DSC 0577

Photos by Asia Morris. 

Local small business owners voiced their concerns about lawsuit abuse at a Small Business Summit in Long Beach on Wednesday afternoon.

Hosted by the California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) at the The Boathouse on The Bay, Assemblyman of the 70th District Patrick O’Donnell was on hand to discuss owners’ questions and offer suggestions regarding their run-ins with Southern California’s “lawsuit-happy society,” as the owner of Powell’s Sweet Shoppe described it.

Councilmembers, businesses owners and even lawyers attended, from not only Long Beach, but Signal Hill, Valencia and other close-by cities in the Southern California region to give their two cents on the matter.

DSC 0583Donna Bennett, co-owner of Tom’s Tire and Automotive Repair in Long Beach, told the Post about one of the lawsuits in which her family-owned business had to pay $3,000 to simply settle. She said a former employee who had quit and had been storing used wheels in his garage was only asked to pay the cost of Bennett’s team having to pick up the wheels. Two years later, the man pressed charges for discrimination; the business chose to settle.

“I’m a small business,” said Bennett. “EPA, workmen’s compensation… these taxes are killing us. Maybe someone will start listening to us. I wish that someone would start advocating for small businesses; they’re leaving California in droves.”

States like Texas that have passed legal reforms have seen meaningful job growth, according to CALA, and are recruiting struggling California businesses to set up shop in their neck of the woods. Prop 65 and ADA lawsuit abuses were discussed during the summit as two of the main methods used to target small businesses that lack the means to truly fight back.

“This is a very important issue and it’s a small business killer,” said O’Donnell, who brought up Long Beach’s Avenue 3 Pizza on Palo Verde Avenue, whose owner was sued over a non ADA compliant mirror. The mirror was an inch too high, explained the assemblyman. O’Donnell asked the city attorney what he could do to help, whose answer was nothing because it was a “private party matter.”

DSC 0569“But this gentleman, eventually, you know what he did, he wrote a check, for someone to go away,” said O’Donnell. “He fixed the issues, and he wrote a check for someone to go away. And you know what he should have done was fix the issues, for sure, I think we can all agree to that, but he shouldn’t have had to write a big check just to get someone to go away and that someone, as I understand it, went around and basically conducted ‘drive-by’ lawsuits; probably went next door and did the same thing, probably walked two blocks away and did the same thing.”

Co-owner of the Powell’s Sweet Shoppe franchise in Belmont Shore, Nicholas Manalisay, told attendees as the mic was passed to him that his business was hit by one of the aforementioned “drive-by” lawsuits in June of 2010. He found out that his was one of 30 businesses that had been hit within 27 days, all on Second Street.

“At one point in time, between 2010 and 2012, this particular attorney and his law offices had 409 active ADA lawsuits,” he said.

While Powell’s and seven other Second Street businesses joined together to fight the lawsuit and won, “They didn’t go up and down and sue Rite Aid, they didn’t sue the Gap, they didn’t sue any of these large businesses, and not that they should, but they’re targeting small business owners, independent business owners,” Manalisay said.

DSC 0564O’Donnell did not have all of the answers, but he lent an understanding ear to the 40-plus businesses represented during the summit.

“It’s an issue that we’re starting to address in the state legislature incrementally, not as much as I’d like to, but certainly are starting to address as we get people up there who are willing to listen,” he said. “I think we can all agree that a lawsuit is the last resort, not the first resort, and that’s why we’re here today. We’re here to advocate for sane policy.”

CALA sponsored the Small Business Summit in an effort to raise awareness about the damaging economic consequences of lawsuit abuse, while the campaign conducts events across throughout the state where supporters can share their stories and concerns, to show the public that all of California’s residents are affected by these injustices, not solely the business owners.

For more information about CALA, click here.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].