CA Woman Sues Tiny Restaurant Because It Cannot Accommodate Her Disability

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Well actually Kimberly Block and her lawyer, Jason K. Singleton, have sued several businesses this year claiming the buildings they operate their establishments out of, and in some cases even their parking lots, are in conflict with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), legislation which was originally signed into law by president George H.W. Bush in July 1990.

According to a search on this site Block has filed a total of four lawsuits so far this year claiming violations of the federal ADA against Market Basket Inc. (case number 2:2009cv00270), Joseph Halawe, Joseph G. Halaway and Georgette M. Halaway owners of Lil Joe’s restaurant(case number 2:2009cv00267/2:2009at00142), Quick Shop Market (case number 2:2009at00255/2:2009cv000465) and the latest victim would be Sacramento’s Squeeze Inn (case number 2:2009cv01853.)

Most reasonable people would view these type of lawsuits as necessary when businesses have otherwise ignored lawful requests to accommodate disabled people and bring their buildings and parking lots into compliance with the ADA. Unfortunately there is no requirement to notify business owners of any suspected ADA violations prior to a lawsuit being filed, a loophole in the law that can easily and profitably be exploited by “victims” and lawyers working in tandem. Kinda like the situation going on right now in northern California with Kimberly Block and Jason Singleton.

The ADA is constantly evolving and each business must have staff dedicated to staying on top of of these changes or risk having someone like Block paying them a visit and promptly filing an expensive lawsuit against their establishment. To get an idea of what businesses must deal with when it comes to the ADA accessibility guidelines for buildings and facilities, take a look here.

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So why are these ADA lawsuits so popular with a certain segment of the lawyering community? Because they are almost always a slam dunk which leads to a quick and easy payday.

The ADA laws, while constantly changing, are generally pretty clear and it’s really difficult for a business owner to fight the fact a doorway is an inch too narrow if in fact it is. Keep in mind business owners are not given a heads up about a possible issue then allowed a reasonable amount of time to correct the problem. No, that would be the right thing to do. Instead the owner may be working behind the counter during the busy lunchtime hour and is suddenly served with a lawsuit brought by a disabled person who could quite possibly have never had any intention whatsoever of patronizing the establishment in the first place but instead saw an opportunity to cash in with some quick legal action.

Whether lawyers who bring ADA lawsuits against businesses do so out of genuine concern for disabled people or because the money is so easy would have to be left up to the determination of each individual reader but it is interesting to take a look at an example of one case Jason Singleton was involved in against the nationwide hotel chain, Days Inn.

Dan Johnson, owner of Arcata-based Danco Builders, became embroiled in an ADA suit after his company built the Days Inn on Broadway in Eureka. The Justice Department got involved when its attorneys discovered a pattern in a series of ADA suits against Days Inn franchises.

“A suit was placed on all Days Inns in America,” said Johnson. “What happened was the federal inspectors came out and inspected every Days Inn in the country. They came back with a list of things that didn’t meet compliance.”

After the local owner of the Days Inn in Eureka was served, he brought Johnson and architect George Keating into the suit. Johnson said he was not aware that the building was not in compliance.

“The hard part from our standpoint was that we built the building per the plans and specs, and the city of Eureka signed the building off. But the plans and specs didn’t meet the damn code.”

The Justice Department’s suit detailed five violations of ADA regulations. Among the problems was the slope of the driveway at the entry. Danco and the Eureka inspector interpreted the rules one way, but the federal inspector saw it another way and the whole area had to be redone.

At least he thought it was done. But then Eureka attorney Jason Singleton (photo below) came into the picture and filed a second ADA suit on behalf of one of his clients when he determined there were additional things out of compliance.

“The stuff that Singleton brought forth was so minute,” said Johnson. “One thing was a grab bar that was 1/8th of an inch too low. Another was the location of a light that blinks when the fire alarm is going off in case a person is deaf. I think it was supposed to be something like 48 inches from the floor, and it was 52.

“Then there was a problem with the table lamp,” Johnson said. “The knob that you turn it on with was supposed to be 5/8ths of an inch in circumference for people who have arthritis and such, and it was only 3/8th of an inch.”

Compared to the cost of the major changes required by the first suit, bringing the motel into compliance the second time was relatively inexpensive. But this time Johnson and the other defendants also had to pay Singleton.

“The cost of the repairs we had to do based on his lawsuit were minimal; I think it was $1,000. But we spent another $50,000 in attorney fees.

“It’s extortion, there’s no doubt about it,” said Johnson. “It was my first experience in court, let alone the federal court. We went down to the federal court in San Francisco for the hearing. The judge came in and told us point blank when we started, `You may as well settle this because you’re going to lose. You might as well not fight it.’ But being the macho men that we think we are, we figured we were going to fight the sucker. We stayed until 8 o’clock at night going back and forth and we ended up losing.”

“It’s a bounty-hunter law,” said Dick Smith, Johnson’s attorney and the attorney for several other defendants in local ADA suits. “It can be enforced by the Justice Department, but it has become a cottage industry for private lawyers.”

You see in this instance the federal government got involved because they were focused on compliance with the law. Singleton jumped in after the hard work was done to scoop up an easy pile of cash.

And now the owners of the wildly popular but incredibly small Squeeze Inn in Sacramento CA., famous for some really honkin’ cheeseburgers, are squarely in the crosshairs of Singleton via his “client” Kimberly Block.

Instead of spending tens of thousands in remodeling costs and lawyer fees attempting to fully comply with the requirements of the ADA the owner of the Squeeze Inn, Travis Hausauer, has said he will simply close up shop and move elsewhere, more than likely costing the community a favorite eatery and the much needed tax money the business brought in. And for what? So a couple of people could line their pockets with what many would consider to be nothing more than legalized extortion cash?

Rather than fight a lawsuit charging violations of disability access laws, the owner of the Squeeze Inn says he will close his popular restaurant and move to another site in south Sacramento.

The suit against the Squeeze Inn is one of several filed by a woman against Sacramento businesses, including the venerable Lil Joe’s restaurant in North Sacramento. Lil Joe’s owner said he faces having to move a wall about four feet to come into compliance.

Travis E. Hausauer, owner of the Squeeze Inn, said he will try to remain in the area where his restaurant made its name. The current location is 7918 Fruitridge Road.

“It is too sad that it has to come about like this,” Hausauer said.

Devotees of his iconic burgers line up each day to occupy one of about a dozen seats at the counter or dine at outside picnic tables.

Hausauer’s announcement followed filing of a lawsuit in federal court alleging the Squeeze Inn breaks state and federal laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

“My plans are to close this location,” he said. “It would not be feasible to remodel the place. I will open another one in the south Sacramento area. People here have been great. I will do my best to stay in this area.”

He said retrofitting the old building to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards would cost too much.

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