Dozens of Downtown Businesses Hit with ADA Lawsuits

A San Diego attorney has filed nearly 100 lawsuits against small businesses in San Jose, an effort—according to downtown Councilman Sam Liccardo—to shake them down for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This is an abuse of a well-intended law,” says Liccardo, who will host a workshop tonight to put targeted business owners in touch with legal help to defend themselves. “The law appropriately protects the rights and access of people with disabilities, but like all laws, it can be abused by lawyers who have enough time on their hands.”

The Center for Disability Access, a San Diego law firm, and two plaintiffs are behind 94 lawsuits filed against San Jose businesses since 2012, says Liccardo aide Fred Buzo. A call to the law firm was not immediately returned.

Many of these businesses may have actually violated the federal law requiring physical access for people with disabilities, Liccardo notes. The problem is that these lawsuits often demand settlements, which don’t fix the violations. They just leave businesses with that much less to bring their buildings up to code.

The OC Register reported a similar string of litigation in and around San Diego last year, saying that some people make a living by casting a net of civil suits, hoping one or several pony up with a settlement.

Just a couple months ago, News 10 reported a spate of cases in Northern California, including some in San Jose filed by Los Gatos-based attorney Randy Moore. Moore reportedly filed dozens of lawsuits a year in his brother’s name, an attempt to promote better access for people with disabilities, he told the TV news station.

Moore Law Firm tells San Jose Inside that the attorneys at the SoCal law office are strong advocates for handicap access.

“They will likely be characterized as ‘out-of-towners’ attacking San Jose, but the law firm is not where the focus should be, nor even on the plaintiff,” says Marejka Sacks, a paralegal at Moore Law. “I truly believe [the responsibility] belongs on the businesses—if they were in compliance, there would be nothing about which to sue.”

Moore Law released a white paper about the media characterization of these lawsuits as predatory.

“For the ADA to yield its promise of equal access for the disabled, it may indeed be necessary and desirable for committed individuals to bring serial litigation advancing the time when public accommodations will be compliant with the ADA,” the paper states.

A state law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012 was supposed to crack down on frivolous ADA litigation. Bill 1186 outlawed sending letters to business owners threatening to sue unless they agreed to settle.

In San Jose, many of the lawsuits this past year centered on retailers and restaurants around downtown and Japantown, Buzo says.

To learn about how to make a business ADA compliant, read these recommendations from the California Commission on Disability Access.

WHAT: Meeting about serial ADA lawsuits
WHEN: 6:30pm tonight
WHERE: Room 120, City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: Fred Buzo, 408.535.4931 or [email protected]

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

7 Comments

  1. In post MLK/LBJ America there’s nothing quite so valuable as the attainment of that most sought after classification: Victim.

    Yet another example of the legacy of the “civil rights movement”.

  2. How many “Disabled Parking spaces” are infront of Japan Town resturants between North 3rd Street to North 6th Street on Jackson?

    I believe there is none.

    David S. Wall

  3. this is nothing more than a shake down,  happened a few years ago in
    Gilroy causing many businesses to close because they would not pay to settle and could not afford to upgrade.  Nothing but a scam.

  4. Phil Di Prima, a 66-year-old diabetic who began using a wheelchair after amputation of his lower right leg, spotted an ad for the San Marcos-based Center for Disability Access in a magazine for the disabled. Frustrated by the access barriers he had encountered, and getting nowhere with businesses on his own, he decided to fight back with an attorney.

    “I wanted to live as normal a life as possible,” he said. “I just wanted to fix up my corner of the world.”

    Between 2001 and 2004, Di Prima was the plaintiff in more than 50 lawsuits against shop owners in his suburban Los Angeles neighborhood before he began to have second thoughts. Once, while leaving City Hall, a businesswoman pulled up and began screaming at him about one of his suits.

    Di Prima reportedly made about $50,000 to $60,000 from the lawsuits. But he said he began to question the motives and tactics of his attorney, Mark D. Potter of the Center for Disability Access, who also ranked among the top 10 filers in the state last year.

    Becoming a virtual pariah in his own community—and still not getting access—“wasn’t worth the money,” Di Prima said. “What the hell does money do? I still couldn’t get in.”

    In court papers filed this year, he accused Potter of failing to ensure that properties were fixed and of falsely claiming Di Prima had suffered injuries. Di Prima also alleged that he was not apprised of some settlement offers.

    “The real losers in this arrangement are the disabled community,” he stated in January 2006 court declarations. “Of the 50+ locations CDA sued on my behalf since 2001, only four of them have made the changes I need to get in. In some cases, it appears that some defendants were never required to make the changes I needed, while others were required to make changes I did not need.”

    Potter, in turn, sued Di Prima for libel. The attorney did not return phones calls and an e-mail from The Bee seeking comment.