Jennifer Roback Morse

Alpine, California,  is a peaceful rural community that lies at the foothills of the Viejas Mountains, east of San Diego. Bordering the Cleveland National Forest, this friendly village hardly seems a likely setting for a show-down over free enterprise, disabled rights and lawsuit abuse.

Mike McKany, owner of Alpine Liquor, received a letter informing him that he was being sued for three counts of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He was informed that three different aggrieved customers were suing him for damages of $10,500 each. The letter, from attorney Theodore Pinnock, offered him the option of settling if he called that day. The attorney offered to begin negotiating down from the $10,500 for each count, as long as the first payment was received by the following Monday.

McKany was puzzled by the alleged violations. Two years ago, California Lottery officials had assured him that he met the requirements of the ADA. His business had to be in compliance with ADA as a precondition of being allowed to sell California lottery tickets. The suit alleged that Alpine Liquor’s restrooms were not handicapped accessible. The liquor store doesn’t even have a public restroom. Pinnock’s letter claimed that McKany’s business did not provide disabled parking. But his parking lot does have disabled parking.

But Mike told me by phone that his disabled customers don’t even use the designated handicapped parking spot. Instead, they pull right up in front of the store, where Mike, his father Joe, or another employee can easily see them. Doing business in such a small town as Alpine, Mike knows his regular customers. Most of his disabled customers never have to get out of the car, since somebody usually hops out of the store to help them.

So Mike wondered about these customers who were complaining that his business was inhospitable to disabled people. He looked up their names on the Internet. He found that at least one of them had an address in El Cajon, 15 miles away. Kind of a long way to go to the liquor store.

As it happens, at least thirty other Alpine businesses received identical letters from the same attorney with equally inapplicable complaints. This particular attorney, Theodore Pinnock, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, has a reputation around San Diego County. Last year, he sent 67 letters to businesses in the historic town of Julian, alleging violations of ADA accessibility requirements. At that time, he demanded between $2,500 and $4,000 in attorneys fees from each of the businesses. Business owners in Julian got to the point that they dreaded the approach of anybody in a wheelchair.


Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com

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