Going after alleged “Serial Filers” of ADA lawsuits, one of whom has filed 1,700 lawsuits himself, the SF and LA district attorneys have filed a state suit against the law firm churning out lawsuits against Chinese-owned businesses.
When SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin launched a criminal investigation last summer into a serial filer of ADA compliance lawsuits, which were primarily against immigrant-owned businesses in Chinatown and on Irving Street, these allegedly frivolous lawsuits had already been an issue for years. Way back in 2016, the Outer Sunset’s then-supervisor Katy Tang warned Irving Street shop-owners to not pay “drive-by” ADA settlements, or implausible lawsuits targeting small businesses claiming the business in not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), threatening a lawsuit, but immediately offering a financial settlement option.
But when Boudin launched that investigation in July, the problem was on the rise. “1,156 cases have been filed against Chinese-owned businesses in Chinatown and on Irving Street,” KPIX reported at the time. The fellow listed as the plaintiff in all of these lawsuits lived in Los Angeles.
Today, along w/ @LADAOffice we sued the lawfirm that's fraudulently suing many small, immigrant-run businesses to coerce large payments.— Chesa Boudin 博徹思 (@chesaboudin) April 12, 2022
Our office will continue to fight to protect victims; stand up for immigrant communities; & promote economic justice.https://t.co/u5bGSVBdqn
Apparently two serial ADA lawsuit filers are on a tear in California, with an estimated 2,500 cases listing them as the plaintiffs, often in cities where they do not live. So on Monday, Boudin and his predecessor, now-Los Angeles District attorney George Gascón, filed a joint state lawsuit against the law firm mass-filing all of these suits, according to KTVU. Per a release from Boudin’s office, “It is estimated that over 250 businesses in San Francisco alone were targeted by these fraudulent lawsuits.”
The firm behind these allegedly fraudulent lawsuits is San Diego-based Potter Handy LLP. The mere two individuals with thousands of suits listing them as plaintiffs, according to the Chronicle, are “Brian Whitaker, [who] has filed approximately 1,700 suits, and another, Orlando Garcia, has filed more than 800.” Both men live in Los Angeles.
“After receiving reports last year that hundreds of small businesses had been served with fraudulent lawsuits under the ADA, our office launched an extensive investigation and today we filed a civil case against the law firm that has filed thousands of these unlawful, boilerplate lawsuits,” Boudin said in a statement.
That statement goes on to allege that “Potter Handy’s business model is designed to shake down small businesses into paying cash settlements rather than ensure ADA accessibility; indeed, the Serial Filers that this law firm uses almost never return to the businesses after the settlements to monitor compliance.”
The suit asks that Potter Handy be forced to return all previous settlement money back to business owners, and “seeks a permanent restraint on future misconduct” by the firm in that field, though it seems unclear how that would work.
In a response to the Chronicle, Potter Handy rather unsurprisingly tied the suit to the recall efforts against Boudin and Gascón (Boudin’s recall election is set for June 7, the effort to recall Gascón is still gathering signatures), and say their thousands of ADA lawsuits are just good old-fashioned advocacy for the disabled.
“There is no dispute that the businesses that have been subject to our claims violated the law,” Potter Handy attorney Dennis told the Chronicle. “Instead, the fingers are being pointed at our clients, the victims, for noticing.”
And also rather unsurprisingly, a small gaggle of recall Boudin protesters (outnumbered by members of the press) had designs on disrupting Boudin’s announcement of the lawsuit. The recall effort Safer SF Without Boudin immediately put out a statement: “Boudin announced he will prioritize combatting ADA lawsuits against businesses in Chinatown - but made no specific mention of how he will address the skyrocketing robberies, burglaries and petty theft occurring on his watch.”
Chesa Boudin in Chinatown:— Han Li 李晗 (@lihanlihan) April 12, 2022
Press conference ended with a chaotic scene. pic.twitter.com/TNvYhsQPjF
While this effort to halt ADA-claim filers might shore up some support for Boudin in the AAPI community, it is unlikely to produce any settlements or payout checks by the June 7 recall election. It may, however, ultimately rein in one out-of-town law firm that’s doing a curious amount of business in San Francisco's Chinatown and Outer Sunset neighborhoods.
Image: Allen T. via Yelp