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Lawsuits, Settlements & Other Legal News

Boca Raton Lawyer Is One of Two Accused of Filing Fraudulent ADA Suits

August 8, 2019

Two lawyers are allegedly engaged in a civil racketeering enterprise that pays plaintiffs “finders fees” to file hundreds of disability discrimination suits for quick cash settlements, according to a new federal lawsuit.

The suit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, accuses attorneys Craig Ehrlich, of Atlanta, and Douglas Schapiro, of Boca Raton, Florida, of filing fraudulent serial suits in a “money raking enterprise” that targets small businesses predominantly operated by minorities and immigrants, most of whom can’t afford to hire lawyers.

Atlanta attorney Hassan Elkhalil filed the racketeering lawsuit on behalf of Bhupendra Ghandi, the A&Y Family Group Inc. and PQV LLC.

The suit seeks certification as a class action on behalf of hundreds of businesses that have been sued by—and settled with—Erhlich and Schapiro. It also seeks restitution for the plaintiffs and an unspecified amount of damages, including treble damages associated with the alleged racketeering scheme.

The suit also names as defendants Ehrlich’s solo practice; Atlanta firm Ehrlich & Schapiro; and ADA Consultants of America, a Florida-based firm that Schapiro owns and operates.

The complaint also names as co-defendants eight clients of the two lawyers who have served as plaintiffs in 585 disability discrimination suits in Georgia.

The complaint alleges that the lawyers have filed 122 virtually identical suits in federal court in Colorado.

One defendant was listed as a plaintiff in 104 suits filed by Ehrlich or Schapiro, a second as a plaintiff in 106 cases, and a third in 121 cases, according to the complaint.

Erhlich has retained Atlanta attorney Bruce Brown, who called the suit “completely without merit.”

“The fact that there are so many lawsuits filed by Mr. Ehrlich and his firm is a reflection of the number of property owners who are in violation of the ADA, and those lawsuits, so long as the violations continue, will continue to be filed … just as with any other rampant civil wrong,” Brown said.

Erhlich’s cases are “entirely proper,” Brown said, and plaintiffs, who often act as “testers” to see if businesses are in compliance, “have real and actual injury under the law.”

“These cases are typically resolved in the form of consent decrees executed by federal judges after review and approval,” Brown added.

The Daily Report has reached out to Schapiro, who wasn’t in his Boca Raton office.

The primary purpose of the disability lawsuits Schapiro and Ehrlich filed is to generate quick cash settlements, according to the racketeering suit.

The suit claims that most of the defendant businesses “are pressured” to settle “because it is cheaper to settle than to litigate.” The suits are based on alleged violations of Americans with Disabilities Act provisions requiring appropriate public accommodations such as parking, ramps and restroom access for people with disabilities.

All of the lawyers’ disability discrimination suits have been settled and dismissed with prejudice without progressing beyond the initial filing of the complaint, the suit alleges.

The two attorneys allegedly recruited clients who “were sent to find violations” at the establishments to be sued, according to the lawsuit. The resulting complaints are “basic boilerplate narratives” listing standard ADA accessibility violations, according to the racketeering suit.

ADA plaintiffs received a “finder’s fee” for every complaint they agreed to appear on as a named plaintiff, the suit alleges. In return, they provided allegedly false testimony about visits to businesses and properties that Erhlich and Schapiro then sued.

The suit alleges that Schapiro’s consulting firm helped draft and supplement the complaints.

Elkhalil couldn’t be reached for comment. But the suit alleges that, when plaintiff Bhuendra Ghandi hired a lawyer and fought back, Erhlich dropped the case, according to the racketeering suit.

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