Appeal to be filed challenging Potter Handy’s litigation privilege that has been used to shakedown local businesses and exploit the Americans with Disabilities Act for profit
San Francisco, CA – Today, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced that her office is appealing the dismissal of its groundbreaking civil prosecution against the law firm Potter Handy LLP. On August 29, 2022, despite the District Attorney’s Office’s factual allegations not being challenged, the Superior Court ordered the prosecution dismissed on the basis that Potter Handy’s alleged fraud scheme enjoys legal immunity under California’s litigation privilege.
“We respectfully disagree and believe the Superior Court’s ruling extending legal immunity to Potter Handy’s fraud scheme was in error, and we look forward to a full hearing in the Court of Appeal,” said District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. “As a recent federal court ruling has confirmed, our lawsuit alleges facts showing that Potter Handy files fraudulent lawsuits with the intent of shaking down small businesses for profit. California law does not allow attorneys to illegally exploit the Americans with Disabilities Act in this fashion. We are filing this appeal to bring clarity to the law and hold Potter Handy accountable for its years-long alleged fraud scheme.”
“Appealing the judge’s ruling is the best course of action in this case to protect legitimate businesses from predatory law firms that abuse our disability protection laws by filing frivolous boilerplate lawsuits,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said. “We are disappointed the judge ruled that Potter Handy’s actions were protected under a litigation privilege, but we are confident that we will prevail and hold Potter Handy accountable.”
According to the District Attorney’s complaint, after filing these fraudulent suits in federal court, Potter Handy pressures its targets to pay it settlements of upwards of $10,000 each—often from small businesses who cannot afford to hire attorneys to litigate in federal court. Potter Handy’s business model is allegedly designed to shake down small businesses into paying cash settlements rather than to ensure ADA accessibility; indeed, the Serial Filers that this law firm uses almost never return to the businesses after the settlements to monitor compliance.
“Running a small business is hard enough without having to worry about these fraudulent lawsuits,” said Frances Mah, owner of “Pork Chop House” New Lun Ting Café. ”Potter Handy is taking advantage of small businesses and it’s not right. Working through this has been a nightmare.”
The District Attorney’s lawsuit requests that Potter Handy return all settlements and other fees back to the small business owners. It also seeks a permanent restraint on future misconduct as well as civil penalties against Potter Handy for each violation. Through its unlawful business practice of filing thousands of boilerplate lawsuits based on false standing allegations, Potter Handy has likely defrauded tens of millions of dollars from small businesses in California in the four-year statute of limitations period.
Recent federal court rulings have bolstered the allegations made by the District Attorney’s Office that Potter Handy intentionally files Americans with Disabilities Act cases based on false statements. Notably, on October 11, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria of the Northern District of California sanctioned Potter Handy in a case that the law firm had brought against a Peet’s Coffee located in San Francisco. In that ruling, Judge Chhabria excoriated Potter Handy, stating that the law firm and its client “were willing to peddle whatever lie they thought necessary to allow their lawsuit to survive.”
The complaint was filed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office in April 2022. According to the complaint, it is estimated that well over 800 businesses in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area have been victimized by Potter Handy’s fraudulent, illegal lawsuits.
To report fraudulent lawsuits or provide updates to existing cases businesses contacted by Potter Handy should call the District Attorney’s Office Fraud Hotline: 628-652-4311.