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