April 13, 2000
The Honorable Henry J. Hyde
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
This is in response to your letter requesting an inquiry by the Department regarding lawsuits alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") filed against businesses located in El Cajon, California. You attached a letter from xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx addressed to Congressman Duncan Hunter complaining that she had settled a lawsuit filed against her and her tenants in federal court involving allegations of ADA title III violations. The lawsuit was filed by an attorney on behalf of an "apparently disabled" person. She explained that rather than bear the expense of litigation, she elected to settle with the plaintiff on behalf of herself and her tenants. In conclusion, xxx xxxxxxx asks the opinion of her Congressman on what can be done to curb possible abuse of the ADA through unnecessary litigation and whether where is new legislation pending to address her complaint.
The Attorney General is authorized to enforce title III of the ADA, which applies to public accommodations like the strip mall and businesses described in xxx xxxxxxxxx letter. The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate alleged violations, undertake compliance reviews of covered entities, and to file civil actions in federal court for equitable relief of damages in order to make facilities readily accessible to persons with disabilities. Likewise, private persons are also authorized to file civil actions pursuant to title III against covered entities for injunctive relief to correct the ADA violations; however, only the Attorney General may seek damages under title III. Entities covered by title III include, for example, places of lodging, establishments serving food and drink, places of entertainment, places of public gathering, sales and service establishments, transportation stations, places of public display, places of education or social services, or places of recreation.
Notwithstanding her authority to enforce the ADA, the law does not give the Attorney General authority to investigate or prosecute plaintiffs or attorneys for filing enforcement actions to remedy title III violations by public accommodations. Therefore, the Department lacks jurisdiction to investigate or pursue claims of alleged frivolous or harassing litigation by private attorneys who file enforcement actions. Responsibility for investigating such claims lies with the state bar or with the judiciary system in which litigation is pending.
The Department takes very seriously the duty of all lawyers to comply with applicable court rules and codes of professional responsibility. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prohibit any attorney from filing a civil action in any United States court that is intended "[f]or any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation." See Rule 11, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Likewise, local rules of procedure and state canons of professional ethics also require attorneys not to abuse the process of the courts and to maintain professional standards of conduct at all times. In this case, if xxx xxxxxxx identifies individual attorneys or allegations that may reveal a violation of professional standards by specific attorneys, she may want to bring this information to the attention of the relevant disciplinary entities.
In response to xxx xxxxxxxxx question regarding new legislation, your colleagues, Congressman Foley and Congressman Shaw, both of Florida, have introduced proposed legislation to require that title III entities be given ninety days' notice of a violation before they can be sued. The Department is deeply committed to enforcement of the ADA, and we join members of Congress in seeking to protect the civil rights of persons with disabilities.
I hope this information is helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.
Assistant Attorney General
cc: The Honorable John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Minority Member