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Restaurant owner sues attorneys who filed 'drive-by' ADA lawsuit against him

Posted at 5:50 PM, Feb 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 19:56:43-05

BAILEY, Colo. -- A restaurant owner wants to get even and is turning the table on attorneys who filed waves of ADA lawsuits against businesses across Colorado, including his.

Michael Abbondanza, who Denver7 has profiled since 2016, claims in a 39-page lawsuit that the attorneys are committing fraud and abusing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"I can honestly say there was a period of time where, every night, I would wake up in the middle of the night," he said of the ADA lawsuit he successfully fought against.

A plaintiff identified as "Santiago Abreu," who claims to live in Florida, filed a lawsuit against Abbondanza's restaurant, the Riverbend Market and Eatery, in 2016. Abreu alleged numerous ADA violations. But as Abbondanza and his attorney, Courtenay Patterson, have repeatedly told Contact7 Investigates, they contend the motive behind the ADA lawsuit was money.

"They basically said, 'give us $15,000 and we'll go away,'" Abbondanza said Wednesday.

In his lawsuit against Abreu's attorneys in Florida and Colorado, he alleges that they "formed a criminal enterprise by using the Americans with Disabilities Act to institute actions based on fictional plaintiffs, false allegations of injury, and false allegations of standing to collect quick settlements from Colorado businesses and citizens."

Abbondanza and Patterson said there's no evidence Abreu is a real person. When they demanded to depose Abreu, Patterson said the opposing counsel quickly moved to dismissed their own case.

"They dismissed the case literally in 10 minutes," Abbondanza said.

Of the ADA violations alleged, only a handful were valid, which Abbondanza said he quickly and cheaply fixed. For instance, a urinal was a few inches too high, a toilet paper dispenser was a few inches too far from a toilet, and a grab bar was a few inches off of where the ADA dictates.

Patterson previously told Contact7 Investigates that Abreu's attorneys never sought photographic evidence or an affidavit to validate that Abbondanza remedied the few ADA violations his business had.

Abbondanza said he nor his employees remember seeing a man in a wheelchair around the time Abreu claimed to be in Colorado. He also said no one spoke with him about the alleged ADA violations prior to him receiving the lawsuit.

Despite the ADA case being dismissed, he shut down his business for months and lost a substantial amount of income. That, in part, is why he's seeking damages from the attorneys who put him in that position to begin with.

"If I had my druthers, what I'd like to see is these people no longer be in business," Abbondanza said. "They do not deserve to practice law."

He also keeps hoping Congress and Colorado legislators will pass legislation that would create a cure period before a business could get sued for an ADA violation. Previous attempts to do so have stalled.

The attorney representing the sued attorneys told Contact7 Investigates that they would not comment on the case against them. However, on Tuesday, the attorney sent Contact7 Investigates a demand letter ordering the station to preserve "evidence" related to its coverage of Abbondanza since 2016.

"We may well be required to serve a subpoena upon you and/or Channel 7 to collect, parse and review electronic information, including but not limited to digital or other videotapes (edited and raw), correspondence (e.g., emails and text messages), and producer and reporter notes," part of the demand letter reads.

Contact7 Investigates has forwarded the letter to its corporate counsel in Cincinnati.