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Lockwood v. Our Lady of Lake Hospital, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 17, 2018

JOSEPH LOCKWOOD
v.
OUR LADY OF THE LAKE HOSPITAL, INC.

          RULING

          SHELLY D. DICK JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss and Alternative Motion to Stay by Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Inc. (“Defendant” or “OLOL”).[1] Plaintiff Joseph Lockwood (“Plaintiff” or “Lockwood”) has filed an Opposition to which the Defendant has filed a Reply.[2] The Court's jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Oral argument is unnecessary. For the following reasons, the Motion shall be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On July 1, 2017, Lockwood, a deaf individual who communicates primarily in American Sign Language (“ASL”) and has limited proficiency in English, sought emergency care at OLOL Hospital for his lacerated thumb.[3] Lockwood claims that, prior to his arrival at OLOL Hospital, his friend Timothy Harris (“Harris”) called to request that an ASL interpreter be provided for Lockwood.[4] Despite Harris' request, Lockwood asserts that OLOL failed to provide him with an interpreter.[5]

         Instead of providing him with an ASL interpreter or any other auxiliary aids or communications, Lockwood claims that OLOL's employees “attempted to communicate with [him] using a loud voice, lip-reading, or other rudimentary gestures.”[6] According to Lockwood, one nurse tried to communicate with him by typing on her phone, but due to his limited understanding of written English, it was unsuccessful.[7]

         Because Harris accompanied Lockwood during his hospital stay, OLOL's employees allegedly attempted to rely on Harris to communicate information to Lockwood.[8] However, Lockwood claims that Harris has limited sign language skills and lacks any extensive knowledge of medical terminology.[9]

         After OLOL's Hospital staff treated his injury, but prior to his discharge, Lockwood claims that his mother, Carol Montgomery (“Montgomery”), arrived at the hospital.[10] At that time, OLOL's staff/employees had allegedly requested that Lockwood sign various documents; however, no sign language interpreter or VRI machine was provided to interpret the documents for Lockwood.[11] According to the Complaint, Montgomery protested the request. Subsequently, OLOL's staff/employees gave Montgomery “a perfunctory and general description of the papers and reiterated their request that” Lockwood sign them.[12] Although she is not a qualified or trained ASL interpreter and lacks extensive knowledge of medical terminology, Montgomery then allegedly interpreted the “perfunctory and general description of the papers” to her son.[13] Because it was apparent to him that no ASL interpreter was going to be provided to him, Lockwood claims that he elected to sign the documents although he did not fully comprehend them.[14]

         Lockwood filed the instant lawsuit on August 2, 2017 against OLOL for its alleged failure to provide him with an ASL interpreter, a Video Remote Interpreting (“VRI”) machine, or any other auxiliary aids or accommodations, during his emergency room visit at OLOL Hospital. He has asserted claims against OLOL arising under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794 (“RA”), Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq. (“ADA”), Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. §18116 (“ACA”), and the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights Act, La. R.S. § 51:2231, et seq. (“LCHR”).[15] Because the Court finds that Section 1557 of the ACA incorporates the RA's definition of disability and provides the same protections for people with disabilities as the RA, the Court's analysis of the RA will apply equally to Lockwood's ACA claim.[16]

         Lockwood claims that OLOL discriminated against him in violation of the RA on the basis of his disability by denying him meaningful access to the services, programs, and benefits that OLOL offers to other individuals, and by refusing to provide Lockwood with auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication. Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that OLOL violated Title III of the ADA by discriminating against him on the basis of his disability in “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” of OLOL's Hospital and medical facility.[17] Lockwood claims that OLOL violated the ACA by discriminating against and continuing to discriminate against him solely on the basis of his disability, by denying him meaningful access to services, programs, and benefits offered to other individuals by OLOL, and by refusing to provide auxiliary aids and services necessary to ensure effective communication. Plaintiff further contends that OLOL discriminated against him by failing to provide sign language interpreters on site or through operable VRI machines. Additionally, Lockwood contends that OLOL has violated the LCHR by intentionally discriminating against him on the basis of his disability.

