Federal Prosecutors in New York have arrested and charged an attorney with filing fraudulent lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). According to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Stuart Finkelstein stole the identities of two individuals that he never actually represented and filed over 300 lawsuits in both the Southern District of New York and the Southern District of Florida. All of the lawsuits alleged that the individuals were denied access to certain public establishments due to ADA noncompliance. However, federal prosecutors allege that Mr. Finkelstein was never retained by the two individuals, was never authorized to file the lawsuits on their behalf, and that the individuals never actually attempted to visit the businesses in question. All told, Mr. Finkelstein collected approximately $930,000 in attorneys’ fees from the lawsuits. Mr. Finkelstein is charged with mail fraud, aggravated identify theft, obstruction of justice, and false declarations to a court. More information can be found on the Department of Justice website: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/attorney-charged-filing-fraudulent-lawsuits-under-americans-disabilities-act
In a pattern similar to the ADA website accessibility cases that have been so prevalent the past few years, since October 24, 2019, over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against retail and restaurant chains alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for failure to sell Braille gift cards. The lawsuits, which have all been filed in the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, also allege violations of New York City and New York State anti-discrimination laws.
The complaints in these cases are virtually identical, with the exception of the name of the defendants. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants’ failure to sell gift cards imprinted with Braille constitutes a denial of access to defendants’ gift cards and, therefore, is also a denial of access to the products and services offered at the defendants’ brick-and-mortar locations, in violation of the ADA. Plaintiffs are seeking permanent injunctions against defendants requiring them to sell store gift cards that contain the name of the merchant and the denomination of the card in Braille, along with Braille writing on the gift card packing that conveys “other pertinent information.”
Assuming plaintiffs and their attorneys follow the same playbook they used in the ADA website cases, we expect to see an increase in these lawsuits and demand letters over the next several months, targeting any business that sells gift cards. However, we also believe there are a number of strong defenses to plaintiffs’ claims, and would expect that many defendants will move to dismiss the lawsuits.
If you have any questions about these lawsuits, please contact J. Colin Knisely, any member of the Commercial Litigation Practice Group, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact
On October 7, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an order denying certiorari in Domino’s Pizza, LLC v. Robles, a case that would have required the Supreme Court to determine the application of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to websites and mobile applications. The Supreme Court’s order means a Ninth Circuit decision applying Title III to websites and mobile apps will stand, even in the absence of Department of Justice-promulgated regulations outlining applicable compliance standards.
On September 1, 2016, Guillermo Robles, who is visually impaired, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He alleged that Domino’s website and mobile app were incompatible with his chosen screen-reading software, and thus violated Title III of the ADA, among other statutes. Domino’s moved for summary judgment, in part on the basis that Title III of the ADA does not extend to its website or mobile app. The District Court found that Title III did apply to Domino’s website and app, but granted summary judgment on the grounds that imposing liability on Domino’s without clear standards for satisfying Title III obligations would violate the company’s due process rights. Robles then appealed.
Disability discrimination lawsuits against hospitals have become relatively common in recent years. For example, Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits have been filed against hospitals and other healthcare providers, claiming that their websites or parking lots do not adequately accommodate those with disabilities. But few, if any, major lawsuits have alleged that the facilities themselves fail to accommodate patients with physical disabilities. That may have changed with a putative class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in late July, which may be the first of many cases to come.
Read the full story on the Duane Morris LLP website.
On August 23, 2019, Senior Judge Paul Huck of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida imposed severe sanctions—including two $59,900 penalties and an injunction prohibiting future filings without leave of court—on well-known Florida plaintiffs’ lawyer Scott R. Dinin and his client, serial plaintiff Alexander Johnson, after concluding Dinin and Johnson conspired to file frivolous claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), inflated recoverable attorney’s fees, and unethically shared in the profits of their scheme.
The Court’s searing order stems from a series of complaints Dinin filed on Johnson’s behalf against gas station owners in southern Florida. In the pleadings, Johnson alleged the owners’ failed to include close captioning on the news and entertainment videos playing on their stations’ pumps, and thereby violated his rights under Title III of the ADA and the FCRA. The owners did not respond to Johnson’s pleading and the Court held a hearing after Johnson, through Dinin, moved for default judgment. At that hearing, the Court concluded that Dinin had “egregiously inflated and misrepresented” his claimed fees and that Johnson’s FCRA claim was frivolous because Johnson pursued it notwithstanding his knowledge that it was procedurally defective. The Court subsequently convened a hearing on July 22, 2019, for Dinin and Johnson to show cause why sanctions should not issue.