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Small Bailey restaurant says ADA lawsuit is forcing it to close

BAILEY, Colo. -- The Riverbend Market and Eatery is closing its doors next month and the owners said it’s because of a lawsuit.

Riverbend employs 30 people and in the 18 months it has been open and it has quickly become one of the busiest restaurants in the area.

But Riverbend is getting ready to close on Oct. 30.

The restaurant is at the center of a lawsuit that alleges it is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is discriminatory against people with disabilities.

Riverbend “denied full and equal access and full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, services, goods and amenities,” the lawsuit said.

The restaurant has accessible parking, a ramp to get in and out of the building, and the owner said the building meets Park County and Colorado standards.

“We often have wheelchairs in here,” owner Michael Abbendanza said. "Whether it is canes, walkers, wheelchairs, no problem.”

According to the lawsuit, Abbendanza’s restaurant has 14 ADA violations, including handrails in the bathroom that aren’t long enough, a urinal that is 3 inches too high and a toilet paper holder that is in the wrong spot.

“No one would sue someone over that,” Abbendanza said.

The man who is suing Riverbend is not just an ordinary customer. According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Santiago Abreau “acts as a ‘tester’ for the purpose of discovering, encountering and engaging discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations.

He has filed similar lawsuits against almost 70 other restaurants and bars in Colorado.

It wouldn’t cost much to fix most of the complaints, but the lawsuits come with big legal fees.

“There is an attorney fee and cost provision in the ADA, which requires the business owner to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs," Abreau's attorney Brett Huff said in a statement.

“The preliminary figure we saw from them was somewhere in the $15,000 to $20,000 range,” Abbendanza said.

He said the restaurant just can’t sell enough food to pay it.

"If he’s going out of business, it is not because of this lawsuit," Huff said. "Perhaps his business is seasonal or perhaps there are other economic factors, but it is not because of this lawsuit.

"We are simply asserting these civil rights lawsuits to enforce federal law and attempt to make public accommodations accessible to disabled Americans.”

“It’s very disingenuous. It’s a lie. We know it. They know it,” Abbendanza said.

There is a bill in Washington that would give businesses time to correct ADA violations before they could be sued.

Abbendanza said he wants to reopen Riverbend if the measure becomes a law.