By: Michael Seinberg
Yuba City, CA has just managed to get itself out of some legal trouble and set itself up for even more thanks to an unusual and likely very costly move. “Professional plaintiff” George Louie will receive a one-time payment from the city in order that he stop suing small business owners over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yes, you heard that right: a city will actually pay someone to stop filing lawsuits.
Yuba City small business owners have been plagued with lawsuits from Louie claiming trivial ADA violations, amounting to thousands of dollars in store upgrades and legal costs. “We’d probably have to close it down. We do not have the capital; we’re barely breaking even,” said Jayne Sawyer, owner of JJ’s Tools and Merchandise. Louie’s suits have already bankrupted a number of local businesses.
But business owners aren’t the only victims of Louie’s legal bullying. He recently sued the city itself over disability access at several intersections. Fixing the issues cost the city’s taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. “Mr. Louie has a reputation for filing numerous claims, and it’s problematic,” City Manager Steven Jeasen said.
In a desperate effort to stop Louie from bulldozing the entire city and filling his pot of gold, the city agreed to pay Louie $15,000 – from here on out he can no longer file ADA lawsuits within the Yuba City limits. He also agreed to drop any currently active lawsuits. What a guy! And what’s to stop another enterprising legal bully from moving right in and picking up where Louie left off? Or Louie simply moving on to the next CA city with threats of mounting ADA suits? Nothing!
That’s the problem. Yuba City got rid of one walking headache, but chances are they’ll end up with lots more. ADA laws, which are meant protect people with disabilities, have been widely abused by unscrupulous plaintiffs and lawyers as an endless cash machine. Lawmakers in California have tried for years to pass reforms to stifle, stop, or stamp out lawsuit abuse, but have seen little progress in the face of opposition from the trial bar.
“We are definitely not here to be a bank for some of these advocates to continue to sue the city or local businesses,” said Economic Development Manager Darin Gale. “But in this case, we went through the process and it’s in the best financial interest of the city, and we don’t plan on doing it again.”
Their plans may change, because Yuba City just rang the dinner bell and you can bet there is no shortage of lawyers hungry for taxpayer money.