More lawsuits on North Coast wineries website end without settlement

More than half of dozens of recent federal lawsuits filed by a Florida man against North Coast wineries over the accessibility of their websites have been dismissed, including nearly two dozen in the past 30 days. And more of them are solved without settlements.

Arif Virji of Carle Mackie Power & Ross in Santa Rosa represented 10 winery clients in the North Coast cases. He said a judge’s refusal on plaintiff Andres Gomez’s legal team to show why the case against Raymond Vineyards of Napa Valley should proceed in federal court led to negotiations on the rest of the cases with the Gomez’s legal team at the Southern California-led Center for Disability Access. Potter Handy law firm.

“We were able to argue that three other cases involving the same plaintiff had already been dismissed on motions to dismiss and that we would argue the same and seek costs for having to do so in all of our cases,” Virji said. “It led to rejections of all of our cases.”

The Journal reported in April that the North Shore was part of a growing wave of lawsuits focused primarily on wineries alleging that the companies’ websites failed to comply with federal and state laws requiring equal access for people with disabilities.

Under the state version of the Americans with Disabilities Federal Act (known as Unruh), damages are at stake for every instance proven that a website has frustrated visitors by using assistive tools such as screen readers. The ADA largely allows for damages from attorney’s fees.

The terms of the court settlements are confidential. However, a parallel lawsuit against Potter Handy filed in state court on April 11 by prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles claims that the company, in the several thousand similar cases it has filed in recent years , regularly requests settlements over $10,000, a choice of many small businesses. opt for because the cost of defending these cases can be anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000, according to this legal filing. This case is still pending.

Richard Idell of Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty in Napa said one of his cases was dismissed without settlement and three others are pending.

According to court records, 27 cases filed on behalf of Andres Gomez in the Northern California District have been dismissed since early July, and most of them involved wine companies.

“Disappointed by federal justice”

Potter Handy’s attorney, Dennis Price, disputes the perception that the company is dropping the cases.

“The federal courts have told us that they would prefer to have these cases filed in state court. We simply obliged. It makes no sense for claims to proceed inefficiently in two forums,” Price told the Business Journal in an email. “While we are disappointed that the federal court system denies our clients a forum guaranteed to them by the First Amendment, it is simply wrong that we do not wish to litigate in state courts. We go back there.

In the Raymond Vineyards case, which was dismissed without a settlement on July 14, Price responded to Judge Jon Tigar’s order to prove that the company prefers to file in federal court “for a variety of reasons, some legal, to other practices”.

These reasons, Price wrote, include the federal system’s superior case-tracking system, better accessibility of federal courtrooms to clients with physical challenges, and central locations of federal courthouses, compared to state courts. State spread throughout California. He noted that federal courts in California have launched a coordinated effort to dismiss lawsuits that rely on arguments drawn from California’s Unruh rules, making litigation “become much more difficult and confusing.”

“Defendants have been misled into believing that state court claims are no longer valid, which emboldens defenses and drives up litigation costs,” Price wrote.

New cases fall across the country and in California

According to Sacramento-based law firm ADA Seyfarth Shaw, website accessibility case filings against companies dropped dramatically across the country and in California in the first half of 2022, reaching record highs. lowest in five years. The company attributes this to “increased scrutiny” of accessibility lawsuits.

2021 has been a “blockbuster” year for such filings nationwide, the company said, based on its analysis of federal court filings. These cases numbered 11,452, including 6,304 in the first half of the year, but they fell 22% to 4,914 in the first half of this year, below the levels of 2018 and the artificially low number of 2020 due to closed courts during the pandemic.

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