California ADA Website Lawsuits January to July 2023

In today’s digital age, ensuring website accessibility for all users, including those with disabilities, is a legal and moral imperative. However, as the ongoing flood of lawsuits in California reveals, businesses small to large are under siege from an onslaught of lawsuits and demand letters in California.

Between January and July 2023, 30 plaintiffs filed a staggering 477 lawsuits in California State courts under the Unruh Act, and 15 in California Federal Courts.

Most notably, EcomBack’s research into website litigation under the Unruh Act uncovers startling and brazen lack of accountability by certain plaintiff attorneys who engage in high-frequency litigation.

This report provides a comprehensive overview of the ADA website lawsuits landscape in California. From the most litigious plaintiffs and firms to the industries most under attack, this report paints a vivid picture of the ADA website compliance climate in the Golden State. Dive into the numbers, the key players, and the industries that have found themselves in the crosshairs.

492 Website ADA lawsuits were filed in California from Jan-July 2023

249 Lawsuits were filed against food and restaurant websites

35% of websites sued had an assessibility widget / overlay

Report Summary:

  •  492 website accessibility lawsuits were filed from January to July 2023 of which 477 cases were in California State courts, and 15 in California federal courts
  • 249 lawsuits filed against food and restaurant websites; that’s almost 50% of total lawsuits in California
  • 227 lawsuits were filed by Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC, 46.14% of total ADA lawsuits filed in California
  • Plaintiff Perla Mageno from Manning Law, APC, is the top lawsuit filer with 99 lawsuits
  • 174 websites using an overlay widget were sued during the period. That’s 34.39% of total ADA lawsuits filed in California

Total ADA Website Lawsuit Numbers for January to July 2023 in California

Blue bars show total of legal actions taken against the ADA's website in 2023. Below, you'll find more information.

Number of lawsuits each month: January 51, February 16, March 78, April 86, May 89, June 107, and July 65.

List of Plaintiff Firms Filing Unruh / ADA Website Lawsuits in California

This year, in California, a staggering 83% of website lawsuits against businesses have been filed by just two law firms. However, the California Commission for Disability Access (CCDA) has received only 158 complaints and not a single demand letter. Defense attorneys argue that this discrepancy is not only misleading for the legislature but also breaches AB 2917, which was enacted in January 2023 to ensure transparency in accessibility litigation.

Plaintiff's Firm Name Lawsuits Filed Percentage
Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 227 Lawsuits 46.14%
Manning Law, APC 182 Lawsuits 36.99%
Custodio & Dubey LLP 19 Lawsuits 3.86%
Wilshire Law Firm 11 Lawsuits 2.24%
John Paul Hutchins (Pro-se) 10 Lawsuits 2.03%
Viridiana Quevedo (Pro-se) 10 Lawsuits 2.03%
Center For Disability Access 3 Lawsuits 0.61%
Vanessa Orellena (Pro-se) 8 Lawsuits 1.63%
Law Offices of Morse Mehrban 5 Lawsuits 1.02%
Amber M. Ortiz (Pro-se) 4 Lawsuits 0.81%
The Hill Law Firm 4 Lawsuits 0.81%
The Santa Clarita Law Firm 4 Lawsuits 0.81%
Kevin Rosales (Pro-se) 2 Lawsuits 0.41%
Apex Trial Law 3 Lawsuits 0.61%
Total ADA Website Lawsuits Filed 492 Lawsuits

Non-Compliance with AB 2917

Under reporting of demand letters and complaints by attorneys

EcomBack’s research reveals significant concerns about AB 2917 which went into effect in January 2023. Sponsored by Assembly member Mike Fong, this legislation mandates attorneys to register demand letters and complaints about accessibility, both physical and digital, with the California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA) within five days.

However, it seems many attorneys are not following the simple and crystal clear rules. CCDA has informed us that not a single demand letter has been registered with the commission since January 2023, and only 158 of 492 complaints were reported as of July 2023.

