Questions raised about lawsuits filed by local handicapped activist

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on April 28, 2011 at 9:16 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 29 at 3:13 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES:

DALLAS - The federal law designed to protect handicapped Americans has for the past 20 years served a worthy cause.

It's called the Americans with Disabilities Act and it is enforced mostly by disabled individuals who feel they've been denied access to public places. But, is every plaintiff a victim or perhaps a pawn in game in which the attorneys often win?

Leslie Greer, of Allen, is suing the West Village in Uptown for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her suit has forced the developers to make dramatic improvements.

In fact, Greer's name is well known at courthouses all over North Texas and in Oklahoma, where since 1996 she has filed 119 lawsuits claiming A.D.A. violations.

In January of this year, Greer branched out, suing seven small restaurants in Pennsylvania, six of them in one day. In March, Greer sued eight small restaurants near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, seven of them on the same day.

In each suit, Greer claims she could not access the businesses due to "the physical barriers and dangerous conditions ... that exist."

Among those conditions cited in the lawsuit were an "insufficient number of accessible seats," "rear grab-bar in the bathrooms too short," and "insufficient knee clearance under the lavatory."

WFAA wanted to investigate the case and traveled to Florida and found another side to Greer's campaign. One of the targets was Bagels and More, which is a breakfast and lunch spot that according to the owner, has been catering to handicapped clientele without any problems for years.

"Thirty-five years and we've never had a problem here," said Shirley Apteker, the owner. 

WFAA showed Apteker a photo of Greer in which she replied, "I've never seen this woman before."

That was also the case at another spot.

"I don't have any recollection of seeing her, but I think the whole thing is a scam," said Sam Kantzavelos, the owner of Greek Islands. "She is just going around suing people. It's a nuisance."

Nami Japanese restaurant is also being sued, in part for inadequate bathrooms and signage. Yet, the owner, King Kwan showed WFAA the restroom dedicated to its handicapped customers

"Everything's here," Kwan said. "I don't know why they are suing me."

One of the restaurants being sued listed an address currently occupied by a tire shop.

All of the restaurants being sued by Greer are located within a few miles of her attorney, Stephan Nitz, who has filed more than 400 A.D.A.-related lawsuits nationwide.

One Florida defendant said Nitz has offered to drop his lawsuit in exchange for $2,000 and minimal changes to the interior.

Nitz declined an on-camera interview but said off camera that the lawsuits are legitimate and warranted. While Greer is willing to discuss her cases on camera, she is apparently not clear on the details.

"What was inside of the restaurants was like tables and chairs," Greer said. "They are all fairly generic. I mean, it's almost like a lot of stuff is cookie cutter."

Then WFAA asked her to describe any outstanding features of any of the restaurants she went to and is suing in Florida.

"Outstanding features, I don't know really what you are looking for," she replied.

Then WFAA asked if she could name any of the restaurants she is suing.

"I don't know," she said. "I have them written down at home."

WFAA asked Greer to show any receipts from her Florida restaurant visits, which she never did.

At the end of the interview, Greer indicated her zeal to file similar cases in the future has faded.

"You know, this almost makes me not want to do it any more because it's ... not that it's thankless," she said. "I just don't understand, I guess."

Since WFAA started the investigation, Greer has dropped all of her suits in Pennsylvania and one in Florida. The rest are still being litigated.

She said she's not in it for money because plaintiffs in A.D.A lawsuits cannot recoup damages, and she stands by her claim that every business she sues is in violation of A.D.A. regulations.

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