State appeals ruling for deaf litigant denied mediation interpreter

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Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office has appealed a federal court ruling that found a Marion County court discriminated against a deaf man in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act when it rejected his request for an American Sign Language interpreter at a court-ordered mediation session during his child custody case.

The state in federal court filings Monday asked Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana to stay her May 27 order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Dustin King. The state also asked for certification of an interlocutory appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state “continues to contend for purposes of the legal issue of standing that it designated sufficient evidence from (King’s) deposition showing he has no damages, no injury in fact, and any emotional distress he has experienced is a result of the litigation of this lawsuit, not the underlying claims,” according to its memorandum in support of its motions to appeal.  

Magnus-Stinson found King has standing to bring the suit under Title II of the ADA, that Marion County’s Modest Means Mediation Program is a program covered under Title II, and that King was discriminated against by the court when he was denied an interpreter. She also ruled against Marion Circuit Court on its sovereign and judicial immunity arguments. She wrote, “Because Marion Circuit Court knew that Mr. King was deaf and required an ASL interpreter for mediation, was advised that he considered the ADA to apply, and it nevertheless denied him an interpreter or a reasonable accommodation, the Court finds that Marion Circuit Court intentionally discriminated against Mr. King.”

Magnus-Stinson held that Marion County’s waiving the mediation requirement for King instead of providing an interpreter was not a reasonable accommodation, and that the court acted with deliberate indifference.

In appealing the ruling, the state argues, “There is a split among the federal circuits as to the appropriate standard for showing intentional discrimination, which is prerequisite to recovering compensatory damages under the ADA. … The Seventh Circuit has not decided on what the appropriate standard for damages is in this circuit.”

The appeal memorandum also argues, “Indiana law supports the fact that private mediation is not a judicial service or a judicial proceeding. The undisputed facts show that private mediation granted through the Marion Circuit Court Modest Means Program is not a state program, service, or activity as defined by Title II. Whether the Court’s Modest Means Mediation Program implicates a fundamental right of access to judicial services … is another contested question of law that will ultimately assist in speeding this litigation toward a conclusion.”

While the state appeals the decision, Howard Rosenblum, director of legal services for the National Association for the Deaf, said in an email the King ruling was hardly precedent-setting. “It’s been long established that state courts (like all public entities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as well as any entity receiving federal funds pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) must make their programs and services accessible.

“Court mediations are clearly a program or service of the court, and in that respect, it is not a case of first impression at all,” Rosenblum said. “Unfortunately, state courts are still unaware of their legal obligations to make their courts as well as related programs and services accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people as well as all people with disabilities,” he said.

The case is Dustin King v. Marion Circuit Court, 1:14-cv-1092.


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