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Huffman v. University Medical Center Management Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 31, 2017

HOPE HUFFMAN
v.
UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER MANAGEMENT CORP., ET AL.

         SECTION: “H” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) (Doc. 36). For the following reasons, the Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Hope Huffman is deaf and communicates primarily in American Sign Language (“ASL”). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to accommodate her disability by providing her medical care without an ASL interpreter. Specifically, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges the following.

         Defendant Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College (“LSU”) owns University Medical Center New Orleans (“University Medical Center”), a full-service hospital. Defendant University Medical Center Management Corporation (“UMCMC”) leases and operates University Medical Center. The sole member of Defendant UMCMC is Defendant Louisiana Children's Medical Center (“LCMC”). Defendants entered into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement in which LSU contracts with UMCMC to operate University Medical Center and provide the healthcare services that LSU has the legal authority to provide. The agreement contains a non-discrimination clause mandating compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act in the operation of the hospital. Defendant LSU maintains control over the operation of the hospital by, inter alia, maintaining the infrastructure, providing nursing support, and employing a monitor to ensure UMCMC's compliance with the cooperative endeavor agreement.

         Plaintiff received treatment at University Medical Center on two occasions, the first lasting multiple days. She requested an ASL interpreter both times, but was denied. Defendants failed to meaningfully assess Plaintiff's communication needs, failed to ask Plaintiff about her communication preference, and often forced Plaintiff to communicate via lip-reading or written notes, which are ineffective for Plaintiff. Overall, Plaintiff was unable to meaningfully engage in her treatment. The only instance of accommodation was when Defendants used a Video Remote Interpreting machine to explain Plaintiff's discharge instructions. During the first treatment instance, Defendants prescribed Plaintiff medication. Because they did not provide her with an interpreter or other assistive device, Plaintiff did not understand what the medication was, why she was given it, whether it produced any side effects, or what the proper dosage was. During the second treatment instance, Defendants prescribed Plaintiff Motrin for post-procedure pain. Plaintiff is unable to take Motrin, but could not discuss alternative pain medications with her doctors because no accommodation was provided. Plaintiff also attends ongoing physical therapy provided by Defendants and has not received an interpreter.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' failure to provide an interpreter led to her receiving substandard medical treatment, caused her to endure emotional distress, and presently deters Plaintiff from seeking further medical treatment from Defendants even though they are the most convenient provider.

         Plaintiff alleges that the foregoing facts constitute violations of several anti-discrimination statutes. Against all Defendants, Plaintiff makes a claim for violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and for violations of Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), 42 U.S.C. § 18116. Against Defendant LSU, Plaintiff makes a claim for violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12132.[1]

         Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendants' actions have violated the statutes listed above, an injunction ordering Defendants to take specific steps to accommodate Plaintiff and similarly situated persons, compensatory damages pursuant to the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, ACA, and Louisiana Commission on Human Rights, and fees and costs.

         Defendant LSU now moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the grounds that it fails to allege that LSU was responsible for the purported discrimination.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[2] A claim is “plausible on its face” when the pleaded facts allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[3]A court must accept the complaint's factual allegations as true and must “draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.”[4] The Court need not, however, accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations.[5]

         To be legally sufficient, a complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claims are true.[6] “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action''' will not suffice.[7] Rather, the complaint must contain enough factual allegations to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim.[8]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Title II of the ADA states that, “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”[9] A “public entity” includes “any State or local government” and “any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or States or local government.”[10]Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 establishes an otherwise identical prohibition that is limited to recipients of federal funding.[11] “Jurisprudence interpreting either section is applicable to both.”[12] Finally, Section 1557 of the ACA extends the protections of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to entities associated with the government in the context of the ACA.[13] Plaintiff therefore advances essentially one claim against Defendant LSU, cognizable through three separate statutes.

         “A plaintiff states a claim for relief under Title II if he alleges: (1) that he has a qualifying disability; (2) that he is being denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities for which the public entity is responsible, or is otherwise discriminated against by the public entity; and (3) that such discrimination is by reason of his disability.”[14]

         Defendant LSU argues that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts that make LSU responsible for any discrimination that occurred. According to Defendant, Plaintiff's allegations that she did not receive interpretation services during her medical treatment have nothing to do with the owner of the building, LSU, in which the treatment was delivered. Defendant LSU does not dispute that LSU is a state entity or that any discrimination that did occur was a result of Plaintiff's disability. Plaintiff argues that the allegations in the Amended Complaint that Defendant LSU contracted with Defendants LCMC and UMCMC to provide medical services at the hospital and that LSU continues to exercise at least some operational control over LCMC and UMCMC are sufficient to claim that the medical services provided at the hospital are a service, program, or activity ...


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