|Ken Hildebrand and Don Lee, owners of the Barnwood Restaurant in Ripon, had to close its doors because they did not have the funds to fight a federal ADA lawsuit. |
ANDY ALFARO — Modesto Bee.
"Corruptus in Extremis"
- Wave of disability lawsuits threatens small businesses in Stanislaus County.
- It’s easy to find American with Disabilities Act "problems". An attorney recently stood in a Modesto coffee merchant’s parking lot, looked about and observed eight probable violations, he said; that could represent a $32,000 payoff, he said, because California law permits minimum damages of $4,000 per ADA violation.
- Brad Wungluck said companies in Manteca, where he is the city’s senior building inspector, have been hit with 35 lawsuits in 11 weeks.
(Editor - This crooked bullshit has been going on for years all over California. But the lawyer controlled state legislature and Congress does nothing. After all this corruption lines the pockets of their buddies in the so-called legal "profession". The "justice" system has nothing to do with justice. It exists to line and pockets of attorneys.)
(Modesto Bee) - A rash of discrimination lawsuits against small businesses appears to be spreading south from Sacramento through Stockton, Manteca and Ripon to Stanislaus County’s literal doorstep.
The latest wave swamped Barnwood Restaurant, a familiar Highway 99 sight that closed a few days ago after its owners were sued by a disabled woman claiming that its parking lot and bathrooms weren’t wheelchair-friendly.
|The woman has brought 25 such lawsuits in the past two years, a Modesto Bee review found, including 15 this year and five in the past month.|
Her Stockton attorney said he has filed about 46 recent cases alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
None targeted companies in Stanislaus County, he said, but added that he simply responds to clients’ complaints and does not control where they operate.
“I do believe the disabled have a right to equal access and it’s not something people should take lightly,” attorney Daniel Malakauskas said.
Others see mass production of legal challenges as a shakedown, often aimed at small-business owners whose easiest solution may be coughing up a few thousand dollars to make a threat go away.
“This is big money for these people,” said Rick Morin, a Sacramento attorney whose website encourages people to “fight baseless demands.”
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, noting the southward march of lawsuits, said professional plaintiffs are “on a rampage.”
She is sounding a warning to companies that might find themselves on the wrong end of “get-rich-quick schemes, where they’re literally driving by a storefront and taking pictures. It has nothing to do with a desire for getting things fixed and everything to do with generating income.”
In the Barnwood’s case, nothing got fixed, those suing got nothing and Ripon ended up with one less restaurant.
“We dumped every penny we had into the place and had no money to fight this,” said Don Lee, who took over the eatery with co-owner Ken Hildebrand about a year ago. “We were stuck, so we decided to close the doors.”
Lee said a server last month noticed a woman taking pictures outside, and three days later, he and Hildebrand were served with the lawsuit.
The document identifies Cynthia Hopson as a special education teacher who uses a scooter. The lawsuit found numerous faults with the Barnwood’s parking spaces, handrails, wheelchair ramp, entrance and restroom access.
“She never even tried to come in the building,” Lee said. “They don’t really care whether they’re fixing things for ADA. What they really care about is their little payday.”
Hopson also sued Escalon City Hall last year, saying she and her husband “encountered barriers” that interfered with watching their grandson’s soccer game at a city park. They visited five other city facilities and put problems with all in a federal complaint.
Dozens of media reports over many years have profiled a handful of California attorneys specializing in ADA action, including a 2006 Sacramento Bee review of 10 who had filed thousands of lawsuits. A Carmichael paraplegic attorney named Scott Johnson, for example, routinely settled cases for $4,000 to $6,000, while Chico attorney Lynn Hubbard III typically asked for $40,000, the paper found.
Olsen said one local defendant was asked to pay $78,000.