Tuesday May 01 2012
Roseville business owner earns small victory in ADA battle
By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
When Brad Jordan was presented with a letter in 2008 stating his used car dealership was not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he saught some legal advice. Jordan, owner of Roseville Auto Center on Riverside Avenue, contacted an ADA consulting company, which helped him make the necessary changes to bring his business into compliance. He put in a parking space, provided a special table, put up proper signage and thought that was the end of it. But then late last year, Jordan was served notice of a lawsuit brought on by Scott Johnson stating he was still in violation of the ADA. Johnson, a disabled Sacramento attorney, is known in the region for filing lawsuits against businesses that he claims are not ADA compliant. Since 2003, Johnson has filed several thousand lawsuits, collecting a net income of more than $2 million annually in statutory penalties, according to Sacramento attorney Michael Welch, who defends frivolous ADA lawsuits. Welch, who has worked on hundreds of similar cases over the last 15 years, defended Jordan?s case for free. ?Once I got out there, I didn?t see any ADA violations,? Welch said. ?He had a table set up outside for handicap people who couldn?t get into the office. He had the proper signage.? Johnson agreed that the table, or lack thereof, was the major issue. ?In lieu of putting in a ramp, they were supposed to set up a table so that people in wheelchairs could sit outside,? Johnson told the Press Tribune. ?They failed to maintain that table, to set it outside every day.? Johnson said he dismissed the case on the agreement that Jordan keeps the table outside so that disabled persons have a place to fill out the necessary paperwork when purchasing a car. But the case dismissal doesn?t help Jordan sleep any easier at night. ?There?s nothing to stop somebody else from doing the same thing, and then me having to prove my compliance again,? Jordan said. ?The law is wrong. It shouldn?t allow anybody to do that.? While Jordan?s lawsuit was dismissed, that hasn?t been the case for other small businesses who have been hit with lawsuits and forced to pay damages. Mike and Carol Gaines, owners of the Weimar Country Store in Weimar, reported to Gold Country Media that a recent lawsuit brought on by Johnson has the couple spending money on attorney?s fees that could otherwise be used to pay for ADA upgrades. California law states that a plaintiff can seek $4,000 in statutory penalties a business has to pay for each violation of the ADA, Welch said. Assemblywoman Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, says ADA lawsuits have forced many small businesses to shut their doors because they simply cannot afford to continue to operate after settling. ?Thousands of lawsuits have been filed in my district against small businesses for ADA compliance issues,? Gaines said, in a statement. ?Though the law was originally intended to ensure greater access for those with disabilities, it is now being abused.? Gaines, who represents the 4th Assembly District, has authored Assembly Bill 1879, which would give vulnerable small businesses an opportunity to correct an ADA violation before a lawsuit can be filed. The bill is currently headed to the Appropriations Committee for a vote. Gaines said in a statement that approximately 98 percent of California businesses are out of compliance with state and/or federal disability access laws. Inconsistent regulations regarding disability access make it difficult for willing business owners to comply and give lawsuit abusers the opportunity to take advantage of the ADA, Gaines said. The ADA was passed by congress in 1990 and was intended to prohibit discrimination based on disability, according to the ADA website. Johnson says his ultimate goal is to make sure disabled persons have equal access to businesses in accordance with the law. ?I provide notice letters and an opportunity to fix them before anything,? Johnson said. ?It?s been the law for over 20 years.? Johnson, a quadriplegic, was the victim of a drunk driving accident in the early 1980s. He says while the vast majority of businesses are compliant with ADA requirements, the state of California sets mandatory statutory minimum damages for businesses that do not comply. Welch said he feels Johnson is a ?legal extortionist? in that he uses the legal process to demand settlements from people in order for them to make changes and become ADA compliant. ?Ma and pa businessmen are paying him the money,? Welch said. ?And what is society getting out of this?? Jordan said Johnson never patronized or visited the Roseville Auto Center before presenting the lawsuit, and the photos presented as evidence were taken from an obscure angle, a long distance away. Welch said his ultimate goal as an attorney is to get his clients out of the lawsuit by either helping them become compliant or by getting them the best possible deal, which in the best-case scenario would be a dismissal. ?The idea here is to discourage these lawsuits, not encourage them,? he said. ?You start throwing people $500, or whatever, for nothing, it?s like feeding a stray cat at your back door. They are going to keep coming back.? Toby Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT.