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MARK LANE: Serial lawsuits in Florida change ADA from reform to racket

News-Journal - 9/10/2019

In a sick way, I have to stand back and marvel at the ingenuity it takes to turn a landmark advance for people with disabilities into a racket.

If only they had used their powers for good instead of evil, as they say on TV.

[READ MORE: Federal judge deals body blow to attorney at center of serial ADA lawsuits]

The Americans with Disabilities Act improved the lives of millions and opened doors for untold numbers to become productive members of the workforce. It also transformed a few law firms into litigation machines.

They churn out hundreds of identical lawsuits, collect fees from businesses and governments that know it's cheaper just to pay them to go away rather than go through the expense of court, then split the fees (often inflated for work never done) with the plaintiff, and proceeding to the next hit.

Or so federal Judge Paul C. Huck noted a few weeks ago as he imposed sanctions on Miami attorney Scott Dinin and his client, Alexander Johnson. The two filed 131 federal lawsuits in South Florida citing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dinin had filed another 522 suits with other plaintiffs.

The two "deliberately and knowingly abused the ADA and the legal system solely for their own financial gain, and in total disregard of the hearing impaired for whom they sanctimoniously but disingenuously professed to have brought these lawsuits," the judge's order said.

He also referred Dinin to the Florida Bar for disciplining and even the possibility of disbarment.

My personal favorites among Dinin's many legal actions were the 25 identical suits charging gas stations with violating the ADA for not closed-captioning the video ads and snippets shown on the video terminals of gas stations. As though the hearing impaired were grievously impacted by not knowing about the special on 32-ounce slushies.

Dinin had also represented Joel Price, a blind man from Daytona Beach who figured in more than 130 lawsuits across Central Florida against a range of targets that included Volusia and Flagler counties, Port Orange, DeLand, Daytona Beach, Edgewater and Halifax Health. Another Dinin client all but shut down the Alachua County Sheriff's Office web page.

It should be recalled that many area cities stopped streaming their meetings to the internet while they scrambled to find closed-captioning services lest they get sued. If anyone with a disability wanted to know what was happening at the meetings, they'd have to find ways to get themselves to city hall in person because their easy home-access via computer was shut off.

[READ MORE: Daytona man's disabilities lawsuits cause records jams for cities in Volusia, Flagler]

The lawsuits Dinin filed in South Florida, the court found, not only enriched Dinin and his plaintiff at considerable costs to taxpayers and business owners, but "they have, unfortunately, undermined the credibility of legitimate ADA cases."

We have seen something similar had happened in public records law cases where a few firms have rustled up business by filing gotcha cases and collecting the fees.

This has been a vexing problem for public agencies, but when the Legislature took up the issue, it has tended to go overboard with proposals that would shut the door on legitimate public records suits.

In both kinds of cases, the vital first line of defense against the abuse of worthwhile laws has been judges like Judge Huck who are willing to call out bad actors and a legal profession that's willing police litigation mills.

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(c)2019 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Visit The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. at www.news-journalonline.com

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