A San Diego law firm with a history of suing businesses for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act recently targeted several small-business owners in El Granada.
Backed by the Center for Disability Access, plaintiff Samuel Love and attorney Chris Carson have reportedly sued some businesses in the area, including The Press and Easy Mart. While El Granada residents also mentioned India Beach and Harbor Pizza — located on the same strip of land alongside Avenue Alhambra — as additional recipients of the lawsuit, they could not be reached for comment.
According to court records, Love has been the plaintiff in 38 cases since January.
Described in court documents as a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility, Love filed the lawsuit against The Press, a coffeehouse and cafe located on 107 Sevilla Ave., on Feb. 27.
In his initial complaint filed with the court, Love said he visited the cafe in January and discovered a lack of accessible parking marked for people with disabilities.
The plaintiff claimed that the space once reserved for disabled customers had been allowed to fade.
Love also alleged that the ramp running up to The Press’s entrance did not have a landing on the day of his visit, citing several other issues, a well.
But Dan Spangler, one of the owners at The Press, said he never received any complaints in person.
“Not even from some of my customers (with disabilities),” he said. “We certainly help them through the doors, and we have for years.”
Spangler has since made modifications to bring The Press up to ADA code, including a new ramp, patio doors and a handicapped parking space. While construction itself cost the business $20,000, Spangler estimates that an additional $15,000 went to attorney fees — not including the $15,000 settlement. In total, the ordeal cost The Press around $50,000.
While Easy Mart was able to confirm that the business also received disability lawsuits from the same lawyer and plaintiff, staff declined a request for an interview.
The El Granada lawsuits have precedent. A televised “60 Minutes” segment earlier this year shows California lawyers filing ADA complaints after driving by businesses and noting a sign in the wrong spot or a ramp that appears a little too steep. Television reporter Anderson Cooper referred to the phenomenon as “drive-by lawsuits.” In some cases, lawyers will simply go online and see what violations they can spot via Google Earth.
Newspaper reports also show that several other serial plaintiffs, usually backed by the same San Diego firm, have employed this tactic many times before.
Last year, the Daily Breeze in Torrance described a plaintiff responsible for hundreds of “extortion lawsuits” that attempt to siphon cash from mom-and-pop businesses. And as recently as July, the Los Altos Town Crier reported that a man with a history of suing businesses around Sacramento was now slapping suits on small-business owners in Los Altos and Mountain View.
The articles say that both plaintiffs were represented by the Center for Disability Access. Since opening their doors in 1996, the center has filed thousands of disability complaints against California businesses. Calls and emails seeking comment from the Center for Disability Access were not returned.
Partially in response to increased media scrutiny, this February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that makes it more difficult for disabled individuals to sue for disability violations.
Proponents claim that the bill — the ADA Education and Reform Act — is necessary to stem the flow of opportunistic lawyers seeking to line their own pockets. Detractors argue that the legislation would essentially gut the Americans with Disabilities Act, as businesses might be inclined to brush off compliance rules without the looming threat of a lawsuit.
The bill would require anyone filing suit against out-of-compliance businesses to first give that business 60 days to come up with a plan to fix the problem. They then would have another 120 days to implement any changes.