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Spate of ADA lawsuits hits hundreds of local businesses still reeling from pandemic

Original post made on Aug 10, 2021

Things were looking pretty good last month for Tai Pan, a downtown Palo Alto restaurant known for its Cantonese dim sum. COVID-19 restrictions were lifted and customers were coming back, but now the restaurant is facing an ADA lawsuit.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 10, 2021, 4:11 PM

Comments (26)

Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 10, 2021 at 7:46 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Wow, Scott Johnson seems like a real piece of work. Fixing ADA violations is a laudable goal, but It is possible to get businesses, who are struggling to survive, to change without lawsuits and expensive settlements. The fact that he is going straight to lawsuits tells you all you need to know about his real motives. He’d better hope karma isn’t real...

Posted by EnoughIsEnough
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2021 at 7:47 pm

EnoughIsEnough is a registered user.

I recall an article some years ago about another serial litigant (or maybe it's the same one) who made his living suing businesses up and down the Peninsula. While I found this unsavory, I've since read stories from the POV of a person in a wheelchair. It's not easy navigating, especially with older buildings not upgraded to be ADA compliant. There's no enforcement to the ADA except suing the business to upgrade the violations.

This person has taken this on as some sort of crusade, if the map of all the suits is any evidence. Anyone else in court that much would be classified a Vexatious Litigant by the court, yet this person is making nice a living doing this. If it were a group of people, I'd be cheering. But one person is doing this makes it feel like legal extortion. I understand that the way the ADA is written, a single person is the only one that can file these suits. But there should be monetary limit. This person is gaming the system.

A disabled buyer wanted a seller to add ramps to make the unit for sale accessible at my condo complex. The HOA would have had to build ramps to the garage and a charging station for their vehicle. I told the realtor that the ADA doesn't apply to residential buildings and the buy would have to pay for the ramps out of their own pocket. But it was unlikely that HOA would approve the change to the building, the ramps, or the electrical upgrade to the garage. They went elsewhere and I'm glad.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2021 at 7:30 am

felix is a registered user.

So what is acceptable?
Some on the Council want to make the Cal Ave street closure permanent. And closures and outdoor seating have already been long term.

Surely we think all businesses, including restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating, should comply with the law. Under which all people have the right to dine, use facilities, access retail businesses or use sidewalks unimpeded - and now closed streets.

Enough time has gone by. I see this as a wake up call. If, for example, outdoor dining areas are allowed to remain, they must simply comply with laws that allow disabled people the same dignity and access others have. That’s the point that seems to be lost here in the ire shown toward Johnson.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2021 at 8:04 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Johnson is a serial litigant. He's filed over 2,900 ADA lawsuits since 2003. He's a Sacramento based attorney whose been a quadriplegic since drunken hit and run driver in 1981. He was 19. He's been sued for tax fraud (unreported income - lawsuits) and sexual harassment. His ADA "complaints" in Sacramento -- his employees (law students, etc.) went into the businesses to "scope" while he stayed in the van. That's fraud. He's been sued as well. This is well documented in the media. This is legal extortion.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2021 at 8:16 am

Bystander is a registered user.

There is a sick kind of sadness in doing this. If someone in a wheelchair or is blind, why don't they ask for a chair to be moved rather than being so unkind at a time like this? All those outside tables are being moved by people who want a little more shade or similar and probably don't have very much to do with the owners.

It is people who do things like this that put all disabled people in a bad light. All those I know who have mobility problems are lovely people and when they ask for help getting by people are usually so helpful to them. In fact, most give help or move out of their way without being asked.

For small businesses doing their very best to keep their heads above water this is mean spirited and vengeful. Making money out of these outside dining areas is nothing short of spite.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2021 at 10:51 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Did Mr. Johnson bother to politely point out the ADA deficiencies and give these struggling businesses an opportunity to correct them before he filed suit? That would have been the decent thing to do. They may simply have made mistakes in the overwhelming efforts to save their businesses in the face of pandemic. This kind of predatory suit without any cooperative effort is how people create opposition to ADA legislation that we really need, instead of engaging people in a positive way to get their cooperation and political support universally to solve a problem.

Of course, Mr. Johnson couldn't collect legal fees if he pointed out the problem to the owners and gave them an opportunity to fix their mistake. This is the kind of stuff that gives lawyers a bad name. Mr. Johnson, you are no hero to the disabled. Stop behaving like a predatory bottom feeder.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 11, 2021 at 11:24 am

cmarg is a registered user.

I also read about Mr. Johnson. He is extorting people and personally benefitting. I think he would benefit from doing some deep work to get over the fact that at 19 he was hit by someone drunk and his life changed. He certainly can help with telling businesses DIRECTLY to work on ways to make their places more accessible for those disabled. Given he doesn't even go to the places he sues is what is so sad and he does not bother to talk with the business owner. In my opinion, he has personal work to address since, hurting people hurt others. I pray that he works on forgiving the drunk driver and focus on healing himself and then he can speak with businesses about how they can accommodate those disabled.

Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 11, 2021 at 12:12 pm

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Scott Johnson pulled this same trick in the Medford Oregon area a few years ago. Instead of caving in and paying him off, the restaurants got together, hired a smart lawyer and ran him off.

Don't cave in to what's basically blackmail. Hire a lawyer as a group and fight him. Good luck!

Posted by Steve O
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 11, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Steve O is a registered user.

Many businesses are forced to shut down as a result of these nuisance lawsuits. Long-time, great local business Barron Park Plumbing Supply closed a couple of years ago due to a similar lawsuit:

Web Link

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 11, 2021 at 1:49 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Johnson is doing this to line his own pockets! If he was so adamant about helping fellow disabled people he would Donate the hundred of thousands he makes off the back of small businesses! I have no sympathy for him!

