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Disabled Folsom bar owner target of ADA compliance lawsuit

By: Penne Usher, Telegraph Correspondent
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FOLSOM, CA - A Carmichael attorney, well known in the region for filing lawsuits against small businesses related to disability access, has recently targeted Cameron Park and Folsom businesses. Scott Johnson, himself confined to a wheelchair, has filed more than 2,000 suits in the past few years, citing inaccessibility to businesses and their restrooms among other things. Johnson said his civil rights have been violated by not being able to access the targeted businesses. City Slickers bar on Natoma Street in Folsom is one of the more recent businesses to face Johnson and the potential for a lawsuit. Johnson, a quadriplegic with “extremely limited use” of his arms, said he visits every establishment prior to serving them a letter or suing, but doesn’t always go inside. “If they don’t have ramps, I don’t go inside,” he said in a recent phone interview. “If it’s parking and restrooms and things that I’m not able to get into when I visit, my assistant will go in and take pictures.” That appears to be the case at City Slickers. Dennis Dority, owner of the local watering hole who has to use a wheelchair to get around, said Johnson was never in his bar. “(Johnson) never came in here,” he said. “He just sends people around.” Dority has no trouble navigating the ramps out front of the bar. He acknowledges the incline is too steep and those repairs will be made. Johnson also reportedly had a problem with the restrooms that are about four-inches to narrow. “These are just code violations,” Dority said. “When he claims a violation of his civil rights, that is the legal issue.” Dority’s landlord settled out of court with Johnson paying him an undisclosed amount of money. Johnson, who has filed similar suits in Placer, Stanislaus, Sacramento and Solano counties, said he’s making business owners aware of accessibility issues and that they need to bring their establishments into compliance with Federal Americans with Disability Act standards. “Before I file suit, I send a letter and the ADA small business guide — giving them plenty of opportunity (three months) to comply with the law,” he said. “Anybody who responds to the letter (as soon as possible), gets all the time they need to make the repairs — as long as it’s reasonable. They don’t get sued and don’t pay me a penny.” In November 2011, Rep. Dan Lungren introduced legislation targeting lawsuit abuse regarding ADA compliance issues. “We wanted to begin the debate and begin the discussion,” Lungren said. “The first purpose was to get a hearing so we could show this wasn’t a radical idea and it was a common sense approach.” He said his proposed bill is on hold for the remainder of the year. “The time is limited in this presidential election year,” he said. “(House Resolution 4, the repeal of 1099 requirements in health care reform) took over a year (to pass). You have to build support for it. My hope for next year is to come out quickly on this.” Lungren said it’s ironic when a business owner with disabilities (such as Dority) is targeted by an ADA-compliance lawsuit. “The irony is someone who is disabled and making a go of it to build a business that is sued for not making their businesses accessible to the disabled, is amazing,” he said. A group targeting lawsuit abuse stands behind the legislation, dubbed H.R. 3356, otherwise known as the ACCESS Act (ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services). The bill would require a reasonable time frame for businesses to make necessary repairs to be in compliance. “Abusive ADA lawsuits do nothing to improve access for the disabled; they merely line the pockets of the lawyers who file them, thereby taking away jobs and tax revenue,” said Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “By establishing a short window of time for businesses to fix alleged ADA violations without legal action, we can help rid our courts of lawsuits motivated by greed and instead focus on ensuring that customers have a safe and comfortable experience while frequenting businesses in our communities.” Editor Don Chaddock contributed to this report. Penne Usher can be reached at penne.usher@gmail.com.