Printed from

Wheelchair-bound man can't sue restaurant: Court

Posted On: Feb. 17, 2021 2:33 PM CST


A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a wheelchair-bound plaintiff who admitted he does not enjoy Chinese food did not have legal standing to sue a Chinese restaurant under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Scott Smith has arthrogryposis, a rare congenital joint disease, and uses a wheelchair, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis in Scott Smith v. Golden China of Red Wing, Inc.; Vu Thu Lam.

In May 2017, he was driven more than 50 miles from his home to Red Wing and Winona, Minnesota, for the sole purpose of testing whether various businesses were ADA compliant, the ruling said.

At Golden China restaurant in Red Wing, he noted various deficiencies — including the lack of a fully compliant, accessible parking space, signage posted too low to the ground and an impermissibly sloped parking ramp — but never left his vehicle, the ruling said.

He later filed 13 lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis as a result of his trip, including claims against Golden China under the ADA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The district court found Mr. Smith had standing to bring the suit based on his testimony that he visits Red Wing and had plans to return to the restaurant should the barriers be removed.

However,  under the “readily achievable standard” it found Mr. Smith “had failed to meet his burden” because of the financial toll the improvement would take on Golden China, the ruling said.

On appeal, a three-judge appeals court panel disagreed with the district court as to whether Mr. Smith had standing to file suit.

Mr. Smith had never been to Golden China and his only return to the establishment was in June 2017 ‘”to see the changes had been made,’” the panel’s unanimous ruling said.

“Smith, who does not enjoy Chinese food, stated that if he were to go back, it would only be because he was in the area for ‘something else’ and his friends or family wanted to go,” the ruling said.

Mr. Smith also said that neither he nor his family had any specific plans to go back to Golden China or even Red Wing.  “And as to whether any of his friends or family had ever been or would ever want to patronize Golden China, Smith could not say,” the ruling said, in vacating the district court’s judgment.

An attorney for the restaurant had no comment, while Mr. Smith’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Under the ADA, businesses are required to remove architectural barriers in existing buildings and make sure newly built or altered facilities are constructed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

However, defense attorneys have said that “drive-by lawsuits” under the ADA are often based on minor architectural issues. They say multiple lawsuits are often filed by the same firms, with the same named plaintiffs, with the intent of encouraging businesses to readily settle for attorneys fees because it would be less expensive than facing further litigation.