Posted by Beth
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 11, 2021 at 2:43 pm

Beth is a registered user.

He is an absolute fraud who is being investigated by several entities. I believe I read in one article that he has assistants visit places rather than going himself. He has closed down several restaurants in the San Jose area.

Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2021 at 3:01 pm

Longtime Resident is a registered user.

I 'm not siding with this awful lawyer, but for many years a female employee used to park her large luxury SUV in the handicapped space in the parking lot adjacent to [portion removed], and unlock the front door every late afternoon. A van load of workers would then arrive in an old beat up van and park in the lot near that stinking greasy dumpster at their back door. Just sayin' . . .

Posted by Optimist Pessimist Realist
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2021 at 4:10 pm

Optimist Pessimist Realist is a registered user.

Here’s a link to just one aspect of his alleged criminal doings. It’s be great if a local exposé on him could be done. Web Link

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 11, 2021 at 4:16 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

This person is a crazed monster, pure and simple. He is perverting the ADA, which has good intentions, to fit his crazed, hateful, angry sense of revenge (IMHO). The ADA's idealistic, legally & naive supporters had good intentions --- not realizing that "the path to Hell is paved with good intentions". The ADA needs to be amended to prevent predatory serial litigants like this monster from using it to take out their hatefully insane revenge upon relatively minor and innocent defendants. Simply put, the ADA must be amended to prevent crazed fools from creating chaos and harm just to fit whatever hateful alternative universe they live in.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 11, 2021 at 4:18 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Echoing the above post. This serial vexatious litigant has done more than enough damage. Shouldn't there be a limit to the number of suits one person can file?

Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2021 at 5:12 pm

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

He should be disbarred. And people wonder why attorneys rank as some of the least trusted and most hated professionals in the world. He's the poster boy.

Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 11, 2021 at 5:24 pm

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

His issue is the tables that are in the street, but if you look at the picture in the article, there are 4 tables near the front door that can easily be set-up to accommodate wheelchairs.

Posted by 1drin
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 11, 2021 at 11:58 pm

1drin is a registered user.

If the vaunted Legal Bar doesn't go after major miscreants like William Barr, it's unlikely that they will bother with worms like this one. In Johnson's case, his punishment (a life sentence) came before his crime.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2021 at 5:11 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

I've heard of "ambulance chasers" but never "discrimination chasers." I suppose that this is a thing now. Why isn't arbitration a natural and required part of such lawsuits? If the "remedy" is change, then why can't the change be made without exerting a hefty financial penalty (via a settlement or "damages")?

I had a neighbor who was quadriplegic. She was always assuming "discrimination" when it came to anything and everything. I really felt for her; however, her attitude was always confrontational with others (e.g., landlords, businesses, etc.) and she would threaten lawsuits all the time. Her plight in life was difficult; but, she seems to have made it harder for everyone around her too.

Johnson seems like the guy seeking to make the world a better place for him by making it harder on everyone else.

Posted by VaxMan
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 12, 2021 at 7:26 am

VaxMan is a registered user.

A citation to fix or correct non-compliant ADA violations should be issued first and then followed by a lawsuit if warranted.

Posted by Nowhere To Run
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2021 at 10:14 am

Nowhere To Run is a registered user.

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2021 at 10:02 pm

WilliamR is a registered user.

@ VaxMan--

There have been legislative proposals to give business owners 60 or 90 days after a "notice of violation" to correct ADA deficiencies before a lawsuit could be filed, but they haven't gotten anywhere, as far as I know, so these lawyers and their lobbyists have probably shot them down.

Posted by Stelios Karoulis
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2021 at 9:45 am

Stelios Karoulis is a registered user.

If businesses are not complying with ADA mandates, they should be be forced to close pending completion of the required improvements and modifications.

There is more to life than making money at the expense of the handicapped.

Posted by John Donegan
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2021 at 10:29 am

John Donegan is a registered user.

A predictable outcome to the usual "feel good" legislation which is based on emotion and little pragmatic thinking. The ADA has been used for even crazier suits, like claiming that truck drivers with drug or alcohol problems have not been provided with reasonable accommodation for their "disability".

Posted by Alfred Turner
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 13, 2021 at 11:24 am

Alfred Turner is a registered user.

Though they may be dismissed as nuisance lawsuits, continuing efforts to accommodate the disabled will result in fewer lawsuits.

Pay now or pay later.

Posted by Virginia Smedberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 14, 2021 at 11:36 pm

Virginia Smedberg is a registered user.

I just read the print version of the article, and the sentence that resonated with me was this: "it's not normal to give businesses zero chances to fix these unapparent accessibility problems". The fact that this man is going straight to lawsuits demonstrates, as another comment points out, his real motive: making money and causing problems for people. Also the law firm's purpose, evidently. Our purpose in life should be to HELP others. The ADA rules are spozed to do that. But turning them against small businesses with no warning is NOT helpful. There should be some way in the law to not have to pay fines when no one gave you fair warning but rather to allow time to fix the problem. Sure "ignorance of the law is no excuse". But as many have pointed out, this past year has made everything difficult, and especially hitting up these small restaurants for their outdoor seating without giving them any chance to fix it, is just plain mean. There's also the point made by 2 of them that they don't recall someone coming to try to eat there, but instead people coming to measure the spaces. I'd think maybe they should demand proof that the person actually tried to eat there. Such a person should at least have said something to the wait people, so that someone would have made a note of it or at least remembered it as a not-everyday occurrence. Or the person doing the measuring should have explained what he was doing - that nothing was said proves it was a "secret" plan to attack them. You only spy on those you consider enemies!
Basically I think this person and the law firm working with him are proving who they really are, what their real intentions are: stopping others.

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