Not ironically, many of the very same attorneys taking businesses to court for web accessibility issues often have non-compliant websites themselves.

In essence, some attorneys seem to operate above the law by targeting businesses for alleged accessibility violations and extracting tens of thousands of dollars in settlements, while themselves ignoring similar standards, undermining their copy-paste complaints under the pretext of promoting genuine disability rights via several tester plaintiffs.

If your business has received a demand letter or lawsuit in 2023 for website accessibility email the CCDA and contact the State Bar to ensure that the complaint was registered with them as per the requirements of AB 2917. You may want to email Assembly member Mike Fong to let his office know as well.

Settlements and Plaintiff Attorney’s Fees

Because the Unruh Act incentivizes lawsuits against businesses with statutory damages of $4,000 plus attorneys fees, some plaintiff attorneys have found an extremely profitable niche in which to demand egregious fees for themselves as part of the settlements from businesses, who cannot afford to litigate in an unfair fight.

California’s lawmakers need to look into plaintiff attorneys fees in Unruh Act cases that far exceed the reasonable hourly billable costs it takes to file and settle these copy-paste, boilerplate cases.

For more insight, read this Report and Recommendation by a panel of judges in the case of Laufer vs Acheson Hotels, which is before the Supreme Court.

a person with three money bags in a wheelbarrow.

ADA Website Plaintiffs in California January to July 2023

The top 15 plaintiffs filed 433 out of the 492 of the cases in California, which is 88% of the cases.

Plaintiff Name Firm Name Cases Filed Percentage
Perla Mageno Manning Law, APC 99 Lawsuits 20.12%
Rusty Rendon Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 44 Lawsuits 8.94%
Luis Licea Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 42 Lawsuits 8.54%
Drew Hunthausen Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 38 Lawsuits 7.72%
Isabel Rendon Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 37 Lawsuits 7.52%
Rebecca Castillo Manning Law, APC 28 Lawsuits 5.69%
Dominick Martin Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 25 Lawsuits 5.08%
Cesar Cotto Manning Law, APC 20 Lawsuits 4.07%
Jose Casillas Custodio & Dubey LLP 19 Lawsuits 3.86%
Sheila Biglang-Awa Castro Manning Law, APC 18 Lawsuits 3.66%
Jennifer Carbine Manning Law, APC 17 Lawsuits 3.46%
Brittney Mejico Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 16 Lawsuits 3.25%
John Paul Hutchins - in Pro Per John Paul Hutchins - in Pro Per 10 Lawsuits 2.03%
Mitchell Walter Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 10 Lawsuits 2.03%
Viridiana Quevedo - in Pro Per Viridiana Quevedo - in Pro Per 10 Lawsuits 2.03%
Vanessa Orellena - In Pro Per Vanessa Orellena - In Pro Per 8 Lawsuits 1.63%
Cheryl Thurston Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 8 Lawsuits 1.63%
Portia Mason Wilshire Law Firm 6 Lawsuits 1.22%
Ismael Herrera Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 5 Lawsuits 1.02%
Crystal Redick Wilshire Law Firm 5 Lawsuits 1.02%
Amber M. Ortiz - in Pro Per Amber M. Ortiz - in Pro Per 4 Lawsuits 0.81%
Cassandra Wilson The Hill Law Firm 4 Lawsuits 0.81%
Sylvia Santos The Santa Clarita Law Firm 4 Lawsuits 0.81%
Christian Hernandez Law Offices of Morse Mehrban 3 Lawsuits 0.61%
Thomas Dorobiala Center For Disability Access 3 Lawsuits 0.61%
Chris Langer Center For Disability Access 2 Lawsuits 0.41%
Licea Jose Pacific Trial Attorneys, APC 2 Lawsuits 0.41%
Alejandra Perez Law Offices of Morse Mehrban 2 Lawsuits 0.41%
Kevin Rosales - in Pro Per Kevin Rosales - in Pro Per 2 Lawsuits 0.41%
Ameloot Lore Center For Disability Access 1 Lawsuit 0.20%
Total 492 Lawsuits

California’s High Frequency Plaintiff Testers

As the table above shows, many tester plaintiffs are high-frequency litigants such as the recently prosecuted Scott Norris Johnson. They typically receive $4000 per infraction under the Unruh Act.

