Scott Johnson, a disabled Carmichael attorney who has filed thousands of disability-access lawsuits in the greater Sacramento area, is at it again, pumping out more than three dozen actions against small businesses, just in Stockton, since June.
But this time he’s got Jerry Brannon, owner of Brannon Tire and other area businesses, in his crosshairs, and Brannon promises to fight back.
The tire dealer’s beef is not with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates businesses trading with the public accommodate the handicapped as well, but with how it gets enforced.
Brannon said there were ADA violations at two of his businesses on North Wilson Way and work to correct them is already under way.
“We’re happy to comply. We want to help the disabled,” he said.
But the businessman said he’s not going to pay the $38,000 demanded by Johnson’s attorney to settle the suit. Instead, he’s hired his own attorney and is asking other businesses who have been sued or who have settled with Johnson in the past to share their experiences to help build a case that he’s abusing the court system and ADA rules.
“This has to stop,” Brannon said.
Catherine Corfee of Corfee Stone & Associates in Carmichael, said court records show Johnson has filed more than 2,500 ADA lawsuits, including 44 in San Joaquin County just this year.
Disability access laws aim to protect the civil rights of the disabled, allowing them to enjoy the use of restaurants, banks, service stations — any business that trades with the public.
But Johnson is demanding steep monetary settlements, averaging around $20,000 per case, said Corfee, who frequently opposes him in court.
“He is not doing this over civil rights. This is set up as a business to make money for him and his attorney,” she said.
Calls to Johnson’s telephone number on file with the California Bar Association, as well as to Mark Potter, his San Diego attorney, were not returned. Emails to his address, again listed with the state bar, bounced back.
By collecting details from businesses sued by Johnson, Corfee said she expects to show a pattern of abuse, not honest patronage of a business.
Among his targets, she said, have been a ballet clothing store, as well as numerous beauty and nail salons.
Corfee also represents four women in a sexual-harassment suit against Johnson, who describe his ADA lawsuits as a profit-driven enterprise.
“He ran it as a business” she said. “It was (her clients) going out to make the initial visit, take the measurements and take the pictures.”
And Johnson does not patronize businesses after they install the ADA improvements he demanded, Corfee said.
“I’m unaware he’s ever returned (to a targeted business) except to check to see if they’ve breached the settlement agreement,” she said.
Efforts to change California access laws, such as providing businesses some time to improve handicapped access before a lawsuit is filed, have gone nowhere, said Corfee, who specializes in employment and ADA law.
Until that happens, it will be up to individual businesses, as well as grassroots campaigns such as Brannon’s, to deal with a continuing torrent of handicapped access lawsuits.
Said Brannon: “What this is for is all the small businesses that need the help.”