Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of H.R. 620, a bill to reform the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Chairman Goodlatte: H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, improves the public accommodation provisions under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Title III provides individuals with disabilities the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation,” which means places open to the public like retail stores, hotels, theaters, restaurants, and health care facilities.
This law is a critical tool for disabled individuals to gain access to public accommodations. In addition to providing a right of action to the Attorney General to enforce the law, the ADA authorizes a private right of action for an aggrieved party to seek injunctive relief as well as attorney’s fees and costs. Unfortunately, private sector enforcement of the ADA has led to the abuse of our legal system in many cases.
Some plaintiffs’ attorneys in ADA public accommodation cases have received deservedly unfavorable press coverage in papers across the country. Rather than putting their clients’ interests in better access first, some appear to be more interested in securing a quick payday. One common tactic used by opportunistic attorneys is to file mass claims against small businesses and then settle for just less than it would cost those mom and pop businesses to defend themselves in court. This tactic was highlighted by David Weiss, who testified on behalf of the International Council of Shopping Centers, at this Committee’s hearing on May 19, 2016. Mr. Weiss stated:
“The problem that the private sector faces is an increasing number of lawsuits, typically brought by a few plaintiffs in various jurisdictions and often by the same lawyers, for very technical and usually minor violations. It has become all too common for property owners to settle these cases as it is less expensive to settle than to defend them, even if the property owner is compliant. It is often too costly to prove that a property owner is doing what is right or required; therefore, the property owner makes a rational business decision, commonly resulting in settlement.
Given that plaintiffs’ attorneys’ motives are often monetary, there is little or no incentive to work with businesses to cure a violation before a lawsuit is filed. This unintended result wastes resources on attorney’s fees that could have been used to improve access sooner. This delays justice. H.R. 620 remedies these problems by allowing businesses a finite period of time, before a private enforcement lawsuit can be filed, to fix defects on their premises once they are notified that their premises do not comply with the ADA. This will reduce abuses of the law by opportunistic lawyers and will result in more access for the disabled because it encourages businesses to cure their access issues now in order to avoid costly litigation later.
Moreover, we have met with members of the business community and disability community together and individually regarding this bill and we are eager to continue the conversation about how to improve accessibility.
Consideration of today’s bill is a step closer to ensuring that every man, woman, and child is given equal access to public accommodations as well as improving the enforcement practices of private parties under Title III.
I urge all my colleagues to support this legislation.