A Maricopa County Superior Court judge on Friday tossed out hundreds of cases filed against businesses in the East Valley and throughout the metro area that accused them of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and its state counterpart.
Judge David Talamante delivered a blow to the Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation, which deluged the courts with more than 1,000 boilerplate lawsuits against businesses, with Mesa being one obvious target.
In his ruling, Talamante sided with arguments presented by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, concluding that AID lacked standing to bring the suits because the organization failed to show that anyone suffered an actual injury because of violations of the ADA.
Examples of such injuries could include being unable to enter a business because of a lack of handicapped parking, or because of a barrier that would block a disabled person’s path, making it impossible for them to enter a business.
But Peter Strojnik, the controversial attorney who has riled businesses owners over suits alleging relatively small violations, said the matter is far from over.
Strojnik said he plans to file appeals with the Arizona Court of Appeals, and with the state Supreme Court, if necessary, using a separation-of-powers argument that he outlined in court and in some last-minute motions.
In a nutshell, Strojnik argued that the Legislature gave anyone the right to enforce the Arizonans with Disabilities Act by bringing suit against businesses when it enacted the law. He said the judicial branch has no right to take away a privilege granted by the Legislature.
“These are all policy or political arguments that it’s not appropriate for me to consider,” Talamante said, comparing some of Strojnik’s arguments against the judiciary and the media to some comments made recently by President Donald Trump. “I am going to dismiss these consolidated cases with prejudice.”
Alluding to arguments by Assistant Attorney General Matthew DuMee, Talamante said he found no evidence in the suits that anyone was harmed by any potential violations.
The suits were based on inspections of parking lots and photos taken of parking spaces and signs that do not comply with the ADA. Some suits alleged an inadequate number of handicapped parking spaces, inadequate signage, even signs that were two inches too low to meet the standard.
“Arizona has a vigorous standing requirement. The defendant has not shown a distinct and palpable injury,” DuMee argued. “The plaintiff has not alleged that the lack of compliance actually injured them.”
The ADA dates back to 1991 and is considered a landmark civil-rights law. Strojnik said the foundation was merely attempting to enforce a law that the Attorney General’s Office has failed to enforce for decades.
He said everyone should be working to ensure that the disabled have equal access to businesses and public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants and government buildings, rather than quarreling over legal arguments.
“We should make sure that everyone has equal access. Not so; the Attorney General’s Office is defending the law-breaking businesses,” Strojnik said.
Strojnik offered to have a cup of coffee with Attorney General Mark Brnovich and work out a plan for enforcing the ADA. The Attorney General’s Office has said repeatedly that their preferred approach is to respond to complaints about ADA complaints through mediation to correct the problem, rather than through lawsuits that can cost businesses thousands of dollars.
DuMee seemed unimpressed by Strojnik’s offer.
“What we are defending is the law, which has been abused and mocked” by the frivolous suits, DuMee said.
– Reach Jim Walsh at 480-898-5639 or at email@example.com.