Florida, and particularly South Florida, has always been on the leading edge of legal trends that involve mandatory attorneys’ fees for plaintiffs.  For many years, the United District Court in and for the Southern District led the pack in the number of Title III cases filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  In 2013, one in every five ADA Title III case was filed right here in the Southern District.  In fact, the Southern District has a 435-page list of all the addresses where ADA Title III cases have been filed in an effort to prevent plaintiffs from suing a property location that was previously sued.

Perhaps because that the address list includes just about every physical location in the Southern District of Florida, the plaintiffs’ bar has now gone virtual and the hot new trend in ADA Title III litigation is website access.

The Feds

Starting with the basics, Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination in public accommodation:

No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases or operates a place of public accommodation.

A location is a place of public accommodation if its operations “affect commerce” and it falls within one of the twelve categories described in the statute.  The twelve categories cover just about everyplace one might go during a day except for your own private residence.  The types of places covered include places of lodging, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, stadiums, concert halls, auditoriums, stores, banks, gas-stations, professional offices (i.e. doctor’s and lawyer’s offices), transportation facilities, all types of recreational facilities (i.e. zoos, libraries, galleries), and all types of schools and colleges, etc.

If you review the twelve categories in detail, you will likely notice that “website” and ” internet” and “online” are not listed anywhere.  On the other hand, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), as evidenced by its enforcement and litigation activity, interprets places of public accommodation to include companies’ online websites.

In fact, the DOJ issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking directed to entities governed by Title II of the ADA (i.e. government agencies) which identified the barriers disabled people encounter when using the internet and best practices for removing or reducing those barriers.   The DOJ (and some Courts) propose utilizing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0 as the standard (and the regulations) to judge whether a web site is accessible or not.

It is unclear when the Federal government, under the new administration, will complete its rulemaking under Title II and then move on to Title III (commercial entities).  As such, unlike physical locations, there are presently no governing regulations for website accessibility.


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The Courts

Alternatively, maybe the Courts will give us some more definite guidelines.  Back in 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over federal cases originating in the State of Florida) was on the front edge of this topic when it analyzed similar issues regarding the once popular “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” gameshow in the Rendon v. Vallycrest case.    In Rendon, the issue wasn’t focused on the internet but on an “automated fast finger telephone” selection process.  The Rendon Court determined that the show, since it was held in a theater, was a place of public accommodation.  The Renden Court went on to rule that since the telephone screening process imposed significant barriers to disabled people who wanted to be on the show, ADA Title III applied to the telephonic application process because it restricted access to the place of public accommodation (i.e. the studio).

Since 2002, the case law in the Eleventh Circuit and throughout the Florida Federal district courts has been somewhat muddy.  The most recent case related to this website accessibility is Gomez v. Bank & Olufsen America.  In Gomez, Mr. Gomez alleged that he could not utilize the defendant’s website because it is not compatible with his screen reader software (“SRS”).  While Mr. Gomez’s Complaint linked the defendant’s website with its physical locations the focus of his Complaint, in this instance, was his reliance on using the internet to shop because of his visual impairment (he is legally blind).  Judge Joan Leonard ruled his claim failed because the ADA does not require a place of public accommodation to have a web site at all.  However, she also ruled that if a place of public accommodation does have a web site it cannot impede a disabled person’s full use and enjoyment of the brick and mortar locations.  Mr. Gomez did not replead his claims, as he had the right to do under this recent order, so the case law remains unsettled in the Southern District.

Check back soon for my Part II post on this topic.  


Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori has in-depth experience counseling companies regarding ADA online access and defense of ADA website accessibility cases.  Dori also defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Last month, I posted about one Florida House proposal to implement Amendment 2 (which legalized medical marijuana this past November).

