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Green v. Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Kentwood, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 3, 2018


         SECTION “R” (2)



         Before the Court are defendants' two motions to dismiss and to stay.[1]For the following reasons, the Court denies the first motion as moot. The Court grants the second motion as to plaintiff's request for injunctive relief, but denies the motion asserted on prematurity grounds.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of claims of disability discrimination in the provision of healthcare services.[2] According to the complaint, Plaintiff Joseph Green is deaf and communicates primarily in American Sign Language (ASL).[3] On November 19, 2016, plaintiff was admitted to Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Kentwood after a psychiatric episode.[4] Plaintiff remained at the hospital until November 26, 2016.[5] Plaintiff alleges that he requested a sign language interpreter throughout his stay at the hospital, but he was provided an interpreter on only one occasion.[6] Plaintiff further alleges that, because he lacked an interpreter or other auxiliary aid, he was unable to meaningfully engage in treatment and did not know the status of his treatment or when he would be discharged.[7]

         On November 10, 2017, plaintiff filed suit against defendants Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Kentwood, LLC and Oceans Healthcare, LLC.[8] On January 22, 2018, plaintiff filed an amended complaint adding Oceans Acquisition, Inc. as a defendant.[9] Plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to accommodate his disability and failed to implement policies and train their employees on the civil rights and communication needs of deaf individuals.[10]He asserts disability discrimination claims under the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights statute, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).[11] Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, and attorneys' fees.[12]Defendants now move to dismiss various claims, and for a stay of plaintiff's remaining federal claims.[13]


         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 232 (5th Cir. 2009).

         A legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claim is true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. It need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. The claim must be dismissed if there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, or if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215 (2007).


         A. First Motion to Dismiss and to Stay

         Defendants have filed two motions to dismiss and to stay in this matter.[14] The first motion, which is directed at the original complaint, seeks dismissal based on insufficient service of process or, alternatively, for lack of standing and prematurity, and a stay of plaintiff's remaining federal claims.[15]The second motion is directed at the amended complaint and no longer asserts insufficient service.[16] The record reflects that defendants were served with process after the filing of the first motion to dismiss, but within the 90-day period for service set out in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m).[17] Defendants do not challenge the adequacy of this service. Defendants' motion to dismiss based on insufficient service of process is therefore moot.

         The alternative arguments presented in defendants' first motion are also moot. An amended complaint does not necessarily moot a pending motion to dismiss. See 6 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1476 (3d. ed. 2017). But defendants' second motion directly addresses the amended complaint and re-urges its arguments as to standing, prematurity, and a stay. Because the two motions requests the same relief, [18] the first motion is moot. See Melson v. Vista World Inc. and Assoc., No. 12-135, 2012 WL 6002680, at *12 (E.D. La. 2012) (explaining that, when a new “motion is filed that specifically addresses an amended complaint, ‘it surely makes sense to disregard'” the first motion (quoting Steven S. Gensler, 1 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rules and Commentary Rule 15)). Accordingly, defendants' first motion is denied as moot.

         B. Oceans Healthcare, LLC

         Defendants contend that Oceans Healthcare is not a proper party to this action because it does not own, operate or lease Oceans Behavioral Hospital.[19] This assertion directly contradicts the amended complaint, which alleges that Oceans Healthcare “owns, leases, and/or operates Oceans Behavioral Hospital Kentwood.”[20] The complaint further alleges that Oceans Healthcare requires its hospitals to follow a uniform Code of Conduct, and that Oceans Healthcare's website lists Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Kentwood as one of its locations.[21] Defendants cite no legal authority in support of their request to dismiss Oceans Healthcare. Instead, they simply contest plaintiff's factual allegations.[22] At this stage of the proceedings, the Court must accept plaintiff's well-pleaded facts as true. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Defendants' motion to dismiss Oceans Healthcare is therefore denied.

         C. Standing to Seek Injunctive Relief

         Defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing to seek injunctive relief because he has not shown an intention to seek future treatment from defendants.[23] A plaintiff must satisfy the standing requirements of Article III of the U.S. Constitution to establish the existence of an “actual case or controversy” subject to federal jurisdiction. O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 493-94 (1974). A motion to dismiss for lack of standing therefore challenges the court's subject matter jurisdiction, and is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).

