By a complaint filed on January 11, 2005, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, and amended on March 15, 2005, seven deaf plaintiffs alleged that the defendant, a corporation operating a hospital, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (''ADA''), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, by failing to provide plaintiffs with an appropriate auxiliary aid necessary to ensure effective communication, thereby denying them (or in one instance, a child of a plaintiff) full and equal medical treatment because of their disability. The hospital had relied upon lip-reading and notes rather than provide a qualified, on-site sign language interpreter, despite the plaintiffs' repeated requests for live translation services. The plaintiffs had found the hospital's occasional use of a video remote interpreting device unsatisfactory and that hospital personnel lacked training in the device's use. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendant's unlawful conduct impaired effective medical communication and directly caused plaintiffs to sustain past and continuing physical and emotional injuries. They further alleged that plaintiffs ''have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer irreparable injury as a result of [the] pattern and practice of discrimination.'' The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. Private counsel and attorneys with the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs represented the plaintiffs.
On February 10, 2005, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the ADA claim (count I). Defendant contended that because injunctive relief was the only remedy available to plaintiffs under count I, plaintiffs lacked standing to assert the claim, as they faced no real and immediate threat of harm.
On May 16, 2005, District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow granted the dismissal motion as to two plaintiffs who no longer lived near the hospital and seemed unlikely to use it again, but denied dismissal as to the other plaintiffs. Accepting their allegations as true, the court found that these plaintiffs, who lived near the hospital and were likely to need its services, had alleged they had been harmed and were likely to continue to be harmed by the hospital's on-going unlawful policy, pattern, and practice. Gillespie v. Dimensions Health Corporation, 369 F. Supp.2d 636 (D. Md. 2005).
Filing a "complaint in intervention," the United States intervened as a plaintiff on July 17, 2006. The government was represented by counsel from the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ"). DOJ had conducted its own investigation of the defendant's conduct in March 2005, having received a complaint from the plaintiffs which mirrored their allegations in court. The DOJ's complaint again described, as a pattern or practice of discrimination against the disabled, the defendant's alleged systematic, long-term failure to provide appropriate translation services, alleged that the defendant had violated the ADA, and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The government's complaint described that appropriate videophone translation services, and staff training in their use, could and should be made available by the defendant as a part of the requested injunctive relief, along with provision of other auxiliary communication aids and services. In addition to asking that the court award damages to the plaintiffs and to others harmed by the defendant's conduct, the United States asked that the court impose a civil penalty against the defendant, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12188(b)(2)(C), to vindicate the public interest.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the presence of the DOJ in the case was part of a negotiated settlement, as reflected in a consent decree signed by all parties' counsel on July 12, 2006, and filed with the court on July 17, 2006. The detailed decree obligated the defendant, among other things, to provide appropriate communication aids and services (including, e.g., qualified interpreters, TTY devices, flash cards) for deaf and hard of hearing persons at the hospital, to train hospital staff in use of these alternative devices, to maintain logs of auxiliary communications services requested and provided, to implement a complaint/grievance system, to provide these communicative services without additional charge to their users, and to make sure hospital users, the community, and hospital personnel were aware of the new policies and capabilities. The decree imposed regular compliance reporting obligations on the defendant for the three year term of the decree, subject to earlier termination upon earlier accomplishment of the decree's goals. The decree noted that the private plaintiffs and the defendant had entered into a confidential settlement, as well. (We do not have access to the terms of this confidential settlement and presume that it resolved financial matters such as damages and attorneys' fee amounts.)
Judge Chasanow issued an unpublished order on August 8, 2006, which approved the consent decree. The next day, plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss the case with prejudice. The judge granted that motion on August 10, 2006, although she retained jurisdiction over the case pursuant to the terms of the consent decree.
We have no information showing post-dismissal activity in the case.Mike Fagan - 06/05/2008