ADA serial lawsuit filer abruptly dismisses case days before deposition; Motives questioned

Posted at 8:14 PM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-11 00:49:36-05
BAILEY, Colo. -- The owner of a popular Colorado restaurant is claiming victory after he successfully fought back against a serial lawsuit filer, who claimed the business discriminated against people with disabilities.
The Riverbend Market and Eatery closed in October. Owner Michael Abbondanza said he lost roughly $400,000 in revenue as he battled the case.
Abbondanza's attorney, Courtenay Patterson, said many of the allegations were bogus and not violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the beginning, Abbondanza said the people suing him offered to let him settle the case if he paid them $15,000. Instead, he decided to fight them. Patterson, through the court, agreed to represent Abbondanza for free.
Before Patterson was involved, one would have thought the restaurant was on a crusade against people with disabilities and that it took months to make the restaurant more accessible.
But that's just not true.
"Took two hours," Abbondanza said of the few repairs he had to make. "It was under $250 if I'm remembering correctly."
The restaurant's restroom was ground zero for the technical issues he actually had to fix. Among the repairs were the toilet paper dispenser, which was a few inches too far from the toilet, and the urinal, which was a few inches too high.
Abbondanza said he easily would have made the corrections had a person with disabilities struck up a conversation with him rather than filing litigation.
"All they had to do was let me know," he said.
The case said the Florida plaintiff, Santiago Abreu, personally visited the restaurant and "was denied full and equal access" because of 14 specific violations of the ADA. But according to Patterson and the accessibility expert she hired, more than half were not.
"They do not care if a restaurant comes into compliance. They say that they care, but they do not care if they come into compliance," she said of Abreu and his attorney, Jason Weiss.
Patterson is particularly interested in how abruptly Abreu and Weiss dropped the case against Abbondanza -- just days before Abreu was scheduled to do a deposition with her in Boulder. She also said they dropped the case without ever bothering to confirm if the restaurant remedied the few ADA violations it had.
"[Weiss] didn't ask for proof. He didn't ask for photographs. He didn't ask for an affidavit. Nothing," Patterson said.

In a phone call to Denver7 late Friday night, Weiss said he agreed to dismiss the case having faith that Abbondanza made the corrections -- even without proof. He said Abreu would not comment now or in the future.

That's why she and Abbondanza question the plantiff's motives. They believe that Abreu simply did not want to put forth the effort to fight his own case.
"All they had to do was say, 'Mike, we've got a couple of issues here.' But that's not what it was about. It wasn't about accessibility, because the accessibility is clearly here. This was just, in my mind, a money grab," Abbondanza told Denver7 Investigates.
Nevertheless, people in Bailey just want the restaurant to come back to life. They want the 30 people who worked there to get their jobs back. If all goes well, they will. Abbondanza hopes to reopen the place before the start of summer.
In coming days, Denver7 Investigates will explain why Abreu and his attorney will have to answer to ethical questions in court.


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