John Steele Looking To Join Former Prenda Lawyer Paul Hansmeier In ADA Lawsuit Shakedown Business

from the once-a-parasite... dept

For more than a year now, Paul Hansmeier has attempted to offset the losses generated by the flagging Prenda Law brand with class action lawsuits predicated on supposed ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) violations. Hansmeier isn’t suddenly a do-gooding social warrior seeking equitable treatment for disabled Americans. He’s just shifted the focus of his modus operandi. Hansmeier sues and sues and sues, offering out-of-court settlements to the defendants. This is money Hansmeier shouldn’t theoretically be able to demand, but he’s found a loophole that works for him.

In most cases, federal and state laws governing disability access don’t provide punitive relief. They can only be used to get property owners to correct shortcomings and to recover the plaintiff’s reasonable legal expenses. However, Hansmeier has been making claims under a Minnesota law that the property owners are committing a bias offense, which is a misdemeanor. In correspondence seeking a settlement with Peterson, he wrote that the law exposes defendants to a fine of $500 per incident, as well as punitive damages.

Using this, Hansmeier has demanded anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 from the businesses he’s sued. The end result has been some companies paying up rather than fighting back, while others have decided to cease doing business entirely. The 84-year-old owner of an antique shop targeted by a Hansmeier suit has closed her business as a result of his litigious actions. At the point it shut down, it was making around “$50 a day.” Now, the business is completely inaccessible — both to the disabled and non-disabled alike.

Like copyright trolling, the hit rate may be low but the margin is comfortably high. Only a small percentage of those sued need to pay up to ensure profitability. Hansmeier has managed to extract a few settlements at this point, which will only encourage him to continue exploiting a good law for negative ends. The biggest hurdle he faces now is his own terrible reputation.

[T]he chief judge of Hennepin County District Court has ordered that a half dozen of Hansmeier’s disability cases be reassigned to a single judge to ensure that they’re handled uniformly.

“ … the serial nature of these cases … raises the specter of litigation abuse, and Mr. Hansmeier’s history reinforces this concern,” Chief Judge Peter Cahill wrote.

The Minnesota attorney general’s office recently referred complaints about Hansmeier to the board that disciplines attorneys for ethical violations, even as he continues to press for cash settlements with small business owners.

The lure of easy money has now attracted another one of Prenda’s principals: John Steele.

DarthSkeptic tweeted out two bits of information that point to Steele moving from one shakedown business to another.

On December 30, 2014, John Steele incorporated the “Accessibility Law Group, LLC” in the state of Illinois (screenshot below as the Illinois Secretary of State’s business search provides no permalink to search results). The address of the “business” traces back to virtual offices offered by DaVinci Virtual Office Solutions, which would suggest Steele plans to pursue businesses for ADA violations without actually having to set up (physical) shop in Illinois.

He’s also renewed his Illinois law license.

Given Steele’s past, one should probably expect a flurry of filings in the near future, pursuing low-risk targets with low-to-medium settlement offers, much like Hansmeier’s “work” in Minnesota. The paperwork can be filed from anywhere with work farmed out to local lawyers willing to do the groundwork in exchange for a percentage of collected settlements.

Steele’s new hunting grounds favor his chosen business model. Time Magazine pointed out in a 2008 article about ADA lawsuit abuse that Illinois (along with California, Hawaii and Florida) is one of the easiest states to file (and collect on) frivolous lawsuits. The American Tort Reform Foundation has also called out Illinois’ flawed legal system in the past, naming it one of the nation’s foremost “judicial hellholes.” One of the issues specifically listed is the willingness of the state to entertain lawsuits filed by non-residents — something that works in Steele’s favor if he doesn’t actually reside in Illinois. Prenda Law was nominally a Chicago operation, but also included work done from Florida and (see Hansmeier) Minnesota.

Once a troll, always a troll, it seems. Prenda Law may no longer be an entity, but the lawyers behind it are back in the settlement business. Sure, ADA violations may be more publicly palatable than chasing porn downloaders, but underneath it all, it’s still the same shady business that has the potential to wreak the same sort of financial havoc on its victims.

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Companies: accessibility law group, prenda, prenda law

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Comments on “John Steele Looking To Join Former Prenda Lawyer Paul Hansmeier In ADA Lawsuit Shakedown Business”

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sophisticatedjanedoe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Awesome news!

Can’t agree more.

Despite my sometimes heated words towards trolls, I’m not a vindictive person, not at all: many former abusers faded into obscurity, good for them.

