May 25, 2022

Volume XII, Number 145

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May 24, 2022

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May 23, 2022

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San Francisco, Los Angeles District Attorneys Suing Law Firm for Alleged Fraudulent ADA Title III Suits

San Francisco City and County District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón have filed a lawsuit in the California Superior Court in San Francisco accusing the Potter Handy LLP law firm of filing thousands of “boilerplate, cut-and-paste federal-court lawsuits that falsely assert its clients have standing under the Americans with Disabilities Act (‘ADA’)” in violation of California’s unfair competition law.

In the April 11, 2022, Complaint, the DAs assert that Potter Handy files these lawsuits against small businesses accusing them of violation of Title III of the ADA, with little regard to whether such businesses actually violated the ADA, in an effort to “shake down” small business owners for hefty financial settlements.

The DAs are requesting that the court prohibit Potter Handy from continuing to violate California’s unfair competition law. The Complaint seeks statutory damages, which could be in the tune of millions of dollars, along with law firm repaying thousands of small businesses settlement sums paid over the last four years.

This is not the first time for such action. In 2019, the Riverside County, California’s District Attorney’s office filed a civil action against four individuals — serial plaintiff (James Rutherford) and three attorneys (Craig Cote, Joseph Manning, and Babek Hashemi) — and two law firms (Manning Law, APC, and Law Offices of Babek Hashemi) for violations of California’s unfair competition law and for false advertising.

It has been the case for several years that garden-variety Title III lawsuits, like the cases called into question in these lawsuits, are attorney-driven and aimed to extract a monetary sum from unsuspecting and often compliant business owners.

The Riverside County DA’s office employed a different tactic in its latest filing aimed at remedying alleged misconduct by plaintiffs and their attorneys. It has charged two individuals with six felonies, including conspiracy and filing a false document. The individuals (Ross Christopher Cornell and Bryan Eduardo Estrada) were arrested on March 10, 2022.

The most important takeaway from these legal actions is the fact that government officials are formally attacking alleged unethical and unlawful fraudulent conduct perpetrated by these lawyers. Although the 2019 case was ultimately dismissed, the DAs in San Francisco and Riverside counties have not been deterred in their mission to hold these serial filers accountable. It remains to be seen whether potential criminal or civil liability will reduce the number of “shake down” ADA lawsuits in California. If so, it is likely that officials in other states facing similar conduct will take similar measures.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2022National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 126
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About this Author

Joseph J. DiPalma Employment Attorney Jackson Lewis White Plains
Principal

Joseph J. DiPalma is a principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He represents employers of varying sizes and industries in a wide range of labor and employment matters, including collective bargaining, union grievances, employment litigation and traditional labor matters.

Joseph is a member of the firm’s Disability, Leave and Health Management Practice Group. He focuses a large part of his practice on counseling employers by providing creative solutions to the complex array of workplace...

914-872-6920
Joseph J. Lynett, Jackson Lewis, educational institutions lawyer, disabled students litigation attorney
Principal

Joseph J. Lynett is a Principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His practice focuses on assisting employers, businesses, and educational institutions in meeting the legal and practical challenges posed by federal and state laws protecting injured and ill employees, as well as disabled students and members of the public.

Mr. Lynett defends employers, business and educational institutions in federal and state courts and before administrative agencies, including the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity...

914-872-6888
Jennifer Rusie Litigation Manager Jackson Lewis PC Nashville
Office Litigation Manager

Jennifer Rusie is the litigation manager of the Nashville, Tennessee, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She focuses her practice on disability access, litigation, and advice and counsel. 

Jennifer has handled hundreds of disability access matters involving architectural barriers, website and mobile app accessibility, disclosures of accessible features at hotels, and Braille gift cards. These matters span the country and include class-action lawsuits. She is also well-versed in assisting clients with evaluating and remediating...

615-915-3300
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