How to Handle ADA Lawsuits: Defending Against ADA Accessibility Claims from High-Frequency Litigants-Recent Developments

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The landscape of accessibility lawsuits in California is constantly evolving, which makes knowing how to handle ADA lawsuits difficult. Courts strive to maintain a balance between ensuring access to justice for those with disabilities and deterring potential abuse of the legal system. This article delves into a recent court decision that impacts this delicate balance: Jones v. L&L Hawaiian BBQ. The case involves a plaintiff suing a defendant for alleged violations of accessibility standards.

The Rise of Accessibility Lawsuits and Legislative Response

California has seen a significant increase in accessibility lawsuits in recent years. While this trend reflects heightened awareness of accessibility needs, it has also raised concerns about potential frivolous lawsuits. These lawsuits burden businesses and hinder progress toward a more inclusive built environment. To address these concerns, the California Legislature implemented measures to ensure the legitimacy of accessibility claims and deter those who might exploit legal protections.

The High-Frequency Litigant Designation

One legislative response is California Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.55, which defines who is a “high-frequency litigant.” This designation serves as a flag, prompting courts to scrutinize such claims more closely to ensure they have merit and are not simply attempts to exploit legal loopholes for personal gain.

The High-Frequency Litigant Filing Fee: An Additional Hurdle and a New Strategy to Handle ADA Lawsuits

Government Code Section 70616.5 adds another layer of accountability specifically for construction-related accessibility claims. This statute establishes a $1,000 filing fee for high-frequency litigants pursuing such claims. The intent behind this fee is twofold: First, to deter repetitive and potentially unfounded lawsuits that drain resources and slow down genuine efforts towards accessibility. Second, to generate revenue that can support programs promoting accessibility compliance.

The Dispute in Jones v. L&L Hawaiian BBQ and the Clash of Fees

In the case at hand, the plaintiff, classified as a high-frequency litigant due to their filing history, did not pay the $1,000 fee mandated by Government Code Section 70616.5. The plaintiff argued that a previously granted fee waiver applied to the high-frequency litigant fee as well. This argument highlights the potential conflict between general fee waiver programs and the specific high-frequency litigant fee. We disagreed and filed a demurrer, claiming the plaintiff’s failure to pay the mandated fee disqualified them from proceeding with the lawsuit.

The Court’s Ruling: Clarifying the Distinction and Upholding Legislative Intent

The court sided with the defendant, underscoring several key points:

  • The fee waiver granted to the plaintiff only applied to standard filing fees, not the specific high-frequency litigant fee established under Government Code Section 70616.5. This distinction clarifies that general fee waivers do not automatically negate the requirement to pay the high-frequency litigant fee.
  • The court emphasized the Legislature’s intent behind the high-frequency litigant fee – to discourage frivolous lawsuits and ensure claims have merit. This rationale underscores the court’s commitment to upholding legislative goals of deterring abuse and promoting legitimate accessibility claims.

Impact on Accessibility Law: Maintaining a Balanced Approach

This decision provides much-needed clarity regarding the distinction between general fee waivers and the high-frequency litigant fee in the context of construction-related accessibility claims. It reinforces the importance of high-frequency litigants complying with this additional filing requirement to move forward with their lawsuits. Ultimately, this case highlights the ongoing efforts to maintain a balanced approach in accessibility law – one that safeguards the rights of individuals with disabilities while simultaneously deterring potential misuse of the legal system.


This article provides general information and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for guidance on specific situations. Check out this article for information on how to pick the right attorney for your small business.

Spencer K. Schneider is part of the Schneider Branch Law Firm.

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