Local attorney, clients filing hundreds of civil rights lawsuits

Posted at 10:45 AM, Mar 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-24 13:45:38-04

Several restaurants in one San Diego neighborhood have been served with a buffet of lawsuits claiming they discriminated against people with disabilities.

The head of the local business association tells Team 10 investigator Adam Racusin the Hillcrest restaurant scene is under siege from one attorney who could single-handedly could kill some of the businesses.

“A lawsuit like this can really just put them out of business," said Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the Hillcrest Business Association.

Nicholls believes some of the area's trendy spots and landmarks could be in jeopardy because of the lawsuits filed by one lawyer and a group of plaintiffs.

"These restaurants have been given no opportunity to even know what the problem is,” he said.

Two of the lawsuits Team 10 reviewed claim the restaurants violated parts of California’s accessibility laws and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

"They’ve gotten this complaint and it doesn't list very much in the way of specifics,” he said.

Standing at the Hillcrest sign, Team 10 asked Nicholls to point out some of the locations being sued.

He pointed out spots in all different directions and said, “So anywhere you point, this guy has filed lawsuits like random almost.”

"From a business standpoint you almost have to look at what is the least expensive way to get out of this situation,” said attorney John Turner.

Turner tells Team 10 he’s representing at least one of the restaurants facing lawsuits.

"When they get sued they are frustrated because they think they've done the right thing, and frankly some of the cases I've looked at, they have,” Turner said.

The Hillcrest area lawsuits were all filed by La Jolla-based attorney, Ted Shin.

In February, Team 10 uncovered a similar lawsuit he filed against a business in El Cajon.

In that case, 10News worked with an access specialist who found every one of the claims alleging things the premises lacked were false.

Court records also show Shin is working with at least eight different clients.

Combined they’ve filed more than 200 civil rights lawsuits against businesses in San Diego County since January of last year.

Team 10 wanted to talk with Shin and his clients about the lawsuits and get their side of the story.

Shin hasn’t returned our phone calls this week, and he didn't speak with us for the previous story.

Team 10 was able to track down an address for Edwin Dally, the plaintiff listed as suing the Crest Café in Hillcrest.

We drove to Dally’s listed address and knocked on the door, but after identifying myself, he said "No comment," shut the door and asked me to go away.

"What happens now is you get blindsided,” Turner said. “You get served by a process server with a lawsuit.”

Turner says he’s got a simple solution to help end the lawsuits. He suggests notifying the restaurants and businesses if something’s wrong in writing and give what’s known as a "cure period" to fix it.

There have been attempts to pass laws requiring a warning and grace period, but they haven’t passed.

Nicholls believes the restaurants should be given the opportunity to know if there are any alleged problems.

"There are some restaurants that need to do better, absolutely, but there are other restaurants that have been sued in the past and have fixed their problems and they got sued, so it really makes no sense” he said.

Team 10 has been told some of the Hillcrest restaurants that face lawsuits are going to bring in an access specialist to see if the lawsuits are right or wrong.