SAN CARLOS (KPIX) — A San Carlos restaurant owner is urging state lawmakers to step in after he was sued by a man who has filed thousands of lawsuits against California businesses over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“It is a legal scam,” said Francesco Ruggiero. “I’m not the first, I’m not the last person.”
Ruggiero, who owns Delizie restaurant in the heart of San Carlos, was hit with the lawsuit last year. The plaintiff, Scott Johnson, is a quadriplegic.
In court documents Johnson claims that Ruggiero’s tables at his restaurant’s outdoor parklet were not wheelchair-friendly.
Before Johnson’s lawsuit, Ruggiero said he had never been sued before in the decade since he first opened his doors.
Ruggiero discovered that Johnson had reportedly made millions of dollars over the years filing lawsuits against business owners — many of them small mom-and-pop stores.
Ruggiero said that Johnson is abusing the law.
He said he and other business owners have discussed going to the state capitol to lobby lawmakers to pass laws that would stop serial lawsuit filers like Johnson.
In August of last year, Tony Han, who owns Tai Pan restaurant in Palo Alto, was among the several businesses sued by Johnson for similar ADA violations.
The business owners said Johnson never physically visited their establishments despite claiming in his lawsuits that he had dined at the restaurants.
“None of our staff actually recognize this person,” said Han. “We look at pictures. He’s a very recognizable person.”
Johnson, who is an attorney himself, has filed lawsuits in the Bay Area for several months during a time when business owners are barely hanging on because of the ongoing pandemic.
“It’s probably the worst time it could’ve happened,” Ruggiero said. “We’re just trying to keep our doors open, pay our bills.”
He said he’s settling with Johnson for an undisclosed amount so that he can focus on his restaurant.
“It’s the law but it’s not fair,” Ruggiero said. “We think it’s not fair.”
KPIX reached out to Johnson’s attorney and are still waiting for a response.