Camera captures Florida man who is suing Medford restaurants
A Medford restaurant’s surveillance footage is being used to contest a Florida man’s claims that the restaurant failed to accommodate his obesity-related disabilities.
Jose Velez of Orlando, who says he is legally disabled due to morbid obesity, filed an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit against a trio of Medford restaurants including Noho's Hawaiian Cafe and Jasper's Cafe claiming he encountered violations to standards set by the ADA in the restaurants’ dining areas, checkout counters and restrooms.
Ara Sahelian, a California lawyer representing Noho’s, intends to dispute the claims made in the lawsuit by using security camera stills that appear to show Velez sitting down, standing up and moving around Jasper's without difficulty, according to documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Medford.
“Clearly, his full and equal enjoyment of Noho’s was not impaired,” Sahelian of Newport Beach, California, wrote in a Dec. 9 filing on behalf of Noho’s.
In late September, Velez filed a lawsuit that claimed a varied list of ADA violations against Noho’s, Jasper’s and Rosario’s Italian Restaurant.
In October, Sahelian told the Mail Tribune Velez was a “serial filer” who has filed numerous ADA lawsuits across the country — sometimes against dozens of businesses in one month — including a case in San Diego that Sahelian convinced a judge to dismiss.
The majority of Velez’ lawsuits have been settled out of court for undisclosed sums, court records show.
According to Sahelian’s latest filing, Jasper's has 14 surveillance photos captured between 12:13 p.m. and 12:31 p.m. Sept. 10, which showed Velez “had no difficulty positioning himself at a dining table,” and that Velez was able to move up and down with relative ease.
“In fact, the video shows he was able to sit and stand up with great ease,” Sahelian wrote. “He was able to stand from a seated position in less than two seconds, without relying on grab bars.”
Sahelian went on to argue that Velez’ complaint about the height of a restroom sink “strains credulity.”
In recent court filings, Velez appears to have shifted his focus to Sahelian as an individual, filing a revised suit Nov. 18 that seeks $100,000 from the lawyer directly.
In the revised complaint, Velez dropped the bulk of his $100,000 monetary claim against Noho’s, instead seeking $200 per ADA violation from the restaurant and asking a judge to close the business until it’s in full compliance.
Against Sahelian, however, Velez seeks damages based on claims Sahelian communicated with him “unprofessionally and uncivilly” in March related to an earlier lawsuit. Velez included screen shots of several emails Sahelian allegedly sent March 23.
In one message, Sahelian allegedly wrote only the word “laughing,” and in another Sahelian allegedly referred to Velez as “Mr. El Gordo,” which translates in English to “the fat man.”
“Unprofessionally and uncivilly, Mr. Ara Sahelian sent me an electronic mail merely stating that he was laughing, affecting the efficient administration of justice,” Velez wrote.
Velez claimed in his latest filing that he was being harassed when Sahelian brought up 27 lawsuits Velez had filed in December alone.
“No disabled person should be required to divulge the details of every other ADA lawsuit ever brought, as the ‘price’ for prosecuting an action to enforce the ADA,” Velez wrote.