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'Morbidly obese' man sues 3 Medford restaurants

A Florida man who identifies himself as morbidly obese wants tens of thousands of dollars from a trio of Medford restaurants on accusations the businesses fail to comply with his disability.

Jose Velez of Orlando, who says he is legally disabled by mobility limitations stemming from a body mass index classified as “morbid obesity,” wants $100,000 worth of damages and punitive damages from Jasper’s Cafe, Rosario’s Italian Restaurant and Noho’s Hawaiian Cafe, according to a lawsuit filed late last week in U.S. District Court in Medford. He is suing the three Medford restaurants collectively in the same lawsuit because he claims they “share common violations” of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the Sept. 16 complaint Velez filed in Medford without the aid of a lawyer, Velez says he visited each of the three restaurants “within the last two years” as a patron, and encountered violations to standards set by the ADA in the restaurants’ dining areas, checkout counters and restrooms.

He describes himself as having an “approximate BMI” of 44.4, which impacts his ability to walk, stand and bend, and puts him at greater risk for falls.

At Jasper’s Cafe, Velez said he encountered “several architectural barriers” in the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor dining areas, that there was “no accessible route” to seat himself at a movable table, and that the indoor tables lack a required 27 inches of knee clearance.

At Rosario’s, located in the 2200 block of West Main Street, Velez complained the restaurant lacks accessible parking spaces in what he called a “malicious violation of the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

He claims the checkout counter at the Italian restaurant was inaccessible based on its height, and notes that although different bar areas and dining areas have different types of seating — some tables fixed and others movable — but “there are no accessible movable and fixed tables” based on 1991 ADA standards. The restaurant’s accessible seating lacks an “accessible route,” according to the complaint.

At Noho’s Hawaiian Cafe, he claims the restaurant’s counter height violates 2010 ADA guidelines, and the mens restroom lacks accessible doors as required in 1991 ADA guidelines.

The Hawaiian restaurant building at 330 E. McAndrews Road was built in the late 1970s, and first housed a business called Salty’s Fish & Fries, according to Polk directory archives.

Velez wrote that the businesses “failed to acknowledge that ADA accessibility standards are extremely important.”

“They are not minor details or picky rules, but rather, are essential to ensure true accessibility,” Velez wrote. “A doorway that is too narrow can be the difference between accessing a business or not. A too-short bathroom grab bar can be the difference between using a restroom or being forced to go without a restroom.”

His complaint asks for $50,000 based on Oregon’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act, another $50,000 in punitive damages, plus attorney fees. He notes that “counsel will be retained in due course” in his complaint.

None of the Medford restaurants have yet filed their responses to the complaint.

U.S. District Court records show that the suit out of Medford is hardly Velez’ first or only lawsuit. Velez filed on the same date a lawsuit alleging ADA violations at Jack Sprats Restaurant in Cottage Grove and The Ranch Restaurant in Yoncalla, similarly after patronizing the businesses “within the last two years,” U.S. District Court records in Oregon show.

Velez has filed and settled numerous similar suits filed in U.S. District Courts in Arizona and northern, southern and central California, primarily against individual restaurant locations, according to a search across the Ninth Circuit. He filed each of the complaints as an individual without a lawyer, filings show.

Last December, for instance, Velez filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court out of Central California against the building owners of restaurants in Long Beach and Hermosa Beach, California. The Hermosa Beach defendant named in the suit settled for an undisclosed sum.

In August of 2018, he filed suit against Fox Rental Car for ADA violations at a Los Angeles location, and the owners of a restaurant building in Manhattan Beach, California, the address of which belongs to an Uncle Bills Pancake House. Records show that the Fox Rental Car settled their case for an undisclosed sum earlier this summer, and the Manhattan Beach building owner’s case is still pending.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.