The Effect of Jankey v. Lee on Disability Access Cases (ADA) in California

In a recent decision, the California Supreme Court concluded that under California Civil Code section 55, attorney fees were mandatory for the prevailing party. In Jankey v. Lee, the Defendant conclusively established that the removal of architectural barriers at his store was not readily achievable, and therefore was entitled to judgment on all four of his disability claims. The Defendant, Lee, moved for an award of attorney fees under section 55 which states, in part “… the prevailing party in the action shall be entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.” Based on the strong, definitive language of the Code, the Court found that once Defendant Lee was found to be the prevailing party, by disposing of all causes of action via summary judgment, the Court did not have discretion in granting Lee’s attorney’s fees.

Much of the Court’s reasoning was based on the greater protections afforded by the California Unruh Act, which moved it outside the confines of ADA preemption. By electing to pursue monetary relief allowed by the California Civil Code, rather than merely injunctive relief provided by the ADA, the Plaintiff availed himself to full scope of the law, including responsibility for Defendant’s attorney’s fees.

What does this mean for your ADA case?

Although a landmark disability access case, this case should be relied on with trepidation. To rely on Jankey v. Lee, a Defendant must defeat all disability causes of action brought by the Plaintiff, which at times may be a monumental task on its own. Next, it is in the courts discretion to determine a prevailing party even exists, thus there is no guarantee that simply disposing of the causes of action in the Plaintiff’s complaint guarantees that a Defendant will be deemed a “prevailing party” for purposes of attorney’s fees. Finally, a Defendant may incur substantial costs, in Lee’s case, $118,458.00, just to place them in a position to seek attorney’s fees from the Plaintiff, with no guarantee that the Plaintiff is solvent.

About L&B Law Offices

L&B Law Offices has a wealth of experience dealing with abusive ADA lawsuits. We will be able to properly navigate your case to a favorable settlement or final verdict. If you are having trouble with an abusive ADA Lawsuit then you should not hesitate to contact us. Our firm provides a free thirty minute in-person consultation for any small business owner facing an ADA or Unruh related lawsuit.

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