Court awards $10,000 to deaf litigant denied interpreter

A deaf Indianapolis man who was denied a sign language interpreter at his court-ordered mediation of a child-custody dispute will receive $10,380 in damages, a federal judge ruled.

The award to Dustin King is separate from attorney fees that Marion County may be ordered later to pay to King’s attorneys.

District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana conducted a bench trial on damages last month. In May, Pratt ruled the Marion Superior Court violated Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act for failing to provide King an American Sign Language interpreter as he participated in the court’s modest means mediation program.   

Magnus-Stinson on Tuesday ordered $10,000 in compensatory damages awarded to King for emotional distress and $380 in attorney fees for the process of requesting an interpreter through the court. She wrote King’s request of $20,000 in fees for emotional distress was excessive.

“The Court finds that there is a rational connection to support an award based on the evidence presented as to Mr. King’s mental/emotional pain and suffering. Mr. King and his family members testified during the bench trial about his emotional distress during the process of requesting an interpreter for mediation and from having to rely on family members rather than a certified court interpreter to translate for him during mediation,” Magnus-Stinson wrote in an order.

King's interpreter "observed that Mr. King was stressed out during the mediation since it was his first time participating in a legal proceeding and Mr. King was worried about being able to fully understand what was taking place," Magnus-Stinson wrote.  "Mr. King was shocked, hurt, frustrated and angry that he was being denied an interpreter by  a court – the entity he had believed would protect his rights and provide an interpreter for the mediation.  Mr. King’s distress was physically apparent. He cried. His facial expressions reflected his worry. … He has a sense of dread because the justice system violated his rights. Mr. King believed that he could not participate unless he had an interpreter, and further believed that he was denied the same quality of opportunity as someone who was not disabled.  The denial of an interpreter still bothers him.”

Magnus-Stinson wrote that the $10,000 emotional-distress award was reasonable and consistent with case law.     

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office, which represented Marion Superior Court, said it likely would appeal. Magnus-Stinson in June rejected the state’s motion for an interlocutory appeal of her ruling that the court discriminated against King, calling it “a classic example of when an immediate appeal is not warranted.”

The state also owes attorney fees to King’s lawyers, led by Andrea Ciobanu. Magnus-Stinson also Tuesday ordered attorneys in the case to show cause why the time for King’s attorneys to petition the court for their fees should not be extended pending possible appeals. 

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