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Smith v. Ochsner Medical Center-Westbank, L.L.C.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 23, 2019


         SECTION: “J” (1)



         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 10) filed by Defendants, Ochsner Health System and Ochsner Medical Center - Westbank, L.L.C. (collectively, “Ochsner”), Plaintiff Ronneka Smith's (“Plaintiff”) opposition (Rec. Doc. 16), and Ochsner's reply (Rec. Doc. 23). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.


         This litigation arises from Ochsner's alleged disability discrimination pursuant to Title III of the ADA (“Title III”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”), and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, 42 U.S.C. 18116 (“Section 1557”). Plaintiff is a deaf individual who visited Ochsner for prenatal care on approximately fifteen occasions between November 17, 2016 and June 14, 2017. Plaintiff alleges that she received an in-person sign language interpreter during approximately five visits, and she received a video remote interpreter during approximately five visits. Upon demand by Plaintiff's counsel, Ochsner also provided a sign language interpreter during the delivery of Plaintiff's child. Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that an Ochsner nurse scheduled an appointment with third-party provider, Kid-Med Pediatric, but did not notify Kid-Med Pediatric of Plaintiff's disability.

         Plaintiff sued Ochsner in federal court on November 6, 2017. Plaintiff alleges that Ochsner's failure to provide necessary accommodations amounts to discriminatory treatment on the basis of her disability, and she suffered “humiliation, fear, anxiety, emotional distress, isolation, segregation, invasion of her civil rights, mental anguish, embarrassment, and inconvenience” as a result. Plaintiff seeks (1) a declaratory judgment that Ochsner's policies, procedures, and practices have subjected Plaintiff to unlawful discrimination in violation of Title III, Section 504, and Section 1557; (2) an injunction forbidding Ochsner from implementing or enforcing any policy, procedure, or practice that denies deaf or hard of hearing individuals, or their companions, meaningful access to and full and equal enjoyment of Ochsner's facilities, services, or programs; (3) an injunction ordering Ochsner to develop, implement, promulgate, and comply with various policies concerning deaf or hard of hearing patients; and (4) compensatory and nominal damages pursuant to Section 504 and Section 1557, reasonable costs and attorneys' fees pursuant to Title III, Section 504, and Section 1557, interest on all amounts at the highest rates and from the earliest dates allowed by law, and any and all other relief this Court finds appropriate.

         On February 22, 2018, Ochsner filed the instant Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, which Plaintiff opposes.


         1. Defendants' Arguments

         First, Ochsner argues that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. (Rec. Doc. 10-1, at 5). Ochsner asserts that Plaintiff has not alleged any facts demonstrating that Ochsner failed to provide Plaintiff with auxiliary aids or services where necessary to ensure effective communication, as is required in order to state a claim under Title III, Section 504, and Section 1557. (Rec. Doc. 10-1, at 7). Ochsner asserts that Plaintiff's allegation that Kid-Med Pediatric failed to provide her with auxiliary aids during a pediatric appointment does not constitute discrimination by Ochsner. (Rec. Doc. 10-1, at 8). Additionally, Ochsner asserts that Plaintiff fails to show she is entitled to compensatory damages because she has not demonstrated that Ochsner intentionally discriminated against her. (Rec. Doc. 10-1, at 8).

         Second, Ochsner argues that Plaintiff's claims for injunctive and declaratory relief must be dismissed for lack of standing because Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to show there is a real and imminent threat of future harm. (Rec. Doc. 10-1, at 8-10). Ochsner emphasizes that Plaintiff has failed to allege any concrete, particularized, and credible plan to return to Ochsner in the future. (Rec. Doc. 10-1, at 12).

         2. Plaintiff's Arguments

         First, Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to seek compensatory damages because Ochsner intentionally discriminated against her by failing to consistently provide auxiliary aids and services. (Rec. Doc. 16, at 11). Plaintiff asserts that “[o]ne can infer a plausible claim of intentional discrimination within Plaintiff's complaint through her allegations that across approximately fifteen doctor's appointments at the Defendant hospital, at approximately five visits the Defendant failed to provide her necessary auxiliary aids and services.” (Rec. Doc. 16, at 14). Plaintiff avers that her claims are not defeated by her alleged failure to request accommodations from Ochsner, as Ochsner has an affirmative obligation to comply with Section 504. (Rec. Doc. 16, at 15).

         Second, Plaintiff argues that she has standing to seek injunctive relief and has sufficiently alleged a real and imminent threat of harm. (Rec. Doc. 16, at 16). Plaintiff asserts that the ADA relieves a person from engaging in the “futile gesture” of making plans to return if the person has “actual notice” that the defendant does not intend to comply with the ADA. (Rec. Doc. 16, at 17). Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that she has standing pursuant to the “Deterrent Effect” Test. (Rec. Doc. 16, at 18). Plaintiff argues that the deterrent effect of Ochsner's inconsistent provision of auxiliary aids and services to Plaintiff is an “actual or imminent” injury that is not conjectural or hypothetical. (Rec. Doc. 16, at 18). Alternatively, Plaintiff argues that she has standing to seek injunctive relief because she has ...

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