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Lodi businesses see possible Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit trend

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Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:57 am, Wed Aug 10, 2011.

Vern Weigum received a letter sent from Carmichael the other day.

Inside the envelope, the owner of Weigum's Lodi Nursery on Ham Lane found a note stating he was out of compliance with regulations outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and that he had 60 days to fix what was wrong or he would be taken to court.

The letter did not specify what specifically Weigum needed to fix to make sure he was compliant with ADA policies.

The letter was signed by Scott Johnson.

"I have been here for 56 years," Weigum said. "I walk around with a cane and have two walkers in the back of my pick-up. Almost everyone in Lodi knows us, and for those who can't walk, they honk and we bring what they need out to their car or we deliver it to their house for free."

Weigum is the newest addition to a growing list of businesses in Lodi that have been either sued or have been notified that they are out of compliance with ADA regulations.

Specifically, most of the businesses that are targeted are told they do not have the proper number of handicapped parking spaces, that their parking spaces are not the proper size for handicapped vans, or that their signage is not up to code.

But since January, roughly 15 businesses in Lodi have been targeted by Johnson and George Louie, two plaintiffs who have attracted attention for their tendency to perpetually sue businesses throughout California, regardless of whether they have ever actually frequented the establishments they are suing.

The businesses also tend to be small mom-and-pops or local establishments, rather than national chains.

Currently, Louie is listed as a vexatious litigant in Contra Costa County.

Because of his high number of losses, Louie is technically not allowed to file any more lawsuits in any court in California until a judge deems his cases legitimate enough to move forward in a court of law.

Bob Casalegno, owner of Java Stop on South Hutchins Street, was sued by Johnson in May for having parking spots that were not wide enough to fit his van and for not having a restroom that was ADA-compliant.

Casalegno has maintained that his business, parking spots and all, have always been up-to-date with ADA regulations.

On Monday, Casalegno's lawyer informed him that Johnson requested a jury and that Johnson was going to try to move the case forward to the trial stage.

While Casalegno would have had to pay roughly $4,000 to settle the lawsuit, now the case could cost more.

These lawsuits are expensive, whether or not a business settles with a plaintiff, said Connie Riggs, co-owner of Gienger Floor Covering.

Riggs received a letter from Johnson a few months ago. Riggs said her letter was "cookie-cutter" in that it stated nearly verbatim what Weigum's letter did.

In doing research with her husband, Riggs discovered it would cost between $200 and $2,000 just to outline properly-sized parking spaces and to pay an inspector to approve the changes. Those costs did not include settlement payments or lawyer fees should the business need to settle with Johnson or Louie.

"You could still be in compliance, but they want you to spend your money anyways on an inspection," she said. "My question to them is why don't they come out themselves and tell me what is wrong?"

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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  • Jay Samone posted at 10:09 am on Thu, Aug 11, 2011.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    cont - I guarantee a jury will not award this man anything.

  • Jay Samone posted at 10:09 am on Thu, Aug 11, 2011.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    I did alittle bit of research on this guy yesterday and he has quite the history - dating back to 2003 when his results were settlements in the MILLIONS. Because someone high up took notice at these expensive frivolous lawsuits, legislation passed and preventing huge sums being paid out - hence the template "you owe me $4k to settle" letters. So - even though I have no horse in this race, I think a local attorney needs to do a little pro bono work and group all of the plaintiffs together and countersue to prove Mr. Johnson the "vexatious litigant" that he is. BobI say - - go ahead and let him take it to trial and when the testimony starts, have your attorneysbring in past plaintiffs who all have the same experiences with this man. I guarantee

  • Dave Christy posted at 8:45 am on Thu, Aug 11, 2011.

    Dave Christy Posts: 27

    We all need to keep an eye on the proceedings at Java Stop, in the mean time stop by and buy a cup of coffee from them and leave a large tip towards this nonsense litigation. We also recieved the letter from this PUKE Johnson,can't say I'm looking forward to meeting him but we are on his list.

  • Doug Chaney posted at 4:46 pm on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    The dui/license scam is no better, taking misdemeanor traffic violators off the streets instead of setting up in areas like downtown Lodi where the winos and alcoholics hang out every night. The bar at the Rosewood always seems to be very busy, maybe that's why they stay away from that area, whhere the watering holes for the good ol' boys and girls really are with all the new wine bars.

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 3:13 pm on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    I would think if a local attorney took this on free of charge, it would generate appreciation and notoriety that would be helpful for future business. I know if I knew an attorney that did the right thing out of principle, I would want him on my side , especially if quality of service was demonstrated.
    I hope someone steps up.

  • Hilary Joyce posted at 2:50 pm on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    hjl22 Posts: 2

    Is there anything we can do to help? can we somehow ask for donations get together as a community and stand up to this joker..... Can we bring a lawsuit against them? is anyone willing to help? This needs to stop, and it will not stop until someone stands up to him to make it stop. I dont understand how settleing and giving this joker 4 grand or whatever the settlement may be, brings you into compliance, if he truly was doing this for the ADA then a settlement would NOT be acceptable! AND of course this can be proven in court... this makes me angry, that he is getting away with this. LETS STOP HIM NOW! any ideas? I would be willing to donate to the cause!

  • Kenneth Huntley posted at 2:44 pm on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    Ken Huntley Posts: 32

    Okay the last leg to stand on comment was funny Jay, nearly sprayed my monitor with water on that one. I think the laws need to be changed so that people like Johnson cannot go lawsuit crazy on businesses, it really is ridiculous.

  • Barbara Trevena posted at 11:15 am on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    angelwings Posts: 1

    All the people who've rec'd these suits should get together and file (along with any others who wish to join) a class action suit against these people for causing so much havoc to small business owners. It's obvious the people are just randomly filing suit against small business's and not even a patron of that business (don't even live in Lodi!!) This is just plain rediculous -

  • Jay Samone posted at 10:06 am on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    Doug - did you happen to see Mike last night on Channel 3?

  • Doug Chaney posted at 9:17 am on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    Doug Chaney Posts: 1232

    Amen, Jay!

  • Jay Samone posted at 9:05 am on Wed, Aug 10, 2011.

    Jay Samone Posts: 359

    Again - someone needs to sue these men for frivolous lawsuits, and include their own court costs in the settlement so that when these freeloaders lose their cases, they will have to pay for the business's expenses as well. The ADA was not meant for these types of freeloaders to send template letters out to every business in town threatening lawsuits to make a quick buck. If they had been stopped prior to this round of threats, they wouldn't have a leg to stand on......(lol)......



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