Was the Unruh Act’s statutory penalty designed to be a bounty system for a handful of people? Are tester plaintiffs, many of whom receive Social Security Disability and Medicare, even reporting the work they do as testers and are they filing taxes for the settlement amounts they earn doing this work of “testing”?

Mr. Johnson did not file taxes he owed and has been sentenced.

Pro-Per Filers

In studying cases filed by the following Pro-Per filers listed above (Kevin Rosales, Vanessa Orellena, Viridiana Quevedo, Amber M. Ortiz, and John Paul Hutchins), we found that the phone number listed for all of these individuals is the same and the complaints are nearly identical.

A “Pro-Per” filer, also often referred to as “Pro Se,” means that an individual is representing themselves in court without the assistance of an attorney. It is quite curious how 5 people alleging website barriers on various websites all have the same phone number, and practically the same complaint document.

Industries affected by website accessibility lawsuits in California

The restaurant industry accounts for 50% of all website lawsuits.

Industry Category Lawsuits Filed to Date Percentage
Restaurant, Food, Drinks & Beverages 249 50.61%
Lifestyle, Fashion, Clothing & Apparel 81 16.46%
Travel, Hotels & Hospitality 48 9.76%
Medical, Health, Fitness & Sports Accessories 36 7.32%
Real Estate, Property & Apartments 23 4.67%
Furniture, Lightning, Home Decor & Kitchen Accessories 10 2.03%
Automobiles , Car Parts, Tools & Accessories 8 1.63%
Beauty, Skin & Body Care 7 1.42%
Retail & Consumer Goods 5 1.02%
Art & Accessories 3 0.61%

California's Troubling Trend:

The Unruh Act is Used to Target Restaurant Websites

The Unruh Act’s Bounty System Targets Small Restaurants

In the bustling restaurant scene of California, a storm has been raging since the summer of 2022. Small to medium-sized establishments find themselves under siege, not from competitors, but from a wave of ADA website lawsuits. But why is California a hotspot for such claims? The answer lies in the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, a well-intentioned piece of legislation that, unfortunately, has given rise to a concerning trend.

The Unruh Act ensures that all individuals are entitled to equal accommodations, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments. While the intent behind this Act is commendable, aiming to protect the rights and dignity of all citizens, one provision has been exploited for financial gain. The Act carries a $4,000 statutory penalty payable to plaintiffs for each violation, *in addition* to the plaintiff’s attorney fees. This combination makes it particularly attractive for some plaintiff attorneys to target businesses, especially smaller ones that may not have fully “ADA-compliant” websites.

A firm owner stresses over an expected ADA lawsuit while sitting at his office desk.

Local neighborhood businesses are sued by plaintiffs far and wide.

This setup has inadvertently created what many describe as a “bounty system”. The promise of guaranteed statutory damages, combined with attorney fees, motivates a segment of lawyers to actively seek out allegedly non-compliant businesses, predominantly small restaurants. For these attorneys, the modus operandi becomes clear: identify allegedly non-compliant restaurant websites, send a demand letter or initiate a lawsuit, and often push for a quick settlement. The business rationale is simple – many small restaurants, already operating on thin margins and facing the challenges of the pandemic-ridden economy, would prefer to settle than engage in costly and drawn-out litigation.

The victims here are the small restaurant owners, many of whom are non-native English speaking minorities, unaware of the intricacies of ADA compliance for their websites. They’re caught in a web of statutory penalties and legal fees, leading to financial strain, emotional distress, and in some dire cases, shutting down their lifelong dream. What is the California Restaurant Association doing about this?

