Federal court rejects Dearborn judges' immunity defense

March 31, 2015

A deaf man’s discrimination lawsuit against three judges in Dearborn County can proceed according to a March 30 ruling in federal court.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana found that Steve Prakel’s claims against Dearborn Magistrate Judge Kimberly Schmaltz, Judge James D. Humphrey and Judge Jonathan N. Cleary can continue.

Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued the ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment in Steven Prakel, et al. v. State of Indiana, et al., 4:12-cv-00045-SEB-WGH. The court denied his claims against the state defendants: the state of Indiana, the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration and Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush.

Prakel filed the complaint after the judges in Dearborn Circuit and Dearborn Superior courts would not provide a sign language interpreter for him during his mother’s court hearings in 2010 and 2011. He argued the courts violated Title II of the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Along with reimbursement for the money his mother paid for the interpreter, Prakel is seeking compensatory damages and attorney fees.

The federal court rejected the Dearborn judiciary’s immunity defense. Barker maintained judicial immunity is a personal defense reserved for individuals and Prakel did not name any individual defendants. Rather, the three judges were named as defendants in their official capacity.

In regard to the state defendants, the court denied Prakel’s claims, finding he and his mother failed to show their injuries are “fairly traceable” to any action of the state. Barker found the state had neither the authority to oversee the decision of not supplying a sign language interpreter nor does the evidence establish that a lack of state funds was the reason behind the Dearborn courts’ denial of the plaintiff’s request.

The case is now headed to trial, according to Prakel’s attorneys, Mary Vargas and Michael Stein, both of Stein & Vargas in Maryland, and Matthew Lorch of Lorch Law Office in New Albany. Prakel is also being represented by the National Association of the Deaf. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief on Prakel’s behalf.




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