More Auburn businesses face ADA lawsuits from Carmichael attorney

Owner says he will have to close shop if aisle changes have to be made
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Three Auburn businesses spoke out Friday about the Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits they are currently facing from Scott Johnson, a Carmichael-based attorney. Johnson is currently suing Lou La Bonte’s, Pet Xing and Millenium Smoke Shop, on Lincoln Way past Foresthill Road, for ADA non-compliance. Judi La Bonte is the owner of Lou La Bonte’s and the landlord for the center. Attorney Cris Vaughan, of Loomis, is representing the three businesses and said Johnson listed several reasons in his complaint, which was filed May 10, for the lawsuit including the center not having the correct number or configuration of handicapped parking spots, not having accessible restrooms in Lou La Bonte’s and not having accessible store aisles. Johnson said Friday the aisles in Pet Xing are not wide enough and the counter in Millenium Smoke Shop is too high. Larry Taylor, owner of Pet Xing, said if he is forced to widen his aisles, he will have to close the store because he would have to take down some of his merchandise. “If that’s the fact that I have to do that, then I can’t remain open, because I have to take an aisle down,” Taylor said. “I hope we can come to some sort of means that would benefit all parties. I’m having a hard time, with as slow as business is, to try to stay open.” Renee Dowd, manager of Millenium Smoke Shop, said the store has provided a clip board for its customers who are in wheelchairs and can’t reach the counter. Johnson said a clipboard should be considered the last resort for a counter that is too high, and instead options like a service counter or flip-up counters should be considered. La Bonte said improvements to the restrooms are already going on in the restaurant, including the widening of doors. The changes include the pushing back of a wall and the widening of two toilet stalls. The sinks also have to be redone in order to provide space underneath for someone in a wheelchair. La Bonte said she thinks the changes will cost her thousands of dollars, and she isn’t sure how she is going to afford it. “I’m going to have to take a loan out or something,” she said. “By the end of the month we are lucky if we have enough money to make all our payroll and pay the bills for the restaurant.” Vaughan said Johnson has not offered a settlement amount yet in the case of the three businesses. When asked, the business owners and manager said they could not recall Johnson ever having been in their establishments. Businesses the Journal spoke to for previous articles also said they could not remember Johnson ever visiting their buildings. Vaughan said Johnson has to have been to each business he brings a lawsuit against to actually have a case. “To have standing to bring a lawsuit, he has to be able to claim … that he was there and was prevented from doing business,” he said. Johnson said he has been to every business that he sues, including the three in the Lou La Bonte’s center. “I have visited all them,” he said. “I have made purchases at all three of those places there. I have had lunch at Lou La Bonte’s.” Attorney Mike Welch, of Sacramento, is representing Pete Aroz Sr., owner of Pistol Pete’s Brew and Cue, which is currently in a lawsuit with Johnson. Welch said he believes Johnson is making millions of dollars a year on his ADA non-compliance cases. Welch said, in his experience, Johnson could be settling for about $8,000 a case, and if he files 300 cases in a year the result is $2.4 million. Johnson denied making that much every year, but said as an attorney he should be making a decent living. Welch said in several cases where he was defending automotive sellers in South Sacramento against Johnson, Johnson offered to settle for $5,000 or a car of equivalent value. Johnson said that was correct because he originally goes to businesses for merchandise. “I’ll give monetary damage service demand, but if it can help them out by (them) giving goods or services, in which case they save, that is just an option sometimes I throw out,” Johnson said. La Bonte, Taylor and Dowd said while their businesses are in the unincorporated area of the county, they are happy the Auburn City Council directed city staff to look into how many businesses in the city have been contacted by Johnson. “I think that’s great,” Taylor said. “I think the more awareness there is of what this guy is doing, the more people will see it.” Dowd said she appreciates the council’s interest, because of the way the lawsuits are impacting smaller businesses. “It hits a lot closer to home than a corporation building needing to be in compliance,” she said. La Bonte said she thinks interest starting at the local government level is important. “I think that is a step to get to our state government,” she said. “And that is what we need to do is get to our state representative … because the law definitely needs to be altered. It needs to be changed because there are a lot of people in business, myself included, that can’t afford to make huge changes in the structure of a business.” Reach Bridget Jones at