from the once-a-parasite... dept
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 lure of easy money has now attracted another one of Prenda's principals: John Steele.
“ … 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.
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.