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Mar 2013
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March 28, 2013

Who Is Behind the ATM Lawsuits Hitting Michigan?


A wave of lawsuits challenging the accessibility of ATM machines has reached the shores of Michigan. Recently, the Pittsburgh, Pa., firm of Carlson Lynch has filed two lawsuits in federal court in west Michigan alleging that the defendants – one a bank, the other a credit union – have failed to bring their ATMs into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both of the cases are filed in the name of a single blind plaintiff, but both seek certification as a class action.

Carlson Lynch has brought similar actions around the country in bursts of activity. In December and January alone, Carlson Lynch filed 146 cases on behalf of blind plaintiffs in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas. Carlson Lynch’s clients typically bring a barrage of suits asserting claims that are virtually identical. In June, 2012, the American Banker profiled the efforts of one of their clients who sued 18 banks and credit unions in two months. The American Banker described the plaintiff as a man “prone to litigiousness,” who “travels around the western portion of the state hunting for automated teller machines that don't meet federal standards for serving the visually impaired.” The count of lawsuits filed on behalf of that individual has now grown to 35.

On a recent posting on Carlson Lynch’s website, attorney Bruce Carlson described how his firm has created a team of lawyers, paralegals and investigators to work with a group of blind advocates to bring lawsuits to enforce the ADA requirements for ATM machines. He describes the effort as using “well-conceived — and well-financed — private litigation . . . to enforce compliance with the federal civil rights laws.”

In 2010, the Department of Justice announced new rules requiring updated ADA standards for ATM machines. The rules included new technical specifications to make ATM machines accessible to the visually impaired. They became effective for all ATMs on March 15, 2012.

While the 2010 rules have spawned the current litigation, lawsuits regarding ADA compliance for ATMs are not new. In 2007, Cardtronics, the largest ATM operator in the country, settled a class action lawsuit agreeing to make its machines accessible to the visually impaired. Earlier this month, Cardtronics was sanctioned by a federal judge for failing to abide by that settlement agreement. The judge has yet to determine the amount of the fine. Cardtronics has agreed to the appointment of a special master to monitor its compliance with the order, to provide monthly reports of its progress and to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees.

Warner Norcross & Judd has defended banks in class action lawsuits involving ATM machines and is representing one of the defendants in the recent filings. 

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Dean Pacific and Molly McManus are partners at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.  Dean handles employment cases and litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Molly regularly represents banks in suits relating to deposit accounts and negotiable instruments, and also defends class action lawsuits. Dean and Molly recently teamed up to defeat class certification in an action brought under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

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