Mad River Union
ARCATA – Another Humboldt business has fallen victim to notorious attorney Jason Singleton’s lawsuit scheme, this time Arcata’s Porter Street Barbeque.
A fixture in town for 18 years, the restaurant closed its doors for the last time on Nov. 23, just before Thanksgiving break. The barbecue joint at 665 Samoa Blvd. had five full-time and six part-time employees.
According to Scott Seelye, who co-owned the restaurant with his wife Sherry, the closure was spurred by a lawsuit filed against Porter Street by Singleton, a Eureka attorney known for filing civil lawsuits against establishments, accusing them of discriminating against disabled clients in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). On behalf of a person with disabilities, Singleton accuses a business of committing a laundry list of ADA violations. Singleton then demands a wad of money to settle the case.
Although the attorney’s lawsuits are perfectly legal, it is not uncommon for people to characterize Singleton’s tactics as nothing more than a form of extortion. Hand over your money and Singleton goes away.
Singleton, reached by phone on Dec. 5, was tight-lipped. He refused to comment on the case, referring all questions to the defendant, in this case Seelye.
For the restaurant owner, the chain of events that killed his Arcata business began in June, when he received a vaguely written letter from someone with a post office box in Platina, a tiny town located about 40 miles west of Redding in Shasta County. The letter writer complained that the restaurant facilities were not adequate for a disabled person. Seelye said the complaint was not specific, and there was no way for him to communicate with the person, who was presumably a customer at Porter Street at some point.
Then in September, a person walked into the restaurant and handed Seelye some papers. Seelye was served, and the lawsuit was underway.
The lawsuit claimed that the restaurant was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, in that the bathrooms were inadequate, the urinal in the men’s bathroom was too high, the counters were all wrong and the parking lot was not in compliance.
Even the signs in the parking lot and the soda machine inside were in violation of the ADA, the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit demanded that Seelye upgrade the restaurant and fork over $9,000 to Singleton for his attorney fees.
Seelye consulted with an attorney and his landlord. The upgrades, Seelye said, would cost at least $40,000, probably more. It was more than he could afford.
Seelye explained that the restaurant was barely getting by, sometimes struggling. Over the last two or three years, the economy has been difficult, he said.
Seelye said that given the economics, he didn’t really have any choice but to pull the plug on Porter Street Barbeque.
As for Singleton, Seelye and his landlord settled the case for $8,000, each paying $4,000 to the attorney. In addition, Seelye had to pay his own legal expenses.
Late last week, Seelye and a crew were emptying out the restaurant, loading stoves, picnic tables and various pieces of equipment into a U-Haul truck.
The situation is somewhat of a head-scratcher for Seelye. He opened the Arcata restaurant 18 years ago in what used to be Jonah’s seafood restaurant. Long before Jonah’s, the building was a gas station.
Seelye said he had all the permits he needed from every agency that required one. He was approved by the City of Arcata, the State of California and the county Health Department. He did everything by the book.
Then along comes Singleton, and he is out of business.
“It seems like it’s just legalized extortion,” Seelye said.
The restaurateur will now focus on his Porter Street Barbeque restaurant in Eureka at 605 Broadway St.
“I’d like to thank the local community,” Seelye said. “We tried to keep it open as long as we could.”
Customers, such as 47-year Arcata resident Ginger Campbell, were saddened to learn about the restaurant’s closure.
“I think it’s a terrible loss of a resource for our community,” Campbell said, noting how Porter Street was a big supporter of local sports teams, including Humboldt State.
Local paramedic Doug Boileau said he will also miss Porter Street.
“They’ve been here a long time. Great people, great food,” Boileau said.
A partial list of other businesses in Humboldt County that have been sued by Singleton include Central Station in McKinleyville, Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville, Toni’s 24-hour restaurant in Arcata, the Minor Theater Corp. in Arcata, Café Marina in Eureka, Café Waterfront in Eureka, Arctic Circle in Eureka and Gottschalks in Eureka.