Thereafter, several other bills have been put forward and one in the House, HB 1397, has now passed the House Health Quality Subcommittee.  HB 1397, written by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, is quite restrictive and basically the opposite of SB 614 (the topic of my last post).  Specifically it provides the following:

  • A requirement that non-terminal patients must have a doctor at least 90 days before they can get a cannabis recommendation.
  • Bans the smoking of medical marijuana.
  • Also bans edibles like brownies and “vaping.”
  • Slow expansion of the number of licensed growers and dispensaries.  HB 1397 grants licenses to the seven existing growers (previously licensed under Haleigh’s Hope law).  In addition, five applicants denied last year by the Department of Health would obtain licenses after 150,000 patients have registered.  New licenses would be allowed once there are 200,000 patients registered.

46348049 - medical marijuana in jar lying on prescription form near stethoscope. cannabis recipe for personal use. legal drugs concept

Heading back to the Florida Senate, Rob Bradley, has proposed SB 406 which has also made it past a key committee (the Senate Health Policy Commitee).  SB 406 is a more “in the middle” bill and proposes the following:

  • The proposal does not include any language that would restrict doctors’ ability to decide for themselves if patients qualify for marijuana treatment.
  • Nonresidents would be allowed to apply to receive medical marijuana in Florida as long as they are able to get medical marijuana in their home state and qualify in Florida.
  •  The Department of Health would be required to have computer software system to track marijuana from “seed to sale”.
  • Patients would also be allowed to increase their supply from 45 to 90 days or even more than 90 days with a doctor’s approval.
  • The Bill would increase the number of marijuana dispensaries, expanding the number of businesses by five more when the state has 250,000 patients, 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients and then every 100,000 thereafter.
  • At least one of the five dispensaries would have to be a black-owned company.
  • The Bill also proposes a new medical marijuana research group at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.


Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

How do you respond when someone tells you they practice voodoo?  How about Santeria or Rastafari?   Do you laugh or scoff in response, do you start singing Sublime??  Here in South Florida, a multicultural and multi-ethnic area, there are a plethora of minor religions being practiced by thousands of people.  As a result, laughing or kidding about someone’s religion, even if seems like a joke to you, is the wrong move in an employment setting.

As an example, news of a recent employment lawsuit filed by a follower of the Yoruba religion, the African ancestor to voodoo and Santeria, who claims discrimination because her employer was making fun of her religion and allegedly restricting her ability to wear her religious garb.  Specifically, Jenessys Gomez, alleges that her bosses and co-workers made fun of her after she started wearing Yoruba-mandated white from head to toe, including a white cover over her shaved head.

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This latest lawsuit is a good reminder to employers that Title VII covers all kinds of religions and even non-theistic beliefs.  The EEOC guidance on religious observance provides the following:

Title VII protects all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief and defines religion very broadly for purposes of determining what the law covers.  For purposes of Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others.  An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it.  Title VII’s protections also extend to those who are discriminated against or need accommodation because they profess no religious beliefs.

When it comes to religious garb or grooming, employers should tread carefully and only limit an employee’s right to wear their religions garb or abide by their religions grooming requirements if, and only if, it creates a real workplace safety, security, or health concerns.


Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

In November 2016, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved, with more than 70% voting yes, expanded medical marijuana by passing Amendment 2.

Now comes the tough work of implementing Amendment 2.  One bill, SB 614, proposes to throw out the current medical marijuana system in Florida (which was set up in 2015 to grow, process and distribute low-THC cannabis oil) which strictly capped the number of businesses allowed to participate in medical marijuana.

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St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, the proponent of SB 614, calls the current system “state sanctioned cartel” that limits competition and results in higher prices.  At present, the Florida medical marijuana system is limited to only seven vertical license holders.  A “vertical license” means that the license holder must do it all and grow, process and distribute the product.  And, by maintaining the current system it will obviously severely restrict businesses who want to be involved in what will be big business under Amendment 2.

Senator Brandes’ plan would get rid of the vertical license system and instead create four types of licenses:  one to grow marijuana, one to process marijuana, one to transport marijuana, and one for retail centers.  Each county, and Florida is a large state with 67 counties, could have one retail center per 25,000 residents, or nearly 800 statewide.  But, the bill still permits local governments to outright ban retail dispensaries.


Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Contractual forum selection clauses may be “mandatory” or “permissive”.  However, there are times when a forum selection clause that appears to be permissive is actually mandatory.  Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently addressed such a situation in Quick Cash, LLC, v. Tradenet Enterprises Inc., 3rd DCA Case No. 3D16-1640 (Fla. 3d DCA Feb. 22, 2017).

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In Quick Cash, the Third DCA was asked to consider whether this clause required the parties to litigate in California:

This purchase order shall be deemed entered into and performed in the State of California and Buyer consents to the jurisdiction of the State of California for purposes of enforcement of the terms hereof.

The Court noted that there are no “magic words” that need to be used to make a forum selection clause mandatory, but stated that:

the test is whether, when read as a whole, the forum selection clause indicates that the parties intended to try a case in the specified forum and to the exclusion of all others.

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Finding that allowing the case to proceed in Florida would “render meaningless” the exclusivity language in the forum selection clause, the Court ruled that the trial court properly dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction and improper venue.  So, while no specific language is required to make a forum selection clause mandatory, viewing such a clause in a way that makes “words of exclusivity” meaningless is not proper.

Copyright: pockygallery / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: pockygallery / 123RF Stock Photo

In Florida, the duty to preserve evidence relevant to a case may arise long before a complaint is filed.  A party’s duty to preserve evidence is triggered once litigation is reasonably anticipated.  The duty extends to any evidence that a party:

  • knows, or
  • reasonably should know

is relevant to the anticipated action, including electronically stored information.

The failure to preserve relevant evidence, also known as the spoliation of evidence, may result in the imposition of sanctions and a rebuttable presumption shifting the burden of proof in the underlying action.  A court may exercise a “leveling mechanism” due to the spoliation of evidence if it finds that:

  • the evidence existed at one time;
  • the party had a duty to preserve the evidence; and
  • the evidence was critical to the opposing party’s ability to prove its prima facie case or defense.

Under Rule 1.380(e) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, a party cannot be sanctioned for the failure to produce electronically stored information that was lost due to the “routine, good faith operation of an electronic information system.”  However, the Committee Notes to Rule 1.380 are clear that a party cannot avoid discovery obligations by allowing relevant evidence to be destroyed in the routine operation of an electronic information system.

To avoid becoming a spolier, companies and other large institutions that routinely destroy electronically stored information, such as emails, should consider implementing procedures to save and preserve relevant electronic information.

Who could have ever guessed that post same-sex marriage legalization, litigation would focus on the issues of wedding cakes and wedding florists.  But, now comes recent news that the case pending in Washington State involving the florist who declined to provide flowers for her friend’s gay wedding has lost her case at the state level.

As Barronelle Stutzman explained, in her own words to The Seattle Times, because she is a Christian weddings have a particular significance to her and despite her long friendship with this particular gay customer, even knowing that he was gay for many years, she simply could not provide a special arrangement of flowers for his wedding due to her religious beliefs.

I just couldn’t see a way clear in my heart to honor God with the talents He has given me by going against the word He has given us.

The Washington Supreme Court held, in unanimous decision, that her floral arrangement talents did not constitute protected free speech, and that providing flowers to a same-sex wedding would not serve as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

As Stutzman acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism.

Ms. Stutzman indicates that she will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.

46809589 - wedding-gay couple-red hair

As I explained back in 2015, Palm Beach County’s public accommodation law was amended to greatly broaden the types of businesses covered as public accommodations.  As a result, cake bakers and florists are covered by the law which means that turning away customers based on a religious basis is asking for trouble and litigation.  To avoid litigation, businesses including small businesses, should serve all customers unless there is a safety or security reason not to.


Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Florida, dating back to its early years, has always been a hot bed of scams and fraud.  These days, Florida leads the nation in IRS tax return fraud.  And, that is because Florida has a large transient population, no state income tax (so no state review of tax returns which provide a second layer of scrutiny), elderly population with low income but valid Social Security number, etc.

