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A Los Angeles-based attorney has been accused of fabricating fictional clients to file lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act against small businesses across Southern California. Why? According to a complaint filed with the State Bar of California, good old-fashioned extortion.
Another attorney, David Michaels, reported Simon Soo Kil Chang of K&C Law Firm to the state bar in 2018, claiming Chang had shaken down over 200 business owners over ADA violations as small as faded paint on an accessible parking spot.
When a friend who owned a pizza shop in Placentia, California approached Michaels about a disability lawsuit, things didn’t seem to add up. Michaels told The Orange County Register that he had his suspicions about the case before deciding to visit the address on the plaintiff’s complaint. Then, the address turned out to be a mailbox on the top floor of a strip mall in Los Angeles that was not handicap accessible – a mailbox that was rented by a law firm.
According to Michaels, none of Chang’s ADA clients have been proven to be a real person. And none of the defendants Michaels contacted had ever seen or spoken to Victorino Castillo, the plaintiff listed on many of the ADA suits filed by Chang’s law firm.
Suspicious lawsuits filed under the ADA are, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. One Arizona news outlet has been following a spike in what they call ADA “drive-by” suits for almost two years. In these cases, the plaintiffs often never attempt to actually visit the enterprise they are suing; instead, they drive to various businesses noting minor ADA violations. They then file lawsuits against small family-owned businesses, who feel they have no choice but to pay the settlement amount rather than spend even more in court. In California, fines for ADA violations can be up to $4,000.
While the ADA is undoubtedly necessary to ensuring public spaces are accessible for everyone, it seems the current system is too easy to abuse. A measure passed in Congress in 2018 purports to address this very problem. However, some argue that these ADA reforms just make it more difficult to lodge a legitimate complaint.
Back in California, Michaels has urged the state bar to take action against Chang, despite vehement denials by Chang of any wrongdoing. According to the California state bar’s lawyer database, Chang is currently still authorized to practice law in the state.