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OSF seeks attorney fees in 'frivolous' lawsuit

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is seeking more than $200,000 in legal fees from an Ashland man after the U.S. District Court determined his civil rights lawsuit to be unfounded.

Portland law firms representing Oregon Shakespeare Festival are seeking $228,563 from Philip Lang of Ashland, documents filed in U.S. District Court in Medford show. The figure cites numerous pages of invoices and more than 912 labor hours defending the case for the festival and city of Ashland. 

OSF's attorneys called Lang's claims "frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation," and asked in the court document for the fees because Lang was "not disabled as alleged." OSF is seeking city of Ashland's legal costs as well because they were contractually responsible for the city's legal defense in the case. 

On April 12, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken dismissed Lang's suit claiming OSF didn't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act on the grounds that Lang wasn't disabled at the time he filed the lawsuit in October 2012. Lang had claimed 11 areas on festival grounds exacerbated his congenital spinal problems because of steep slopes, lack of handrails and slippery and uneven surfaces. Lang, a longtime critic of the festival, had argued that the period when he was free of pain between May 2010 and January 2013 was a period of remission, but Aiken disagreed.

Aiken ruled the ailment that caused Lang's pain for eight years and the pain that resumed in 2013 on were "two discrete periods of back pain." 

"After the lawsuit was filed, plaintiff (Lang) began to experience back pain again, but that pain was caused by three discrete events: a fall from his back deck, an injury while working under a sink and a fall while hiking the Grand Canyon," Aiken ruled.

OSF's lawyers cited Lang's Grand Canyon Jan. 21, 2013 hiking trip reservation form as grounds the suit was unfounded. They noted he wrote on the form he was in "very good shape" and "wants the most active participatory trip possible." When Lang filled out the trip application, he did not check the box to indicate a back problem.

Aiken's decision followed a recommendation by U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke that the court dismiss the suit on grounds that Lang's claims of disability contradicted his medical record.

"Plaintiff (Lang) was not limited by, or even experiencing, pain at the time he brought this suit, " Clarke wrote.

Attorneys for OSF said the amount they are seeking in legal fees is "reasonable" because they attempted to reduce attorney fees by early motions to dismiss. They said they also provided Lang with detailed renovation plans of the bricks in an attempt to negotiate a settlement. OSF has developed a plan to redesign the courtyard area known as "The Bricks," along with adding an elevator and improving wheelchair access.

Lang has had a lengthy history of disagreements with the city of Ashland and OSF. According to Mail Tribune archives, those disagreements include:

  • Filing a complaint accusing an Ashland planning commissioner of violating state law when he represented clients in front of the city commission in 1995.
  • In 1998, he opposed the City Council's nomination of the Railroad District for national historic status, saying it would lead to gentrification in an area where he owned properties.
  • In 1999, Lang filed a complaint against the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Jackson County Circuit Court requesting the release of financial and organizational information.
  • In 2000, he appealed the festival's plans to build a new theater and three-level parking structure.
  • In 2000, Lang petitioned the Jackson County Circuit Court to negate the city's lease agreement with OSF.
  • In 2005, he accused City Council members of unethical behavior for accepting free tickets from OSF.
  • In 2005, Lang's demands that OSF provide him with details of its full membership list prompted OSF members to agree to turn the group into a non-voting membership organization to avoid making the list public.
  • In 2007, he was involved in seven lawsuits against the city challenging local planning decisions.
  • In 2008, Lang opposed the site approved by the city for a downtown farmers' market.

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