Jason Singleton Strikes Again

A new rash of ADA lawsuits has businesses scraping to comply, and get by

| May 08, 2008
Meredith Maier shows Six Rivers Brewery's new wheelchair accessible bathroom sink. Photo by Heidi Walters
Meredith Maier shows Six Rivers Brewery's new wheelchair accessible bathroom sink. Photo by Heidi Walters
More Images

Driving through Eureka on 101, you may have noticed that a long-time fixture, the Arctic Circle, is all boarded up. On Tuesday, the Times-Standard had the report: The restaurant was sued in February over violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case settled, and the owners, unable to afford the fixes required to become compliant, closed shop.

The lawsuit was filed by Eureka attorney Jason Singleton. He made a splash several years back by suing a plethora of local entities over ADA violations the plaintiffs said prevented their access to the establishments. He sued Humboldt County, the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, Gottschalks, the Minor Theater Corp., Café Waterfront, Café Marina and more. (Since 1997, Singleton has filed nearly 300 civil rights suits across California, more than 75 of them ADA-related.)

Now he's onto a new round. There's the Arctic Circle lawsuit, as well as one against Six Rivers Brewery filed last June and mentioned briefly in the T-Sreport. And there are more: Toni's 24-hr Restaurant in Arcata (sued in March 2006); Carl's Jr. in the Valley West shopping center (January 2006); Barnes Arcata Family Drug (February 2006); Central Station bar in McKinleyville (April 2007); and, on March 24 this year, Open Door Community Health Centers' Arcata clinic on 10th Street.

Singleton didn't respond to the Journal's request for an interview.

Carmichael-based attorney Catherine Corfee, who represented Toni's and Six Rivers Brewery, said by phone last week that these cases usually have little to do with actual discrimination. They often focus on slight imperfections found not to have deterred other disabled people's access. And they nearly always settle — it's cheaper than a costly court battle. A jury trial could rack up $80,000, or far more, in attorney's fees, which the defendant has to pay. Even so, the defendant might still shell out between $5,000 and $30,000 in a settlement, she said.

There are some valid cases, she said. She doesn't count Singleton's among them.

"I believe that he basically is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Corfee said.

And sometimes a settlement can sink a business. Or send it into partial hibernation.

Last Thursday afternoon, Meredith Maier was behind the bar at Six Rivers Brewery, pouring raspberry-colored pints for several gents sitting by the windows and pale ales for two fellows bellied up closer to her station, where the phone rang off the hook. Maier, who co-owns Six Rivers with two others, said the brewery was sued last June by Sunny Brae resident Elizabeth Miller. The parties reached a settlement in November, the details of which are confidential. The brewery has just paid off the last of the settlement and now it has to suck in its belly for a while.

"We pulled our advertising — from the Journal, from the Times-Standard, and from all of the local radio stations we were advertising with, and the local visitor magazine," Maier said. "We've had to cut back shifts — [my partners] and I are now working five shifts instead of three. We pay bands to play here, Sunday through Thursday, and we've had to cancel those standing bookings because we couldn't afford to pay them. We canceled all the karaoke."

Miller sent a letter last March to Maier, listing problems she said she had encountered at the brewery: The paint marking the parking spaces was faded. She couldn't get in the side door, where the wheelchair ramp is. The front entrance has a step she couldn't negotiate. The ladies room was too small for her to turn her wheelchair around in, the stalls were too narrow, and the paper towel and seat cover holders were too high. And so on.

Maier wrote back the day the letter arrived, noting Miller's frustrations and also that they had other disabled customers who never had problems, but that they had contacted a local engineer to help them comply. She told Miller the brewery would refund her meal from the day of her visit.

After that, Maier said, the brewery got started on changes to be in compliance — all the "readily achievable" fixes, as required by the law, that wouldn't cause undue hardship for the business.

Ninety days later, Miller sued. Maier said she and her partners aren't looking for pity, but they do feel they were blindsided.

"We're trying to be upstanding business owners and we definitely don't want anybody of any handicap to feel like they can't use our facilities," Maier said. "Now we're on the brink of bankruptcy because of this."

Some customers aren't happy about it, either. Last Friday, by phone, Lynn Navarro said she's a regular at Six Rivers Brewery and Toni's. "I am in a wheelchair," she said. "I was born this way: I have no legs and one arm. And I tell you, I had no problem in Toni's and no problem in Six Rivers."

