From prisoner to plaintiff: National retailers in sights of local ADA lawsuits

Jerald Boitnott served 24 years in prison for first degree murder. But more recently, he is the plaintiff in more than a dozen federal lawsuits against national restaurant chains and retailers, claiming they are failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

The complaints include inadequate handicapped parking, inaccessible entrances and walkways for wheelchairs, and bathrooms that are out of compliance for the disabled.  

In a recent FOX 9 Investigation, Boitnott is seen carrying his walker up ice covered stairs to his home.  

In 2018, Boitnott served as the plaintiff in lawsuits against Taco Bell, Famous Dave’s, TCF Bank, Slumberland, Wendy’s, and Aldi’s. Those lawsuits were settled for undisclosed terms, and then dismissed, with each side paying their own attorney fees. 

So far in 2019, Boitnott’s name is on lawsuits against Chili’s, Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. 

Boitnott’s attorneys, Patrick Michenfelder and Chad Throndset, of St. Michael, are working with a Pennsylvania law firm, Carlson Lynch, that specializes in class action lawsuits under the ADA. The Pittsburgh based firm reportedly maintains a data base of non-compliant targets.  

Boitnott is also suing the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul for the height of its parking meter pay stations. In the lawsuit, the attorney’s claim the pay stations can be no higher than 48 inches, which falls just below several buttons on the pay station.

In response to the lawsuit, the City of Minneapolis claims the disabled can use a parking phone app, or if they have a disabled placard for their car window, they can park for free.  

During a scheduling conference Wednesday morning in the Warren E. Burger Federal Courthouse in St. Paul, a federal magistrate discussed a time frame for the case that would stretch out nearly a year before trial, unless the case is settled before then.  

The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for their lawsuit. The manufacturer of the parking meter pay stations, Cale Parking Systems USA Inc., may be added as a defendant to the lawsuit at a later date. 

Boitnott was not present for the scheduling conference. His attorney, Michenfelder, declined to comment when leaving the U.S. Federal Courthouse in St. Paul.  

Nationwide in 2018, there were more than 10,000 ADA lawsuits filed in U.S. Federal Court, representing a 33% increase over the year before. The vast majority of those lawsuits filed in three states:  New York, California, and Florida.