Bloomberg Law
Oct. 20, 2022, 7:57 PM

L.A., San Francisco Seek to Revive Repeat Disability Filers Suit

Joyce E. Cutler
Joyce E. Cutler
Staff Correspondent

Los Angeles and San Francisco want a California appeals court to revive a lawsuit alleging a law firm engaged in a small business shakedown by filing thousands of disability access lawsuits, prosecutors said Thursday.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge dismissed with prejudice the city district attorneys’ lawsuit alleging Potter Handy LLP abused California civil rights law and violated the state unfair business practices act by filing thousands of boilerplate lawsuits. The firm uses repeat filers claiming they were denied access in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state civil rights law known as the Unruh Act. The filings in federal court demand damages of at least $4,000.

Appealing the judge’s order “is the best course of action in this case to protect legitimate businesses from predatory law firms that abuse our disability protection laws by filing frivolous boilerplate lawsuits,” L.A. District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement.

“By using false standing allegations to get an ADA injunctive-relief claim into federal court—where the Legislature’s procedural reforms on abusive Unruh Act litigation do not apply—and coupling the federal claim with a state-law Unruh Act claim, Potter Handy is able to avoid those reforms while demanding small businesses pay it the heavy damages available under the Unruh Act,” the lawsuit said.

Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow tossed the lawsuit against Potter Handy, doing business as Center for Disability Access, holding the conduct alleged in the April lawsuit “has to do with drafting and filing complaints, and so is protected.”

Small businesses contend they are submerged by serial filers who may not even enter their businesses that are hundreds of miles from where they live or return after filing.

Potter Handy’s counsel with Callahan & Blaine didn’t immediately respond to a voice mail and an email seeking comment.

Sanctions Ordered

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins pointed to an Oct. 11 ruling by a San Francisco federal judge in a case Potter Handy brought against Peet’s Coffee as bolstering the DAs’ case. The court ordered $35,000 in sanctions against the firm.

Lawyers, when they sue as a tester or when representing a tester, “must conduct yourself in legitimate fashion. You must make truthful allegations. You may not lie in an effort to keep your lawsuit alive. And that is the real problem here,” Judge Vince Chhabria, US District Court for the Northern District of California, said.

What’s apparent from the sequence of events in the case is that the plaintiff “and his lawyers feel so strongly about their mission (whether it’s a mission to get businesses in compliance, a mission to make money, or both) that they were willing to peddle whatever lie they thought necessary to allow their lawsuit to survive,” Chhabria wrote.

The case is California v. Potter Handy LLP, Cal. Ct. App., 1st Dist., No. unavailable, filed 10/20/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Maya Earls at