Navarro, who lives in McKinleyville, said she can point to innumerable ADA violations in the area — quite a few in Arcata, not to mention those tilty floors in the Taco Bell bathrooms and their too-high drink dispensers that cause liquid to dribble down a wheelchair-bound person's arm. And, yeah, Central Station probably did need to add that new handicapped-accessible bathroom. But Navarro's not one to sue over such things.

"I don't think society owes me anything," she said. "I worked all my life. I raised two kids. And I just never even thought about whining about disabled stuff."

She said she used to let businesses know when they're violating access codes — for their own protection, she said. But one time she told a local Mexican restaurant that its bathroom wasn't ADA-compliant, and that it would only cost them about $200 to fix. "They got freaky, like I'm going to sue them," she said.

Miller, reached Friday by phone, said she doesn't sue everyone — just the businesses that "shirk off" ADA violations.

Miller said she herniated a disc in her neck while working as a police officer in Monterey County. She retired, and moved to Arcata in 1998. She has trouble walking and sometimes uses a wheelchair.

According to court records, Miller is the plaintiff in five of the recent Singleton lawsuits, against Carl's Jr., Barnes Family Drug, Central Station, Six Rivers and Arcata Open Door Clinic. (She did not sue Toni's or Arctic Circle; others did.)

But Miller had trouble remembering what the problems were at Six Rivers and Central Station.

"I honestly can't recall," she said. "You know, it's been a few over the years. And my memory's not that great because of the medications I take for the nerve pain. Used to be sharp."

When asked about the Arcata Open Door Clinic, she said, "They're OK. They don't have any serious problems."

She hadn't sued them?

"No," she said. "Why would you think I would have sued them?"

On Monday, Open Door's risk manager, Christopher Peters, said they were served with Miller's complaint April 15. "We don't believe the case has any merit," he said. "But we will investigate and we will defend."

The complaint lists three issues: a doorbell Miller had to ring to gain access, a blocked parking space and a blocked ladies room.

Peters said the clinic, undergoing renovation, did recently install a buzzer on the door to one waiting area to make it secure from the outside. It's something they've done at all of the clinics.

Hermann Spetzler, Open Door's executive director, sounded bemused on Monday about the lawsuit. He said the Arcata clinic sees up to 500 people a week. He can't remember a single time, he said, someone has sued over patient access.

"I find it a very unusual way to approach a community organization whose primary mission is access to care," he said. "We've had a number of disabled staff who indicated they had difficulty negotiating this or that, and we immediately made changes. I'm not sure what the point of this lawsuit is."

Miller, last Friday, said she isn't in it for the money. She declined to say how much money she has made in settlements.

"I haven't earned a whole lot of money," she said. "You know, I prefer to keep it down." By the time she pays taxes, it isn't much.

Miller didn't know who she might sue next. "I haven't thought of any," she said. "I haven't filed any in six months. It averages one, maybe two a year. It just happens to be chance — it depends on where I go."



Comments (15)

Showing 1-15 of 15

This guy's a FRICKIN' LEECH!! Throw him into the pond with the other LEECHES!

report 3 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Joe McSchmoe on 07/08/2009 at 11:32 AM

A company I worked for was sued by Singleton. It was over service animals. A guy tied his dogs up outside in the sun, left the property for over 15 minutes, returned and was told to leave by my co-worker because he broke Arcata law and left his dogs tied up. He never bought anything during the few weeks he had lurked around on and often disrupted paying customers. Three weeks later the business was served and the owner's insurance company lawyer interviewed employees who witnessed the event then called the owner, told him they would prevail but the cost to settle was lower than the cost of a federal court trial. Singleton and his client got a few thousand dollars out of that one. I was amazed, this guy broke the law and got a settlement.

Posted by sued on 07/08/2009 at 7:09 PM

I guess your local leech lawyer Singleton ran out of businesses to sue on the North Coast.
He has now migrated south and forced the closure / move of a favorite Sacramento area burger joint, the Squeeze Inn.
What has Sacramento ever done to Humboldt County to deserve this!

report 2 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by cogmeyer on 07/09/2009 at 12:27 PM

If there is such a thing as karma, Jason Singleton will come face to face with a concrete abutment while driving at freeway speeds and his airbag will malfunction. Hasta la vista slimeball attorney.

report 3 likes, 2 dislikes   
Posted by Rusty B. on 07/09/2009 at 5:25 PM

I did some consulting for this clown, someone should lock him up....someone needs to offer some free attorney hours and fight this creep and take his new plane from him, hmmmm maybe its me, anyone want me to rid him fund me with free hours,he gives the disabled a bad rap...ADADESIGNGROUP@ATT.NET

report 5 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by COUPCRUISER on 07/10/2009 at 12:45 PM