         As the party invoking federal jurisdiction, plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating each element of standing. See Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016). Standing requires that (1) the plaintiff suffered an injury-in-fact; (2) the injury is “fairly traceable” to the challenged conduct of the defendant; and (3) it must be “likely, as opposed to merely speculative, ” that the plaintiff's injury will be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To establish standing to seek injunctive relief, a plaintiff must show a “real or immediate threat that the plaintiff will be wronged again.” City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 (1983).

         Here, the complaint asserts that “[p]laintiff would seek Defendants' healthcare services in the future, whether by choice or necessity and whether as patient or companion, due to the proximity of Defendants' medical facilities to his home and their need for medical treatment; but he is deterred from doing so due to the discrimination he faced and expects to face in the future.”[24] Defendants present a factual attack on plaintiff's standing. See Superior MRI Servs., Inc. v. Alliance Healthcare Servs., Inc., 778 F.3d 502, 504 (5th Cir. 2015) (explaining that a motion to dismiss for lack of standing is “factual rather than facial if the defendant submits affidavits, testimony, or other evidentiary materials” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). Defendants offer the declaration of Laura Tarantino, the sole managing member of Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Kentwood, who attests that “Oceans Behavioral Hospital has a contract with the Deaf Action Center for the provision of in-person American Sign Language interpreters upon request.”[25]

         Defendants also point out that the complaint alleges that plaintiff resides in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, and that Oceans Behavioral Hospital is located at 921 Avenue G, Kentwood, Louisiana.[26] Defendants argue that the hospital is located more than a one hour drive from St. Tammany Parish, and is therefore not close to plaintiff's home.[27] Defendants further represent that plaintiff never sought health care services from defendants before or after November 2016.[28]

         Because defendants make a factual attack on the complaint, plaintiff must submit evidence to demonstrate that he has standing to seek injunctive relief. See Paterson v. Weinberger, 644 F.2d 521, 523 (5th Cir. 1981). But plaintiff offers no affidavits or other evidence in support of standing. Plaintiff's memorandum in opposition simply reiterates the allegation in the amended complaint that plaintiff would seek defendants' healthcare services in the future because of the proximity of the hospital to his home, but he is deterred from doing so because of the discrimination he faced.[29]

         The Court finds that plaintiff's claim of future injury is too speculative to support standing to seek injunctive relief. See Lyons, 461 U.S. at 111. The Fifth Circuit has explained that “a disabled individual need not engage in futile gestures before seeking an injunction; the individual must show only that [the alleged barrier] actually affects his activities in some concrete way.” Frame v. City of Arlington, 657 F.3d 215, 236 (5th Cir. 2011). But plaintiff has not shown that returning to defendants' hospital would be a futile gesture. Plaintiff does not respond to Tarantino's representation that the hospital currently has a contract to provide sign language interpreters upon request.[30]

         Moreover, plaintiff fails to demonstrate that he has a concrete intent to return to defendants' facility, or that he is otherwise affected by defendants' alleged statutory violations in a concrete way. See Deutsch v. Annis Enterprises, Inc., 882 F.3d 169, 174 (5th Cir. 2018). Plaintiff does not respond to defendants' argument that the hospital is not in fact close to his home.[31] Moreover, although the complaint alleges that plaintiff would seek defendants' healthcare services in the future because of a “need for medical treatment, ”[32] plaintiff does not specify what kind of medical treatment he is likely to need from defendants in the future. A past statutory violation alone is insufficient to establish a concrete risk of future harm. See Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1549; Armstrong v. Turner Indus., Inc., 141 F.3d 554, 563 (5th Cir. 1998).

         Plaintiff's reliance on Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlow Environmental Services, Inc., 528 U.S. 167 (2000), is unavailing. In that case, members of the plaintiff organizations provided sworn affidavits describing in detail their proximity to the subject river, their past use of the area around the river, and their specific plans to continue using the river area if not for their concerns about pollution. Id. at 181-83. Plaintiff fails to make a similarly concrete showing that he would be likely to use defendants' services in the future if not for the lack of sign ...

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