Saturday, March 19, 2005

Molski Standing Opinion

Last Monday (but just out now on Westlaw), Judge Carney of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued his opinion in Molski v. Arby's Huntington Beach, 2005 WL 608739 (C.D. Cal., Mar. 14, 2005). After Judge Rafeedie issued his first opinion declaring Molski a vexatious litigant back in December, Judge Carney issued orders to show cause in six cases brought by Molski that were pending before him at the time. Following briefing and argument from all parties, Judge Carney's opinion last Monday discharged the orders to show cause (and therefore allowed the suits to proceed). Judge Carney explained:

In response to the Court's Order to Show Cause, Defendants argue Mr. Molski's litigious activities demonstrate that his ADA claim in this case is brought in bad faith. Defendants assert that Mr. Molski did not visit the restaurant to eat and enjoy the food, but instead visited it to manufacture a lawsuit so he could extort a monetary settlement. According to Defendants, the Court should dismiss Mr. Molski's ADA claim for lack of jurisdiction and standing.

The Court, however, cannot dismiss Mr. Molski's ADA claim for lack of jurisdiction and standing at this early stage of the case. There is no legal authority to support the proposition that a District Court can dismiss an ADA claim on jurisdictional and standing grounds because of a plaintiff's motive for visiting a place of public accommodation. It simply does not matter, from a jurisdictional and standing point of view, what Mr. Molski's motivation was for visiting Arby's. All that matters is that Mr. Molski alleges he did visit the restaurant, he was denied full access to and enjoyment of the premises because of architectural barriers, and he would return to the restaurant if those barriers are removed. Mr. Molski clearly has pled these essential allegations in the Complaint he filed in this case. Therefore, regardless of whether Mr. Molski is a vexatious litigant out to extort a monetary settlement from Defendants, or whether he is a sheriff policing Defendants' restaurant to ensure compliance with the ADA, Mr. Molski has properly alleged standing to assert his ADA claim and this Court has jurisdiction over that claim.
This seems to me exactly right. If Molski is lying about having visited a restaurant or about the accessibility of the restaurant or any other material fact, reject his claims on the merits, sanction him, hold him in contempt, even prosecute him for perjury or false statements. But there's no legal basis for rejecting his claims simply because he brought a lot of them or because he visited restaurants with the purpose of bringing suits to force them into compliance with the ADA. The restaurants have an obligation to comply with this (15 year old) law, and if it's Molski's lawsuit that makes them comply they have nothing to complain about.


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