He's a perfect fit for Humboldt politics...stinky and crooked.

report 1 like, 1 dislike   
Posted by he's "one of us" on 12/10/2009 at 2:36 AM

Even the spam expresses disgust for Jason Singleton.

report 0 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Buzz on 02/24/2011 at 7:41 PM

Jason Singleton is not to be trusted. The spam is correct.

report 3 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Anonymous on 02/25/2011 at 11:16 AM

best guy ever!!

report 1 like, 5 dislikes   
Posted by ThatsHowItGoes on 10/13/2011 at 4:47 PM

What do you call 1000 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean? Answer: A good Start!

report 1 like, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Jim Jensen on 08/03/2012 at 8:49 AM

It sounds like the individual going around suing businesses may soon receive not so welcoming news when going into future businesses. It is really to bad, soon we may see businesses that have those signs up that read "We refuse the right to serve everybody, that includes disabled!"

Northcoast Journal just did people a favor, on pointing out who not to allow into their businesses! Definitely not helping to ultimate goal of acceptance in society.

report 6 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Charles Bean on 12/15/2013 at 1:31 PM

Actually, you must simply file a complaint with the California Bar Association. Bring him before the bar, his days of wine, planes and roses will come to an end.

report 4 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Patrick Shannon on 12/16/2013 at 5:57 AM

What a lying sack of manure miller is...a former cop turned con artist...how admirable!

report 4 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by eureka22 on 12/16/2013 at 8:35 AM

I have one question for all those who are attacking Jason Singleton: How long do YOU believe citizens should have to become compliant with the law before they're held accountable? Six months? A year? Five years?

The ADA was passed in 1990. That means all of these businesses have had TWENTY-THREE YEARS in which to make the changes that would bring them in line with the law. Isn't two decades enough time for these business to make the necessary adaptations?

My best friend's daughter is one of the business owners who was sued by a client of Jason Singleton's. (I shouldn't have to point this out, but I will: it's not Mr. Singleton who is suing these businesses, but the clients who hire him. Shouldn't those clients be the ones held responsible for these suits?) Although I love my friend, one of the things she said to me was, "They should give people time to make their business accessible." She also said the law was too complex, and they keep changing it, so people shouldn't be expected to understand the law and obey it. But isn't two decades enough time for that?

Seems to me that, in this case, too many people believe THEY should be somehow exempt from the law. Jason Singleton has become the scapegoat for their refusal to acknowledge their legal responsibility. Instead of obeying the law, it's easier to point the finger at the man who is HIRED BY CLIENTS to uphold their civil rights.

My friend's daughter was only in grade school when the ADA was passed, so much as it pains me to say it, she and her husband should have made a point to be aware of their responsibilities under the law BEFORE they opened their business. If they found the law too difficult to understand, they should have consulted an attorney at the time they opened their business and paid him for a consultation. After all, that's what attorneys are for. And if you don't have the money to do that, then maybe you should wait until you've saved enough to cover all your expenses BEFORE you open your doors. Owning a small business doesn't automatically give you a 'Get Out of Jail Free" card.

We all want small businesses to thrive. However, small business owners have the same responsibility under that law as anyone else. These business owners had more than two decades to make the necessary adaptation. That's ample time, in my opinion. Time for all you whiners to take responsibility for your own failure to obey the law.

Don't want to be sued? You've had twenty-three years to get in line with the law. Seriously, how can anyone blame an attorney for doing his job when they can't be bothered to live up to their own legal responsibility? I'm sure Jason Singleton is slime, because I've yet to meet an attorney who wasn't, but whether he's an angel or a demon, he's still just a guy doing the job he's been hired to do.

Maybe if all you small business owners had done YOUR job by obeying the ADA sometime over the past two decades, you wouldn't find yourself on the wrong end of a civil suit now.

Posted by FairMinded on 12/23/2013 at 1:23 PM

We started our Old Town business in early 1990's, in a 1920's building. It was a different use needing to be remodeled. The city of Eureka provided extensive ADA info listing the upgrades required costing about $1,000 that we did ourselves. We have a disabled friend that wrote us a letter of satisfaction after we finished work. We remembered Mr. Singleton's visits after we opened.

Not one public or private organization or business in Humboldt County has any excuse not to upgrade their facility, ESPECIALLY, knowing about Mr. Singleton!

How is it that the media takes business', government and the Chamber's word for the unfairness, yet, they are never asked to open their books to public scrutiny to actually prove it?

report 1 like, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Alan Moss on 02/26/2014 at 11:14 PM
Showing 1-15 of 15

Add a comment