Nonetheless, I state (logically — not only emotionally) that Paul Hansmeier and John Steele must be incarcerated ASAP: there is absolutely no hope that they will stop harming innocent people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not exactly new...

This may be new to Steele, but it is not new to the retail trade. At least 2 convenience store chains have been the victim of such troll lawsuits. Both decided to settle out of court and spent monies to modify their stores. In several cases the modifications actually increased risk of injury to non-disabled folks!

The problem is that if any retail store is not already compliant with ADA they can be cited by local authorities. These lawsuits should not be needed; remedies requested by these lawsuits are over and above what is required by ADA.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s like these guys made a really, really shitty Faustian deal: in exchange for full heads of hair, they have to do some evil lawyering every day. But they’re not very good at it, so they have to keep changing their schtick; consequently, the devil gave them their hair, but keeps sending them to different barbers, all of whom are mediocre.

DB (profile) says:

This is low-level, low-volume extortion. I doubt that there will be many popcorn-worthy moments.

Porn trolling had much more going for it: volume, high density in identification, low density in exploitation, the embarrassment factor, every situation was essentially identical, and only bits to gather (no physical evidence).

ADA trolling has none of these features. It requires a physical visit and documentation. Worse, there is wrong type of density. While almost every business likely has at least a trivial violation, there is no efficient way to identify the violations in bulk. And if you do file lawsuits, the physical locality means that they will be assigned to the same judge.

Plus there is no embarrassment factor. A business owner is more likely to get a story written in a local newspaper than pay out over a 1.5″ door threshold.

Scote (profile) says:

If he saying he’ll skip filing criminal charges in lieu of cash, isn’t that extortion (the illegal kind, as opposed to the kind you can get away with in civil suits)? I’m tempted to say “I guess not since they are doing it” but given this is Hansmeier and Steele we are talking about, just because they are doing something doesn’t remotely mean it is legal.

Ian (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It used to be part of the code of ethics for attorneys that you could not threaten an opposing party with criminal charges to gain an advantage. That general prohibition has been eroded – in particular, where the threatened criminal charge is directly related to the same situation giving rise to the civil claim. If you threaten a business owner with exposure to charges for price fixing in order to get the upper hand in an ADA claim, you’re out of bounds; but threatening with law enforcement action related to bias against disabled persons would seem to be technicall acceptable, albeit unsavory in the Steele-Hansmeier implementation.

sophisticatedjanedoe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We will watch the situation closely, and once we become aware of a new local opportunist, we will make sure he’ll receive a welcome letter describing Steele’s and Hansmeier’s past shenanigans.

The times have changed. When their copyright trolling started, few paid attention. Now dozens are watching, many of them had been wronged by Steele & gang and have a hell of an intensive to vindicate.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The address of the “business” traces back to virtual offices offered by DaVinci Virtual Office Solutions, which would suggest Steele plans to pursue businesses for ADA violations without actually having to set up (physical) shop in Illinois.”

So….you’re saying Steele’s business doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp…interesting.

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

As if people with disabilities don’t have enough people trying to take advantage of the them, along come Steele & Hansmeier to join in.

The real sad part of this is that Steele & Hansmeier will take advantage of someone who was actually believing they were doing the right thing by lending their name to one of these complaints.

I guess all the positions of taking candy from children were taken and this avenue was the only option left for Steele and Hansmeier.

Bravo John and Paul, I didn’t think my opinion of you could go any lower than it was, but it has.

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

So Steele will use some local counsel he finds on Craigslist to do the leg work for this cases in IL.

Yeah that ought to work out well, can’t wait till this poor soul calls Brent Gibbs and ask’s what John is like to work for.

John had better hope that the poor schmuck he finds on Craigslist doesn’t like to do Google searches on and prospective employers

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re:

John had better hope that the poor schmuck he finds on Craigslist doesn’t like to do Google searches on and prospective employers

Sadly, there will always be some lawyer stupid and/or greedy enough to fall for this. After all, Scientology still exists despite all the bad press it has (and still uses Craigslist to sucker poor folks looking for help into attending sales pitches for their “religion”.) All John has to do is not put his name on it and not mention Prenda, and someone will likely jump at the opportunity.

ScammedByShari (profile) says:

Shari getting 7k in plastic surgery?

I found a post written on Thursday by Shari “who can I scam today) Duffy saying she was getting 7k worth of plastic surgery done with (and I quote) #coldhardcash

Maybe Paul dipped into his over seas funds that he “does not have to his knowledge”. SMH have another drink Shari, we get all the best info from you when you are plastered.

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