July 26, 2019 05:44 AM
ROCHESTER, N.Y (WHEC) — Critics call the series of lawsuits News10NBC is investigating a cash grab. Now we know how much money the lawyers have asked for.
We're talking about the explosion of lawsuits in New York filed against restaurants, malls, wineries, and colleges saying they discriminate against people with disabilities. Most of them end with secret settlements so we never know how much the defendants pay to make the case go away.
News10NBC obtained a settlement document the lawyers don't want you to see.
The settlement was given to the attorney of the former owner of Southtown Plaza in Henrietta.
Former is the keyword.
The agreement was never signed and the case was dropped when Southtown was sold. The new owner of Southtown was subsequently sued by the same plaintiff and lawyer and federal records show the case was just settled.
What the old settlement document shows is that these ADA lawsuits, and there are hundreds of them in New York, require real repairs and changes to be done to properties that violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
They also require thousands of dollars that have to be paid.
When Southtown Plaza was first sued for violating the terms of the ADA in December, Southtown's lawyer was Scott Mooney of the Rochester firm Boylan Code.
Mooney could talk to me in the spring because by then the case against his client was withdrawn. At an interview in April, Mooney told me the lawsuit he was served with raised all kinds of red flags.
Scott Mooney, Boylan Code Law Firm: "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."
Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "What did that tell you?"
Mooney: "We knew right away that this was just a money grab."
The plaintiff is Christopher E. Brown from Queens, New York. He and his lawyer, Louis Mussman of Miami, subsequently sued the new owner of Southtown in early 2019 and just settled the case. When I asked Mr. Mussman for the terms of the settlement on Monday, he emailed "the agreement is subject to a confidentiality clause which prevents disclosure of the details."
Southtown's attorney, Joshua Hackman of Long Island, emailed "we cannot comment on the nature of or terms of a settlement agreement."
But we know what the details were in the original lawsuit.
Before the suit against his client was withdrawn, Scott Mooney says Brown's lawyer, Mr. Mussman, gave him a settlement agreement to consider.
Mooney shared the agreement with me. It says Southtown would have 12 months to repair and change several handicap parking spaces, parking signs, and ramps on the property and the repairs and changes would be subject to inspection.
And then it says Southtown had to pay the lawyers and plaintiff's fees.
The agreement settlement obtained by News10NBC put the cost at $11,500.
In a report called Serial Plaintiffs, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York says the average payout is $16,000. A trial could cost $100,000.
I spoke to the Alliance director in May.
Brean: "Is there anything illegal or improper about doing this?"
Tom Stebbins, Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York: "It's not improper or illegal. it's just unfortunate. Really we've discovered that the primary driver for these lawsuits is not actual access for the disabled. It's actually legal fees."
Federal records show Christopher Brown sued 18 businesses in Rochester and Buffalo in the past year. We called the lawyers for every single business owner and every time the lawyers said the deals are confidential.
Since we started reporting on these lawsuits, Christopher Brown has filed four new federal lawsuits but none of them are in western New York.
Updated: July 26, 2019 05:44 AM
Created: July 25, 2019 05:50 PM
Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company