On April 19, 2020, Judge James V. Selna of the United States District Court, Central District of California, granted a motion to declare pro se plaintiff Peter Strojnik, Sr. a vexatious litigant, requiring him to obtain the permission of the Court before filing any future accessibility lawsuits with the District Court. Federal courts by statute have the discretion to enjoin vexatious litigants. See All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. §1651(a). Defense attorneys and hotel owners and operators, especially in California, are very familiar with Mr. Strojnik as he has filed hundreds of nearly identical lawsuits and claims against hotels in the last few years as a pro se plaintiff after his license to practice law was suspended for unethical conduct.
On August 13, 2019, Strojnik filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Strojnik v. SCG America Construction Inc., U.S.D.C., C.D. Cal., Case No. 8:19-cv-01560-JVS-JDE. Strojnik alleged violations against the hotel under the ADA and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, §§51, 52, the California Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 54-54.3, and negligence. The complaint was unremarkable in its allegations from the nearly 150 lawsuits Strojnik has filed in the last few years. The complaint followed the same pattern – Strojnik alleges that he is disabled and regularly travels to and in California. He alleges that he is deterred from visiting the hotel because it is not accessible under federal and state law based on his own visit to the hotel and/or because the hotel’s website lacks a sufficient description of accessible features. What made this case remarkable was that the defendant did not settle, but rather filed a motion to dismiss the case and to declare Strojnik a vexatious litigant throughout the federal courts in California.
Judge Selna granted the hotel’s motion to dismiss without prejudice, agreeing that Strojnik had not established standing because the operative complaint contained barebones allegations including attaching blurry pictures of alleged violations that did not adequately identify how any actual barriers to access related to any particular disability. The Court also held that it did not have jurisdiction over the state law claims. The Court went one step further and declared Strojnik a vexatious litigant although the Court limited the ruling to the Central District of California. The Court noted that declaring a litigant vexatious is an extraordinary remedy that should rarely be used. Nonetheless, the Court found that Strojnik is a vexatious litigant based mostly on his well-documented history of filing many frivolous lawsuits, creating an unnecessary burden on litigants and the courts and repeatedly ignoring court orders. See Molski v. Evergreen Dynasty Corp., 500 F.3d 1047, 1057 (9th Cir. 2007) (providing factors courts weigh to declare a plaintiff a vexatious litigant).
The Court further noted that although Strojnik is a pro se litigant, he is a former attorney, and should have been aware of appropriate conduct. As a result of being declared a vexatious litigant in the Central District of California, Strojnik will need to obtain permission from the Court before filing another ADA case in that district. Strojnik is challenging the ruling, and on April 22, 2020, Strojnik filed a request for the Court to supplement its order to provide further details as to why he was declared a vexatious litigant. On May 5, 2020, the Court denied Strojnik’s request for the Court to supplement its order declaring Strojnik a vexatious litigant.
This decision should help hotel owners and operators in particular by dampening and deterring future accessibility lawsuits Strojnik may have filed in this District Court. Our guess is that Strojnik will claim a loophole in the decision to permit him to file accessibility lawsuits unabated by the Court’s requirement to seek the Court’s permission before filing future accessibility lawsuit in this District Court.