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News10NBC investigates: Lawyer says ADA lawsuits 'just a money grab'

May 01, 2019 06:10 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- Lawyers say the law intended to protect people with disabilities is getting used to make money. There are thousands of lawsuits against strip malls and restaurants in western New York alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York calls it an abuse of the law by "serial plaintiffs."

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And News10NBC found out, it's happening here. 

There is a man who lives in Queens, New York. Court papers say he has a disability and uses a wheelchair. We found his name on dozens of these lawsuits in Rochester and Buffalo.

His name is Christopher E. Brown. 

In a little over three years, court documents show he sued 18 places in Rochester and Buffalo for violating Title III of the ADA. In each complaint, Brown says the mall or plaza parking lots and sidewalks had problems which were "unsafe" and that made him use "extra caution to avoid a fall."

Federal court records show he is currently suing Eastview Mall in Victor, Elmridge Plaza in Greece and Southtown Plaza in Henrietta. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "When you got this complaint against Southtown Plaza, what did you think?"

Scott Mooney, Boylan Code law firm: "My first reaction was something wasn't right."

Scott Mooney is a lawyer with the firm Boylan Code in Rochester. He was the lawyer for Southtown's owner when it was sued just before Christmas. Southtown got sold shortly after, so now Mooney can talk about it. 

Brean: "What did you think wasn't right?"

Mooney: "We had a suspicion that this case might have been frivolous and lo and behold, we discovered that there were hundreds of other similar cases that were filed by the same attorney using the same plaintiff using the exact same forms."

Brean: "What did that tell you?" 

Mooney: "We knew right away that this was just a money grab."

We did our own investigating. 

We found a court order filed in federal court in Louisiana in 2015. The court said that in 10 years, Christopher E. Brown and his lawyer filed "approximately 111 Title III ADA actions" against privately owned public places in "New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey."

The court said the complaints were "nearly identical" and called them "cut and paste."

We tried to find Christopher E. Brown in Queens. Our search found almost 100 people with that same name. 

News10NBC tried to reach Brown's lawyer at his office in Miami. 

Louis Mussman eventually emailed News10NBC saying, "These cases are about improving access for the disabled, not about money.  Neither the law firm of Ku & Mussman, P.A. nor any of our clients have ever been sanctioned or admonished by any court for frivolous litigation in an ADA matter.  In fact, several courts around the nation have noted the excellent results obtained by our firm.  We take pride in bringing ADA actions to fight against discrimination in the form of barriers to access. For example, in the Southtown matter we hope to force Defendant to provide access aisles and signs at its disabled use parking spaces, fix broken pavement and regrade curb ramps to provide gentler slopes for greater wheelchair access. Our recommendation to property owners would be to remove ADA barriers at their properties because more access means more business."

But the complaints also demand lawyer fees and damages. For that case in Louisiana, the legal fees were $46,825.69. 

News10NBC received a statement from the attorney for Eastview Mall late Tuesday. It reads: 

"Eastview Mall is aware of Mr. Brown's lawsuit," attorney John Mancuso said. "As a general matter, we at Harris Beach are aware of the challenges posed by serial litigation related to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We also understand that Mr. Brown has instituted several hundred lawsuits in various courts alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and these types of lawsuits are continuing to increase across the country.  This is time consuming and expensive for businesses, but nevertheless Eastview believes in the principle that individuals with disabilities deserve equal access to public accommodations. Over time, Eastview has spent millions of dollars to ensure its facilities are ADA compliant."

We were unable to reach the owner of Elmridge Plaza because the phone number was disconnected. 

President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law almost 30 years ago. Title III has strict, technical requirements about the slope of parking lots and wheelchair ramps and that's where the lawsuits find alleged violations. 

Coming up in our story on News10NBC at 11 p.m., News10NBC takes Chris Hiderbrant, an ADA compliance expert, out to Southtown plaza.

Does he find any violations and would he sue this property? 

We will also show you how big of an issue this is. For instance, the number of these lawsuits in New York jumped 128 percent in one year. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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