For me, the summer of 2015 will be known as the summer of the “shake downs.” In my previous blog I wrote about the Fort Pierce City Commission forcing Sunrise Ford, along with several other businesses along U.S.1 south of Midway Road, to annex into the city. The annexation process included threats of cutting off water and paying off one business owner $13,000 to sign the documents needed to get all of the businesses south of her into the city.
The morning after the final vote to approve the annexation, I was served with a law suit alleging Sunrise Ford was not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. That act, passed in 1990, required businesses to accommodate handicapped customers, by providing easy access in parking lots, stores, restrooms etc. It is a law that I embrace and was surprised Sunrise Ford was the defendant of such a law suit.
But the process server told me that the plaintiff David Poschmann had been suing businesses up and down the Treasure Coast. He and his attorney were quick to slap a federal suit on any business they felt was not 100 percent compliant. There were no calls, letters, emails, or meetings to discuss what improvements needed to be made---just a federal lawsuit.
A few weeks later Poschmann’s attorney, Drew Levitt, arrived at the dealership with an “expert” who would inspect Sunrise Ford and report any deficiencies. He measured doorways, used a special gadget to determine the slope of the pavement at our entrances, checked out the men’s restroom and took a lots of pictures of our handicapped parking, the ramps to doorways and door handles.
We then had to hire our own expert to determine if Poschmann had a case. The dealership was built in 1990 and fortunately we had no major issues being ADA compliant. We did agree to provide a special walkway from the main dealership to the Buy Here Pay Here building next door. The men’s room has to be reconfigured and handicapped parking had to be rearranged because the slope of the pavement was a few percentage points more than allowed. The handicapped counter in the service drive was off by three inches and a few door handles had to be switched out. Sunrise Ford had to pay our expert $5,907, who came up with those recommendations so we could avoid a trip to federal court.
But the case didn’t end there. A settlement would also mean a payoff to Poschmann’s attorney. Without that payoff, there would be depositions, court hearings and then a trial. If the federal judge found Sunrise Ford still had one ADA deficiency, the dealership would be on the hook to pay Poschmann’s attorneys who I am certain would have figured out how to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. And he was sure to let us know that is exactly what would happen if we didn’t settle quickly.
After a day of wrangling, we agreed to pay $17,390. Poschmann’s law firm got $15,000 and the rest went to his expert. Poschmann allegedly receives nothing for doing his “civic duty.” But if we had gone to trial I definitely would have wanted to check his bank records.
So this summer has turned out to be an expensive one. Poschmann set me back $23,297, including the fee from Sunrise Ford’s expert. No estimate yet on the making the agreed upon changes to the dealership.
The annexation into the city will mean an additional $25,000 in property taxes. And what do I get for that money? City commissioners promised extra police patrols. But that was after they complained the police department was underpaid, understaffed and had a high turnover rate—one of the main reasons for the annexations and extra revenue.
Sunrise Ford actually did need the police department this summer. We had our first break-in ever.
One of the first officers on the scene had a recommendation on how we could prevent future break ins.
Just hire off duty cops to provide security, she said. We didn’t bother to ask the going rate for off duty police protection. I figured we already had enough shakedowns for one summer.