Paul Hansmeier, having learned all he needs to know about practicing law from his years in the trolling trenches as part of Prenda Law, is now shaking down businesses using ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) lawsuits. This new (but not really) approach is slightly more palatable to the general public than attempting to fish a few bucks from randy torrenters via infringement lawsuits, but not by much. Those on the receiving end of these shakedown efforts don’t see much difference between Hansmeier’s new approach and the actions that netted him and Prenda Law sanctions from multiple courts.
Hansmeier still seems enthralled with the possibility of easy money, even if his experience with Prenda Law didn’t exactly pan out the way its principals hoped. Most are still in the process of extracting themselves from the flaming wreckage of Prenda, but they’re limping away, rather than strutting. Some may even face jail time for contempt.
Hansmeier and his non-profit (Disability Support Alliance) — which exists nowhere but the Minnesota business registry and as a nominal plaintiff in his 50+ ADA lawsuits — are running into roadblocks on Easy Buck Ave. One of the businesses he recently sued addressed his allegations by filing a $50,000 counterclaim for abuse of process and civil conspiracy.
Now, there’s more trouble on the way.
Cal Brink was tired of the lawsuits that just kept coming. Since the first suit claiming lack of disability access was filed more than a year ago, businesses in this southwest Minnesota town of nearly 14,000 people have been worried that they, too, would be hit.
Nine lawsuits have been filed here so far by the Disability Support Alliance, a nonprofit group formed last summer, including one against the only bowling alley in town. The owner said he will soon close rather than pay the DSA’s $5,500 settlement offer or make the $20,000 of changes needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Nobody fights them, because it’s going to cost you more to fight,” said Brink, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.
Now Marshall is fighting back. Working in concert with the Minnesota State Council on Disability, Brink developed an access audit for local businesses, allowing them to develop a plan to fix ADA issues and potentially to ward off litigation.
The plan has won the attention of the state Department of Human Rights, which hopes it could be used in other communities hit by serial litigation.
Since the putative goal is to improve access for the disabled, you’d think something called the “Disability Support Alliance” would be behind it. But the DSA isn’t about improving access. It’s about making money. Eric Wong, a member of the four-person-strong DSA says companies just need to pay it first and worry about complying with the law later.
His group “is currently in the process of producing a voluntary mass settlement agreement for those businesses in Marshall that are ready to confess to their crime, fully comply … and pay the damages/restitution that they are liable for under the law,” Wong said in an e-mail.
“The lawsuits will stop when there is no more access crime to prosecute,” he said. Many businesses “fail to understand that … we are now a zero tolerance state.”
Roughly translated: the trolling will continue until it’s run off the rails by the public or the courts. The lawsuits have already caught the eye of Hennepin County’s chief judge, which noted that the flurry of filings “raised the specter of serial litigation” and has ordered all DSA/Hansmeier’s lawsuits filed in this county be handled by one judge. This will probably prompt Hansmeier to take his “business” elsewhere, rather than deal with extra scrutiny from a judge who won’t have to connect the dots between multiple filings in multiple venues. With any luck, Hansmeier’s efforts elsewhere will be greeted with the same local resistance and judicial distrust.