Doctor’s offices and hospitals have been ripe for the collection of Social Security numbers, so have schools.  Accordingly, most data experts advise against providing Social Security numbers at hospitals, doctor’s offices and schools.  Remember, just because they ask for your Social Security number does not mean you need to fill in that information since most providers really have no reason to collect this information.  I, personally, long ago stopped giving that information out on behalf of myself and I’ve never provided it for my daughter.  If you are a senior or you are caring for a senior, unfortunately the  Medicare system, for many years, utilized seniors’ Social Security numbers on their Medicare cards so that information has been collected for thousands of seniors.  Thankfully, in 2015, President Obama signed legislation requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to send out new Medicare cards without seniors’ Social Security numbers.

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Now, comes news on the latest scam.  The scammers have decided to go directly to Human Resources and payroll departments to collect this data in bulk.  Large companies, mid-size companies and small companies are all being targeted with phishing scams designed to get employees to send W-2s and W-2 data directly to these scam artists.  Please see this important blog post from Fox’s Privacy and Data Security blog for more information.


Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.  Dori defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims.  You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or dstibolt@foxrothschild.com.

Can a foreclosure sale be held when interrelated counterclaims remain pending?  Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal recently addressed this issue in DeLong v. Paradise Lakes Condominium Association, Inc., 2nd DCA Case No. 2D16-547 (Fla. 2nd DCA Feb. 22, 2017).

50301009 - final decision stencil print on the grunge white brick wall

In DeLong, a condominium association was granted a summary final judgment of foreclosure.  However, the condominium Owner’s interrelated counterclaims had not been resolved.  Accordingly, the appellate court found that the Association’s summary final judgment was neither final, nor appealable.

65888487 - legal cartoon about having a hearing too early in the morning.

The Second DCA, treating the appeal as a proceeding for writ of certiorari, concluded that the trial court

departed from the essential requirements of law when it authorized the sale of the property prior to the rendition of an appealable final judgment … .

DeLong should serve as a reminder that a foreclosure sale may not proceed until a final appealable order has been entered and all interrelated claims have been resolved.

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The recent decision in the Olivares case [2016 WL 6810716 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 2016) reminds lenders of the perils of being a second mortgage holder where equity is questionable.

A lender that held a second mortgage on real property owned by the chapter 13 debtor objected to the debtor’s proposed plan on the basis that the debtor’s plan was filed in bad faith, not feasible and the debtor proposed to pay the first mortgage holder with out participating in the mortgage modification mediation program.  The debtor filed a motion to value the property and determine the secured status of the lender.

Unfortunately for the second mortgage holder, the decision of the Court came down to one issue, the determination that there was no equity in the property in excess of the first mortgage.  The lender conceded that there was no equity in the debtor’s real property.  Specifically, the property was valued at $459,544.00 and the amount owed on the first mortgage is $823,372.03.

The second lender attempted to make several objections that could have been raised by the first mortgage holder, but the Court found that the second mortgage holder could not argue objections belonging to a third party, including: 1) the debtor’s inability to meet the payment requirements of the first mortgage, 2) the veracity of the family members promises to help fund the first mortgage payments, and 3) bad faith for failure to participate in the MMM program.
The second mortgage holder also argued that the debtor could not strip off liens where the first mortgage is being “treated outside the plan”, but failed to cite any legal authority for their argument.
As a result, the Court found that the plan was proposed in good faith, confirmable, and the motion to value and strip off its lien should be granted.  The only solace for the second mortgage holder is that the lien strip is conditional upon the debtor’s successful completion of all payments under her chapter 13 Plan.

  Heather L. Ries is an attorney with the Financial Restructuring and Bankruptcy Department of the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Heather focuses her practice in matters related to bankruptcy, creditors’ rights, commercial workout and foreclosure disputes, and commercial litigation. You can contact Heather at 561-804-4419 or hries@foxrothschild.com.