The ripple effect of a recent barrage of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits filed against Kings County businesses is finally starting to wind down.
Thirteen cases were filed against Hanford businesses between April and July 2015. As of Wednesday, all but two have been resolved.
Mike’s Grill owner Mike Murrietta told The Sentinel on Wednesday that he hopes to have the lawsuit against his business settled this week. The restaurant recently announced plans to move from its current location at the southwest corner of Seventh Street and 10th Avenue.
“Sometimes life presents you with obstacles, and the solution is what you needed to do anyhow,” Murrietta said.
Murrietta said his current building is more than 100 years old and was formerly one of Kings County’s oldest gas stations. Murrietta said he converted the building into a restaurant in 2001. The historic building offers minimal parking and lacks air conditioning and heating.
“I think the only thing we’ve got going for us is our food,” Murrietta said.
The restaurant will move to the Super-Way Center at 10th Avenue and Grangeville Boulevard, next to the Hanford Portuguese Bakery. If all of the required inspections are completed as scheduled, Murrietta said, the new location should be open on March 1.
Murrietta said his current location would have required about $30,000 to $40,000 of improvements to make the parking lot, restroom access, doorway, counter and seating ADA compliant. Much of the burden, he said, would have fallen on his landlord.
“I wouldn’t want someone to do that to me if it was my building,” he said.
The lawsuit, filed in July 2015, alleged that disabled Fresno County resident Jose Escobedo encountered the following obstacles at Mike’s Grill during a March 6, 2015, visit:
- Unable to find designated accessible parking
- Parking lot was cracked and uneven
- Building entrance was sloped and had a high threshold
- Unable to use debit card reader because counter was too high
- Path to restroom requires crossing uneven surface in parking lot
- Restroom door had round doorknob and locked with a padlock
- Interior of restroom lacked proper maneuvering clearances
- Toilet was low and lacked grab bars
- Toilet seat cover and paper towel dispensers were hard to reach.
Murrietta said he believes the new larger location, which includes air conditioning and a lot more parking, will be better for his customers. He said many of his regular customers live near the Super-Way Center and will likely continue their loyalty.
Shelly Talbert, executive director of Main Street Hanford, said the move will be a big loss for downtown but will ultimately benefit the restaurant. Talbert said the Seventh Avenue location isn’t expected to stay empty for too long. Although she could not disclose any details, she said the property owner already has plans for the building.
“As I understand it, it won’t be a restaurant,” Talbert said.
Talbert said 15 downtown businesses have taken advantage of Main Street Hanford’s CASp Inspection Grant Program. The program provides a matching grant of up to $500 for downtown businesses to pay for the inspection.
Murrietta said he blames lawmakers for failing to address the loophole that allows people to sue a business for ADA violations without first notifying business owners that a problem exists. Federal law includes statutory damages of at least $4,000 per ADA violation.
“They wrote a law that allows this,” Murrietta said of legislators. “They are either corrupt or incompetent.”
Talbert said the barrage of lawsuits could have been avoided if the law required plaintiffs to warn business owners or offered a period of time to fix the issues.
“Some business owners didn’t even realize they’re not compliant,” Talbert said.
Hanford businesses affected by the lawsuits included La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, Hanford Chinese Kitchen, R-N Market and A&W Restaurant.
Other ADA lawsuits in Kings County that have not yet been resolved include those against Donut King in Hanford, as well as Lemoore’s Best Buy Market and the White Top Restaurant. The two Lemoore cases were filed in late 2015.