In March, News 5 Investigates aired multiple reports on a wave of controversial ADA lawsuits flooding Colorado.
Melissa Umphenour and Santiago Abreu filed more than 130 lawsuits combined against local businesses.
These “serial” ADA suers often find minor violations such as a missing coat hook in a restroom stall–then demand thousands of dollars to drop the case and it’s perfectly legal!
A third person has jumped on board, suing 43 businesses in Colorado Springs since February 2017.
Most of the lawsuits filed by Terrell Frederick are against restaurants along a 1.5 mile stretch of Powers between Constitution and Stetson Hills.
In all of his cases, Frederick claims businesses discriminated against him and his disabled daughter for things like a toilet paper dispenser being a few inches too low or high.
However, News 5 Investigates is punching holes in his story that attorneys say could very well result in all of these lawsuits being tossed out.
Frederick told a judge he was too poor to pay filing fees associated with suing 43 businesses with alleged ADA violations.
However, if Frederick has no money, how did he afford to eat at restaurants like Old Chicago, Red Lobster, Texas Roadhouse and Tucanos? These are all restaurants Frederick claimed he and his daughter visited—and then sued!
“It appears that fixing the alleged deficiencies not the purpose of these lawsuits,” attorney Bruce Wright said. “Rather than take the economic way out, Panda Express said this is wrong.”
Wright was hired by Panda Express to represent them.
According to the lawsuit Frederick filed, he claims Panda Express discriminates against people with disabilities because the company failed to provide doors that take less than 5 pounds of force to open.
This allegation was spelled out in numerous other lawsuits Frederick filed around the same time he sued Panda Express.
“If there’s a problem with a business, you ought to notify the business of the problem and give them a chance to fix it,” Wright said.
Frederick offered no explanation on how he measured the force it takes to open doors and apparently has no desire to see whether the issue would be corrected.
Just 7 days after suing Panda Express, Frederick’s attorney sent a letter offering to drop the case if they received a one-time payment of $2,750.
The settlement “offer” made no mention when the alleged ADA violation needed to be fixed or whether Frederick and his attorney would revisit the facility to make sure they are ADA compliant.
“These cases are designed to extract money from these businesses,” Wright said.
News 5 Investigates also noticed another problem.
In a lawsuit against Chipotle, Frederick claimed the edges of the carpet were not securely fastened to the floor. However, our cameras found no carpet inside the restaurant. The entire dining area is concrete.
There is an entry rug, but Frederick made no mention of the rug.
In several more cases, Frederick allegedly went to the bathroom and found the toilet paper dispensers were mounted improperly by a couple of inches. He also sued for parking spaces that had “accessible” signs posted a few inches too low.
“If you’re going to sue, we want good lawsuits,” Dr. Patricia Yeager, CEO of The Independence Center said. “We want lawsuits that cause the building/business owner to change and upgrade their building and make it accessible.”
Yeager supports ADA lawsuits only if the business owner refuses to correct major violations.
However, business owners we’ve spoken with say they were never given an opportunity to fix an alleged violation. They claim they were first blindsided with a lawsuit, and then blindsided by a letter demanding cash to settle.
“I don’t condone this,” Yeager said. “I think it’s deplorable to be suing businesses with these copy and paste lawsuits.”
All 43 cases filed by Frederick are similar in nature from the allegations to the facts, leaving attorney’s like Bruce Wright wondering whether Frederick actually visited all of the businesses he sued.
Wright is now fighting back and has just filed a motion Monday asking a judge to combine all of Frederick’s lawsuits into one lawsuit and then have that case dropped.
“The purpose of consolidation is that everything will be in front of one judge and all the rulings will be consistent,” Wright said.
This is exactly what happened in Arizona against a group called “Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities”.
The organization filed more than 1,700 lawsuits for minor issues like businesses failing to post a “van accessible” sign underneath a designated “accessible” space.
At the request of the Arizona Attorney General, all 1,700 cases were consolidated and tossed!
Unfortunately, the dismissals didn’t come without a price tag for business owners who were sued.
“Businesses will have to have a little slush fund to hire an attorney and call the bluff on the people filing these lawsuits,” Yeager said. “However, it (the lawsuits) has to cause them (business owners) to look at their facility and say, ‘Can people with disabilities get in and is there something I should be doing?'”
If you get sued for an ADA violation, never give the plaintiff or their attorney money to settle.
Instead, use that money and hire an ADA expert or attorney to look at your business and make corrections.
After corrections (if needed) have been made, appear in court.
News 5 Investigates went to Frederick’s last known address in Colorado Springs for comment. However, the woman who answered the door advised us he did not live there.
We reached out to Frederick’s wife, Kellie, on Facebook, but never received a response.
Frederick’s attorney is based in Boulder but doesn’t appear to have a law office. All court documents list a P.O. Box as an address.
You can read Wright’s motion to dismiss all cases filed by Frederick here.