A Eureka attorney who has filed hundreds of lawsuits charging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act is the target of a public protest set for Friday at the Humboldt County courthouse.
Local business owners are among those who plan to gather to cast a spotlight on Jason Singleton, who they claim is unfairly targeting businesses for financial gain using Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits.
A federal court records search shows that Singleton has filed 259 federal lawsuits relating to ADA violations since 2005, with 23 cases filed in 2013. Many of these lawsuits have been directed at Humboldt County businesses, including Village Pantry, the Minor Theatre Corp., Cher-Ae Heights Casino, Cafe Waterfront, Barnes Arcata Family Drug, McKinleyville's Central Station bar, Six Rivers Brewery and Arctic Circle.
James Blount, a retired Arcata man, is organizing the protest. "I got tired of sitting back and watching it all happen," Blount said. He decided to arrange the event after an Arcata barbecue restaurant shut its doors last month after settling a lawsuit with SIngleton.
Scott Seelye, owner of Porter Street Barbeque, was sued in September by a plaintiff represented by Singleton for multiple ADA violations at his Arcata restaurant. Feelye said that he could not afford the changes needed to make the building compliant.
Seelye said that he only received a handwritten letter with no contact info before being handed a court summons.
”There was no phone number on the letter, no way to contact them,” Seelye said. “If someone has a specific problem, why would I not want to make it right? Our first issue in mind is customer service.”
While Seelye does agree that buildings should be made compliant with the law, he also said that business owners should be able to address the violations -- especially if they are minor -- without having to go straight to the courtroom.
”I think this is not about ADA compliance,” Seelye said. “I think this is about a specific lawyer taking advantage of local business people.”
Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville was also sued in 2007 for multiple violations by a woman represented by Singleton, according to co-owner Meredith Maier. Maier also claimed the majority of the violations were minor, such as a toilet paper dispenser a couple inches too far from the toilet. Despite hiring an engineer to fix many of these violations, Maier said she was still given a court summons 90 days after receiving the complaint.
”They didn't care we were making those changes, and we were served with a lawsuit,” Maier said. “Nowhere in his settlement was there any requirement that we had to make any changes at all.”
Though they did not have to close their doors after spending nearly $80,000 on fines and court fees, Maier said they took a heavy financial blow.
”We spent tens of thousands of dollars on charges when they sued,” Maier said. “I certainly couldn't go through that again and keep our doors open.”
Multiple attempts to reach Singleton by phone were not answered by deadline.
Talk of Singleton made its way to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. During the meeting, the board directed staff to include language addressing abuse of ADA lawsuits in the 2014 State and Federal Platform for Humboldt County.
”I'm surprised we didn't have that in there sooner,” 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass said during the meeting. “There are people being put out of business because some attorneys are feathering their pockets. It feels like a scam.”
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that this is being done to “protect the intent” of the Americans with Disabilities Act and not to weaken it.