SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Serial litigant Jarek Molski must pay Arciero Wine Group more than $33,000 to cover the fees the winery spent defending his lawsuit over disability access, a California appeals court ruled.
Molski has filed more than 400 disability discrimination complaints against establishments that don’t accommodate his wheelchair, and has been declared a “vexatious litigant” in state and federal courts. His federal complaint against Arciero prompted the winery to fix the alleged violations of equal-access law. But before Molski found out about the remediation, he filed suit in state court, seeking damages and an injunction.
The trial court awarded Arciero attorney fees for the state court lawsuit on the ground that Molski had not been the prevailing party, since he filed suit after the remediation was complete.
Molski claimed a prevailing defendant should only be awarded fees if the claim was “frivolous, unreasonable or groundless.”
That’s only true, Justice Coffee ruled, if the plaintiff can prove an actual attempt to access the facility. But if the plaintiff sues on a technical violation, as Molski did, either party could be entitled to attorney fees if they prevail.
Molski’s tactic “minimized his burden of proof, but it also exposed him to an adverse fee award,” Coffee said. “The spirit of California’s statutory scheme is not offended by the consequences of this scorched earth strategy.”