Federal Judges vs. 'Chipotle Experience'

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Two judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that Mexican chain restaurant Chipotle must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for the "Chipotle Experience," in which customers watch their food being prepared on the other side of a clear plastic screen. The Chipotle Experience, said the court, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it cannot be experienced by individuals in wheelchairs.

Cato's Walter Olson warns that the case may be the end of the Chipotle Experience but it will open the floodgates for the Opportunistic Litigation experience. "The new ruling does afford the public a clear look at one particular kind of assembly line, presided over by lawyers rather than restaurant employees."

It’s an open scandal, especially in states like California that offer enhanced penalties or liberal procedural rules, that serial complainants and their lawyers carve out profitable practices visiting dozens or hundreds of businesses and leveling ADA complaints that they then settle for cash. As a phenomenon, the ADA filing mill has much in common with other forms of baleful legal “entrepreneurship” such as patent trollery, mass “citizen suit” filings against small businesses and school districts over paperwork lapses, and — the most recent to emerge — copyright mills such as the recently formed RightHaven, which has begun to acquire the rights to old newspaper articles and then mass-file lawsuits demanding thousands of dollars from bloggers, mom and pop businesses, and others who’ve ill-advisedly reprinted the articles online without permission.

Olson says that the court has just codified an exploitative practice whereby lawyers troll for ADA violations, sue, and then settle out of court. Now, warns Olson, there will be more than ever. The Atlantic Wire adds: Just as long as every case comes with free guacamole.

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