San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins plans to continue litigation against a Southern California law firm that’s accused of filing fraudulent cases against small businesses under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In April, then-DA Chesa Boudin initiated the lawsuit against Potter Handy, LLP, a San Diego law firm that has represented clients who sue small businesses based on ADA laws, forcing owners either to defend themselves in court or to pay thousands of dollars in settlements. In August, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow dismissed the DA’s lawsuit, citing the right of the law firm to initiate such litigation.
But a recent federal court ruling sanctioning Potter Handy gave Jenkins new grounds to appeal Karnow’s dismissal, the DA announced Wednesday.
“California law does not allow attorneys to illegally exploit the Americans with Disabilities Act in this fashion,” Jenkins said. “[W]e look forward to a full hearing in the Court of Appeal.”
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria used harsh words in the ruling, slamming Potter Handy and its plaintiff as acting in bad faith and ordering them to pay $35,000 to the small business they targeted, a Peet’s Coffee shop in San Francisco.
Dennis Price, a Potter Handy attorney, fired back at Jenkins, calling her “despicable” for going against an attempt to enforce ADA law and advocating against disability access.
On Thursday morning, Jenkins and community members announced the appeal in a Chinatown restaurant that was one of the hundreds of San Francisco businesses targeted by Potter Handy for alleged ADA violations. In the case of the restaurant, because the entrance wasn’t flat, making it inaccessible to people with impaired mobility.
Price slammed Jenkins for hosting the press conference at “a non-compliant business” and “ensuring that all members of the public couldn’t attend.” He previously called the DA’s lawsuit a “publicity stunt,” since Boudin at the time was facing a recall and insisted that his clients’ cases helped remove thousands of accessibility barriers per year, making California easier to navigate for people with disabilities.
ADA, a federal law passed decades ago, aims to protect people with disabilities from discrimination by, among other things, improving access to public-serving facilities like storefronts and restaurants.
In San Francisco, many disability rights advocates have sided with the DA in its lawsuit against Potter Handy.
Kamee Tong, a jewelry store owner in Chinatown, was another business owner who was targeted and she ultimately paid over $10,000 to settle the case.
She told The Standard that she has already renovated the store to make it more accessible, including removing the islands in the middle of the store to allow more space for wheelchairs, and adding a lower board for wheelchair users to sign.
“I don’t have to worry,” Tong said. “I am up to the regulations.”
But she said she’s also worried for other small businesses in historic buildings, many of which are practically infeasible to upgrade.
Han Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org