Long Beach businesses hit with disabled access lawsuits
It didn't take long to figure out why a man in a wheelchair had been snapping photographs of the aisles, counters, shelves and bathrooms inside eateries and watering holes in a fashionable eastern Long Beach enclave.
On June 30, Powell's Sweet Shoppe; Open Sesame, a Lebanese restaurant; and Panama Joe's Grill & Cantina were served with lawsuits on behalf of Eric Moran alleging that they were in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The violations, each of which could cost a minimum $4,000 in damages, ranged from lacking a restroom grab bar to a restaurant chair out in an aisle.
About a week later, each received an identical letter from Moran's Los Angeles attorneys, Miguel Custodio Jr. and Vineet Dubey, seeking an out-of-court settlement of $9,000. "We have photographic evidence of these violations," the letter said. "We will prevail if this case goes to trial."
Moran has filed at least 27 such lawsuits since June. Hundreds more have been filed by a relatively small number of attorneys throughout California.
Custodio and Dubey declined to discuss individual cases. As for critics, Dubey said, "They can call it fraud or extortion. They can whine and cry. But I'm going to win these cases."
"This is a civil rights issue; we're trying to make the world better for the handicapped," Dubey added. "When you hit a business in the pocketbook, they change their ways."
Critics say the rash of litigation underlines the ineffectiveness of Senate Bill 1608, a 2-year-old state law that was designed to reduce certain inappropriate claims under the disabilities act, while promoting increased compliance with laws providing equal public access in places of business.
-- Louis Sahagun in Long Beach
Photo: Olivia Maxwell eats ice cream at Powell's Sweet Shoppe in Long Beach. The store's owners are fighting a $9,000 lawsuit brought by a disabled man. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times