Ragged Edge Online Home

A Welcome Ruling on 'Vexatious Litigants'

Disability Law Blog reports on a recent court ruling in California in which the judge rejects the charge that a man who has filed numerous lawsuits is a "vexatious litigant."

Any of you who have followed stories about the California business community's efforts to discredit people who file access lawsuits know that one of the tactics business owners who've been sued use is to say the guy filing the suit is a "vexatious litigant" -- which, in non legalese, means a guy who files a whole bunch of lawsuits just for the heck of it, to "vex" the court. It's a nasty tactic but unfortunately it's worked several times -- back in December, 2004, Jarek Molski was hauled up before Federal Judge Edward Rafeedie, who accused him of engaging in a "scheme of systematic extortion"; said he was was "misusing a noble law" and formally designated him a "vexatious litigant" -- someone who files lawsuits "maliciously and without good cause." Molski was forbidden to file further suits without judicial permission beforehand. Since then, other crips filing numerous access suits have gotten the same treatment.

In the case blogger Sam Bagenstos reports on, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of the Eastern District of California uses some pretty clear wording to tell the businesses (who evidently counter-sued when they were sued for access violations) that the disabled guy -- who, yeah, has filed a big bunch of suits -- isn't a "vexatious litigant": "the number of lawsuits plaintiff has filed does not reflect that he is a vexatious litigant; rather, it appears to reflect the failure of the defendants to comply with the law. "

To which we add a decidedly non-lawyerly "right on, Judge!"

Bagenstos puts it better, of course:

there's nothing unethical about filing lots of suits when lots of people have violated your legal rights. And the sad fact is that noncompliance with the ADA is widespread. Judge Karlton is to be commended for not letting questions about the number of suits the plaintiff has filed get in the way of the real issue -- whether the defendants are violating the law.

Read the blog entry, which has a lot of detail about just what Judge Karlton wrote, here.


I first read of this story when researching proposed ADA notification act in Florida-sponsored by Mark Foley. I went to visit him in DC and expressed how much I (and others in the disability community) strongly oppose measures to weaken ADA. I have never understood why so many have focused on a few who bear the load of many to report and file these claims. We are an interesting community with unequal distribution of resources and familiarity with the legal system...if a person files 100 violations that are indeed true and founded violations with the proper procedure-what is the difference than if 100 different people did it? The fact and problem remains-there were 100 violations...why not move to fix THOSE-not the person who takes the time to point them out. In my opinion it's a covert way to undermine the law in itself.....many are afraid to outright oppose it but are looking for any way to not spend the $ or change the behavior to comply.

Very happy to see this judge's remarks....still more work to do.

The national disabled community seems to be implementing the only available form of recourse open to them. Namely, the trickle-up protest. Congressional leaders from 1990 were boldly mistaken to think that businesses posing as public accommodations were going to be ecstatic with applications of ADA compliance. In 1990, the disabled community was given the firearm of change, but deprived of the ammunition to effect the needed change. In the trickle-up attack - disabled advocates move from grass roots protest past all other indifferent city, county and municipal governmental entitities [which could pass much needed local ordinances of compliance] that have taken a powder on ADA compliance and enforcement. The next trickle-up "stage of indifference" comes from the State offices of Attorney Generals, most of which don't even have specific offices or policies to address barrier compliance and discrimination issues for disabled individuals. The final trickle-up platform [and perhaps the most useless for individual complaints] rest at DOJ-CRD. In their wisdom, or the lack thereof, they offer the disabled community a heaping serving of mediation. Don't you know that policy strikes fear and apprehension among public accommodations providers like businesses, construction, building, contracting, architectural design and real estate management professions? The time has come for Congress to amend the ADA and reverse the unrealistic trickle-up system of non-enforcement and non-compliance with the ADA. Most of the national disabled community lack the personal funds to retain attorneys and attack barriers in this trickle-up consumer initiated system. The time has come to reverse the consumer flow downward, and place the responsibility for change and compliance at each level of political organization - federal, state and municipal.

What a travesty to ADA and the rights of disabled Americans. The "squeaky wheel" does not always get the attention it requires. In this case that theory has backfired. Finding a label such as "vexatious litigant" is ludicrous, and only a way to distract attention from the justice that should have prevailed in the beginning. In a country full of bigots, it seems like a continual climb up the mountain for disabled Americans.
"With liberty and justice for all" is a statement that should empower all Americans. Unfortunately, for some Americans it is not a pledge, but just a phraseology of meaningless words.

"When you have no defense, abuse the plaintiff."

This is good news for me! I have filed several civil rights complaints with Mass Commission Against Discrimination, including a complaint against the City of cambridge Police for refusing to allow me to file an internal complaint when they violated my civil rights and arrested my when I entered CVS with my service dog, a complaint against CVS for denyin g me access with my service dog, based on "It looks like a wolf, and might bite someone." (the Cambridge police arrested me for tresspassing!) a complaint against the City for failing to enforce their snow removal policies, a complaint against the Malden Distric court for refusing me a reasonable accomodation, resulting in my hospitaliuzation. They actually issued a "habius" for my arrest! LOL and most recently a complaint against the DPw at the Mass Arch Access Board for the city fixing curb ramps without bringing them into compliance, and a complaint against City Hall for blocking emergency egress, and refusing to put up singage.

This is just the appitizer. Currently I have requested the City remove loose gravel from the walkway in dana Park, and replace the wheelchair water fountain with a high-low water fountain, and I have requested 8 more permitting info re non compliant sidewalk/curbramp work.

I am also going to complain about the City's trash, litter and recycling ordanebca, as it does not have language in it allowing for a waiver for folks who cannot physiacally perform required tasks. The city provides exemptions, but such exemptions are not mentioned in the ordinance. who would know to ask?

This is just the salad course, and I have not yet come to the main course...will keep you posted. Yummy!

Post comment:

(All entries are checked for inappropriate content before they appear on the site. Thanks for waiting.)