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Eleventh Circuit Upholds Monetary And Nonmonetary Rule 11 Sanctions Against Serial Ada Case Filers

In Johnson v. 27th Ave. Caraf, Inc., the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent a message:  If you choose to misuse the legal system, be prepared to suffer the consequences.  No. 19-14353, 2021 WL 3627604, at *30 (11th Cir. Aug. 17, 2021).

In a thirty-page opinion, the Court upheld the trial court’s imposition of monetary and injunctive sanctions against a lawyer and his client who filed dozens of objectively frivolous, identical lawsuits under Title the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. (“ADA”).  Each case alleged that gas station owners violated the ADA by failing to provide closed-captioning to the hearing impaired in videos that played at the gas pumps.  

However, the trial court found that Mr. Johnson, the plaintiff, and his lawyer “were running an illicit joint enterprise, consisting of filing frivolous claims, knowingly misrepresenting the time they counted as billable, making misrepresentations to the court, and improperly sharing attorney’s fees.”  Johnson, 2021 WL 3627604, at *3.  As punishment, the trial court imposed the following sanctions:

  • Dismissal with prejudice of pending ADA claims;
  • Disgorgement of improperly obtained settlement funds;
  • Payment of additional $59,000.00 penalty, or performance of 400 hours of community service with the Disability Independence Group or other similar entity;
  • Enjoined filing of future ADA complaints without first obtaining the Court’s permission; and
  • Referral of Mr. Johnson’s lawyer to the Florida Bar and a separate committee for investigation.

Id. at *10. 

Upholding the imposition of sanctions, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s purportedly altruistic motives and found that in the majority of their cases, Mr. Johnson and his lawyer “did not actually seek injunctive relief fixing the accessibility problem, but instead sought only payment of fees which he split with his lawyer.”  Id. at *29.  The decision underscores the ADA’s primary purpose—remediation of discriminatory conditions—and disincentivizes pursuing cases purely for profit.  It is a win for employers and businesses that desire to comply with the ADA.