         As a cook who lives in Baton Rouge, Lockwood claims that it is reasonably foreseeable that he may need medical services from OLOL Hospital in the future. Since OLOL Hospital is also his “hospital of choice, ” he “reasonably anticipates that he will encounter discrimination again in the future when he next returns to the hospital.”[18]

         As a result of the Defendant's alleged discriminatory treatment and failure to provide effective auxiliary aids and services, Lockwood claims that he experienced “humiliation, fear, anxiety, guilt, and emotional distress.”[19] He seeks a declaratory judgment, [20] injunctive relief, [21] compensatory damages, reasonable costs and attorneys' fees.[22]

         Before the Court is OLOL's Motion to Dismiss and Alternative Motion to Stay.[23]OLOL seeks dismissal of all of the Plaintiff's claims because they sound in malpractice, and have not been considered by a medical review panel. In the alternative, Defendant requests that the Court stay the litigation pending review of the state law claims by a medical review panel. Lockwood disagrees with the Defendant's arguments.

         II. RULE 12(b)(6) LEGAL STANDARD[24]

         At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court must accept the well-plead factual allegations in the complaint as true.[25] The Court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, resolving all doubts in his favor.[26] However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”[27] The Court will not “strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff.”[28] If the facts as plead allow the Court to conclude that plaintiff's claims for relief are “plausible, ” the motion must be denied.[29] To satisfy the plausibility standard, the plaintiff must show “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”[30] “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[31]

         III. ANALYSIS

         OLOL moves to dismiss as premature all of Lockwood's federal and state law claims. According to OLOL, “[t]here can be no question that some, if not all, of plaintiff's claims are ‘malpractice' as defined by the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act.”[32] Because Lockwood's claims fall within the purview of the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act (“LMMA”), OLOL, a qualified health care provider under Louisiana law, contends that Plaintiff was required to submit his medical malpractice claims to a medical review panel for review prior to filing suit.[33] If nothing else, OLOL argues that “[g]iven that it is clear that at least some of the claims asserted by plaintiff are medical malpractice in nature, plaintiff cannot reasonably dispute that his Louisiana state law claims brought pursuant to the [LCHR] are subject to the [LMMA] and must be dismissed as premature.”[34]Although it is undisputed by the parties that Lockwood did not submit his claims to a medical review panel prior to filing the instant lawsuit, Lockwood does dispute that his claims sound in medical malpractice. Lockwood directs the Court's attention to Judge Lance M. Africk's recent decision in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Esparza v. University Medical Center Management Corporation, et al., as further support for his position.[35]

         A. Overview of Louisiana's Medical Malpractice Act (“LMMA”)

         Under the LMMA, “[a]ll malpractice claims against health care providers . . . other than claims validly agreed for submission to a lawfully binding arbitration procedure, shall be reviewed by a medical review panel.”[36] The LMMA mandates that “[n]o action against a health care provider . . . or his insurer, may be commenced in any court before the claimant's proposed complaint has been presented to a medical review panel.”[37] “Under the LMMA, a medical malpractice claim against a private qualified health care provider is subject to dismissal on an exception of prematurity if such a claim has not first been presented to a medical review panel.”[38] “The Supreme Court of Louisiana has interpreted this provision to not only require the plaintiff to present the claim to a medical review panel, but also to wait until ‘the panel has rendered its expert opinion on the merits of the complaint' before filing suit.”[39] Federal courts adjudicating Louisiana law claims recognize and enforce the LMMA's procedural prerequisite to suit.[40]

         The LMMA defines “malpractice” as follows:

any unintentional tort or any breach of contract based on health care or professional services rendered, or which should have been rendered, by a health care provider, to a patient, including failure to render services timely and the handling of a patient, including loading and unloading a patient, and also includes all legal responsibility of a health care provider arising from acts or omissions during the procurement of blood or blood components, in the training or supervision of health care providers, or from defects in blood, tissue, transplants, drugs, and medicines, or from defects in or failures of prosthetic devices implanted in or used on or in the person of a patient.[41]

         In Coleman v. Deno, the Louisiana Supreme Court set forth six factors for the courts to consider in determining whether a qualified healthcare provider's conduct falls within the scope of the LMMA.[42] The Coleman factors are as follows:

(1) whether the particular wrong is “treatment related” or caused by a dereliction of professional skill;
(2) whether the wrong requires expert medical evidence to determine whether the appropriate standard of care was breached;
(3) whether the pertinent act or omission involved assessment of the patient's condition;
(4) whether an incident occurred in the context of a physician-patient relationship, or was within the scope of activities which a hospital is licensed to perform;
(5) whether the injury would have occurred if the patient had not sought treatment; and
(6) whether the tort alleged was intentional.[43]

         The Louisiana Supreme Court has also instructed that “coverage of the Medical Malpractice Act should be strictly construed because the limitations of the Medical Malpractice Act on the liability of qualified health care providers is special legislation in the derogation of the rights of torts victims.”[44]

         1. Are Lockwood's Claims Intentional Torts?

         In response to the Defendant's LMMA argument, Lockwood focuses on his LCHR claim.

