL interpreters, FHA Defense, FHA disability discrimination, Unruh Act supplemental jurisdiction
If foolishness were limited to one day a year this blog would be well overdue, but a glance at the news – legal, political or other, shows that every day in April can be April fools day, so I make no apologies for the delay in getting this out.
The difference between accommodation and modification under the ADA and FHA
Any discussion of S.W. Fair Hous. Council v. WG Chandler Villas SH LLC, 2021 WL 1087200 (D. Ariz. Mar. 22, 2021) must begin with a vocabulary note. The thing called “modification” under the ADA is called “accommodation” under the FHA and the thing called “modification” under the FHA doesn’t really exist under Title III of the ADA. The vocabulary matters because under the FHA a “modification” is a change to a physical feature that the tenant must pay for while an “accommodation” is a change in policy that the landlord must pay for on the theory that the costs will usually be nominal. In WG Chandler Villas the plaintiff, a fair housing organization that was testing local apartment communities for their responsiveness to the needs of the deaf, asserted that installation of a flashing doorbell was an accommodation rather than a modification, thus making the cost the landlord’s responsibility. The Court held that how to characterize such a request depended on what kinds of services the landlord already provided:
The Court finds that a flashing doorbell is a reasonable accommodation under the ADA—not merely a modification—in the context of Defendant’s housing facility, because one of the services that Defendant provides residents is safety checks.
Those safety checks included ringing the doorbell to see if the resident responded. Since deaf residents would not benefit from that safety check if they didn’t know the doorbell was being rung the addition of the flashing doorbell was better characterized as a change in policy about safety checks rather than a physical modification in the form of a new doorbell. This reasoning could apply to an array of services that any apartment complex might provide. If reserved parking is a service, for example, then a reserved accessible parking space would be an accommodation despite the physical changes (including using up an entire extra parking space) and their cost.² More
By Richard Hunt in ADA, ADA - serial litigation, ADA Point of Sale, ADA Public Accommodation, Design Build Discrimination, Public Facilities Tags: ADA defense, COVID-19, sneeze guard, Square One Architecture, wheelchair access
I’ve gotten two emails from John Garra at Square One Architecture¹ with papers on different aspects of physical accessibility and Covid-19 that frankly had not occurred to me. The first dealt with sneeze guards that have been put up at most sales counters may, and frequently do infringe on the space required for those with disabilities to access the counter. The second concerned the signs being used to space out folks waiting in line or to block access to seating. These are not readable by the blind, who therefore can’t tell where seating or standing is appropriate. I think these are the first non-mask related Covid-19 item I’ve seen.
Sales counters are a frequent source of ADA complaints and litigation, usually because they are not low enough, not wide enough, or cluttered with point-of-sale displays. Adding a sneeze guard that isn’t carefully designed can easily create problems that didn’t exist before. Garra also points out that the reason sales counters have a maximum height is that wheelchair users are sitting at a height lower than almost all standing users. That means the portion of a sneeze guard that is open for passing receipts or goods may be a just the face level of a wheelchair user, making the sneeze guard less effective or ineffective.
I’ll share any additional insights that Garra sends me, but once you begin looking at public spaces in terms of accessibility it isn’t hard to imagine other unintended consequences of Covid-19 protection. Restaurants that have eliminated tables in order to create greater social distance might easily have eliminated accessible seating without thinking about why some tables are differently configured. Sneeze guards aren’t just a problem at counters. The picture above shows a sneeze guard that makes a booth inaccessible for a person in a wheelchair. The focus on masks as a problematic requirement for those with breathing disabilities may cause us to overlook the problem presented for deaf individuals who rely on lip reading when a clerk or server is wearing a mask.
There are, as Garra points out, many resources on accessibility available online from the U.S. Access Board,² the federal agency with general responsibility for accessibility standards. I would add this suggestion for businesses that want to both avoid litigation and better serve customers with disabilities. Just take a few minutes to walk through your business imagining you are in a wheelchair and see what barriers might exist because of Covid-19 precautions or for any other cause. Think as well about the experience of a blind customer or a deaf customer. The technical standards can be daunting, but in most cases the problems are easy to identify and understand with a little imagination.
¹You can contact John at email@example.com if you want more information. His website is Square One Architecture.