While ADA compliance is undoubtedly essential, the current “bounty system” facilitated by the Unruh Act’s provisions in California paints a cautionary tale. It’s a stark reminder that even the most well-intentioned legislation can have unintended consequences when loopholes are exploited for personal gain rather than the broader public good.

ADA Website Lawsuit News

Testers testing the will of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is currently scheduled to hear the case of Laufer vs Acheson Hotels. Interestingly, the plaintiff, Laufer, has decided to withdraw all her cases because her previous attorney has had his law license suspended for unethical conduct. For more information, read this crime-novel of a judgment issued by a three panel bench in Maryland.

SB 585 – A solution that has hit a roadblock in the Assembly

Senate Bill 585 stands as a beacon of hope for countless small businesses grappling with crippling ADA-related lawsuits in physical access cases (not website cases). Authored by Sen. Roger Niello, this legislation not only gives business owners a fair 120-day grace period to address accessibility concerns but also effectively mitigates the heavy toll of exorbitant attorney fees and damages.

Yet, despite its undeniable promise and the rallying support from the Senate and business advocates, it remains stalled. Why has the Assembly Judiciary Committee, under the leadership of Chair Brian Maienschein (San Diego), halted a bill that could dramatically curb lawsuit abuse in California and protect businesses from plaintiff attorneys such as San Diego based Potter Handy, who have been sued by the SFO and LA district attorneys?

The question looms large, demanding an answer and swift action.

Read SB 585 here and contact your local Assembly member in California to tell Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (San Diego) to bring this bill to a vote.

AB 1757 (formerly AB 950) – Website Accessibility

Assemblymember Brian Maienschein also brought a bill related to website accessibility, which would allow plaintiffs and their attorneys to sue even more businesses and their web resource providers. Why?

For more on that bill and updates visit www.stopab1757.com

California Lawmakers Websites are Inaccessible – What a shocker!

EcomBack has audited the websites of lawmakers in California in both the Assembly and the Senate. Unsurprisingly, we found huge accessibility issues on every website we tested. We will make this audit report available in due course.

In addition, accessibility expert Jonathan Pool published a report titled: Do California lawmakers obey their own laws?

Mr. Pool ran a battery of ten different tests on the websites of each member of the legislature. Not surprisingly, every one of them fails basic accessibility tests.

California’s State Website: Certified ‘Fresh’ but Smells of Accessibility ‘Rottenness’!

Since 2018, AB 434 mandates that California state agencies ensure their websites comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA or subsequent versions and certify their adherence every two years. In a recent audit of the home page of www.ca.gov by EcomBack, we uncovered 9 violations of WCAG 2.2 AA success criteria and over 20 distinct errors.

Despite these findings, the state has certified its website as compliant on June 15, 2023. Here is our website accessibility audit of ca.gov conducted in July 2023 and shared with California’s Department of Information Technology.

We’ve initiated a public information request to the state for clarification on its process for meeting accessibility requirements, costs, and certification standards.

"This is the best report on California website accessibility litigation, bar none."

Kris Rivenburgh, ADAbook.com

EcomBack is shining a light on the state of website accessibility, litigation, laws, and hypocrisy

EcomBack is dedicated to offering timely insights and analyses on accessibility lawsuits, consistently publishing comprehensive blogs and monthly reports. To ensure a deeper understanding of long-term trends and implications, EcomBack also presents semi-annual and annual reports. These publications serve as invaluable resources for businesses, legal professionals, and policymakers aiming to stay informed on the ever-evolving landscape of accessibility compliance and litigation.

If you have any information you would like to share with us confidentially or otherwise, please contact us.

We have compiled contact information for the California state legislature, media outlets and chambers of commerce.

This report is published in accordance with our Website Content Disclaimer

A multicolored circle with icons for the blind, the deaf, the brain-impaired, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).