Appellate Court Reverses Dismissal of ADA Lawsuit
Lawsuits against businesses alleging Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations are quite commonplace. As a result of a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, they’re going to be even more common. In the recent opinion entitled Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, the 11th Circuit court was faced with the total dismissal of an ADA lawsuit filed by Joe Houston, one of South Florida’s most prolific “drive-by” professional plaintiffs. Although he lived more than 30 miles from the supermarket, his attorney’s office happened to be within a few miles of the grocery store. FYI, there are probably several dozen supermarkets between his home and their offices. In addition to suing individually, Joe Houston claimed he was a “tester” and thus that was also one of his motives for coming to the store.
In a great example of winning the battle but losing the war, the grocery store’s attorneys sought complete dismissal of the lawsuit. The lower court judge bought their argument and dismissed the case in its totality. The 11th Circuit reversed the learned judge and indicated that the issue/motive of being a tester is irrelevant to a person’s ability to pursue his own ADA claims. In other words, whether he came into the store to buy groceries or to be a tester was not relevant and should not have resulted in a dismissal of his lawsuit. The fact that he lives so far away was also not deemed to be that important, although it could be in certain cases.
Now that this opinion has provided a roadmap for lawyers to coach their clients on what to say and how to say it, just about every business is now open to being sued by a person who lives miles and miles away. The affidavits filed in opposition to the motion to dismiss more than established that the motion to dismiss should have been denied.
Having defended similar cases filed by Joe Houston and/or his lawyers, the crucial mistake made in this case was fighting it on legal issues and not trying to immediately settle it. From a review of the complaint, there is no doubt that the supermarket had ADA violations. The better route to take is to get those and all other violations fixed so that additional attorney’s fees are not incurred. On that topic, can you imagine what the attorney’s fees and costs are going to be now that Mr. Houston and his lawyers have successfully reversed the trial judge? I’m betting well in excess of $150,000! That award will likely be this topic of another article, stay tuned.