         Initially, Lockwood argues that because his LCHR claim is limited to intentional torts, the LMMA is inapplicable. Lockwood points to the following five (5) allegations in his Complaint to buttress his argument:

1. ¶79. Mr. Lockwood brings suit under the LCHR to the extent defendant's conduct is based on intentional acts of discrimination.
2. ¶80. The Department of Justice has published guidance materials which state that: “In a doctor's office, an interpreter generally will be needed for taking the medical history of a patient who uses sign language or for discussing a serious diagnosis and its treatment options.” 3. ¶81. The injuries sustained by Mr. Lockwood are substantially certain to follow when a hospital fails to provide deaf persons with effective communication.
4. ¶82. The injuries sustained by Mr. Lockwood are the expected consequence of OLOL's failure to comply with the requirements and mandates of the ADA and the LCHR.
5. ¶83. Common sense also supports a finding that Deaf people who are not provided with the necessary reasonable accommodations will suffer discrimination and resultant injury.[45]

         Considering the Complaint as a whole, the Court finds that these five allegations are conclusory. Moreover, Lockwood's LCHR claim does not exist in a vacuum. Although Lockwood offers the conclusory allegation that his LCHR claim is solely premised upon intentional acts of discrimination, a review of the remaining allegations throughout his Complaint contradicts his position.

         2. Do Lockwood's Claims Fall Beyond the Scope of the LMMA?

         As an alternative argument, Lockwood contends that OLOL has confused his LCHR claim with a claim for medical malpractice. He asserts that contrary to OLOL's position otherwise, this Court should find, as the Esparza court did, that the specific wrong alleged by Lockwood falls outside of the scope of the LMMA.

         Like Lockwood, the plaintiff in Esparza was a deaf individual, whose primary mode of communication was ASL.[46] Esparza claimed that over a five month span, she visited the University Medical Center New Orleans (“Medical Center”) on several occasions to receive medical care, including treatment for her broken arm, dental treatment, and laboratory work.[47] According to Esparza, during her visits the Medical Center did not provide her with an ASL interpreter to assist her in communicating with staff and learning health-care related information.[48] Instead, the Medical Center offered her the use of a faulty VRI machine, which proved to be an ineffective accommodation, and required her to resort to written English or the assistance of her mother or boyfriend to communicate with hospital staff.[49] Without the assistance of an ASL interpreter, Esparza alleged that she was unable to effectively communicate with hospital staff about the “nature, scope, and consequence” of her broken arm and dental treatment, treatment options, the use and side effects of medications, lab work, and women's health issues.[50] She also alleged that she could not understand various medical documents.[51] Like Lockwood, Esparza asserted her claims against the Medical Center and other defendants under Section 504 of the RA, Title III of the ADA, Section 1557 of the ACA, and the LCHR.[52]

         The Court has reviewed the Complaints in Esparza and finds that unlike the plaintiff in that case, who did not “explicitly complain about the medical care that she received from the hospital, ” Lockwood did.[53] For instance, Lockwood claims that he was “not adequately advised of his diagnoses, prognoses, medications, or treatment.”[54] As previously mentioned, Lockwood also alleged that he chose to sign certain medical documents prior to his discharge from the hospital, without “fully understanding what they said, what they obligated him [to] perform, or what rights he was waiving.”[55] Based upon this allegation and others, Lockwood claimed that “he was deprived of his right to understand his diagnosis and treatment, to provide informed consent, and to maintain privacy with regard to his medical information.”[56] Additionally, Lockwood further asserts that “he received services that were objectively substandard and that were inferior to those provided to hearing individuals.”[57]

         Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that in making his claims that OLOL violated the ADA, RA, ACCA, and the LCHR, Lockwood also made specific allegations about the substandard medical care he received while a patient at OLOL's Hospital.[58]Whether Lockwood received substandard medical treatment while he was patient at Defendant's hospital, clearly falls within the scope of the LMMA. Additionally, “[a] physician is required to provide his patient with sufficient information to allow the patient to make an informed and intelligent decision on whether to submit to the proposed course of treatment.”[59] Therefore, “Louisiana courts have [also] held that the lack of informed consent is unintentional negligence and is subject to the provisions of the [LMMA].[60] As for Lockwood's assertion that the Defendant failed to maintain his privacy rights, because such a claim for breach of ...


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