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Federal magistrate: disability suits are ‘malicious’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dozens of lawsuits filed against New Mexico businesses for alleged disability violations should be dismissed because they are “malicious,” a chief federal magistrate says in a recent filing that ripped into a “cottage industry” of such legal complaints.

New Mexico Chief U.S. Magistrate Karen B. Molzen recommended the 99 lawsuits filed by Santa Fe lawyer Sharon Pomeranz against a variety of businesses be dismissed with prejudice, meaning they can’t be refiled. Her recommendation goes to Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo.

Pomeranz did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Pomeranz had filed the lawsuits early this year on behalf of Alyssa Carton, an Albuquerque resident who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, alleging violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The complaints used boilerplate language to claim the businesses had violated ADA requirements ranging from signs marking van-accessible parking spaces, proper access to towel dispensers and an “unobstructed reach to the soap dispenser.” The only differences among the suits were the business name and address and a “single paragraph” listing the supposed violations, and those were marked with “many misspellings,” Molzen’s filing said.

The filing called it “troubling” that Pomeranz did not follow her client’s desire to first contact the businesses informally so they could fix any violations before going to court.

Carton, who said she wanted to benefit people with disabilities, answered a Craigslist ad last year placed by Litigation Management and Financial Services of Arizona that offered to help provide “litigation support,” the ruling said.

Litigation Management paid $50 to Carton and $100 to Pomeranz for each ADA case filed, the ruling said. It also provided support to Pomeranz, including a website, receptionist and consulting services with company attorneys. The firm was to be reimbursed from any legal settlements or court victories, and any remaining money was to go to Pomeranz.

The filing had this to say about Carton: “Thus, as in a carnival shell game, Ms. Carton’s expectation for receiving any settlement proceeds was illusory.”

Molzen determined that the lawsuits were “primarily filed for an improper purpose.  It appears that Attorney Pomeranz and LMFS are using the judicial process to harass defendants into settlements to obtain financial gain … and not to remedy ADA violations that served as barriers to individuals with disabilities in accessing goods and services.”

Although Carton had requested court costs be waived, Molzen said there’s no legal provision allowing that and so she still owes $40,000.

Molzen noted that some of the businesses that were sued have asked that their attorney fees be repaid. Some even said they plan to file counterclaims against Carton. Molzen recommended Armijo set a deadline for attorneys to formally make those requests.