COA dismisses long-running suit from deaf litigant denied sign interpreter

A deaf man’s lawsuit that challenged the denial of a request for a sign language interpreter in a court-ordered family law modest means mediation was dismissed on appeal Friday.

Dustin King’s lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act  was filed more than five years ago. King was ordered to mediation in a custody matter and qualified for the Marion County Modest Means Mediation Program. He asked for an American Sign Language interpreter, but his request was denied.

After King sued, the court lifted its requirement that King go through mediation, but King said he wanted to mediate, and he asserted that lifting the requirement was not a permissible accommodation. He ultimately did participate in mediation with the assistance of an interpreter who was a family member. Nevertheless, he argued the denial of a sign language interpreter at court-ordered mediation violated his rights under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

After an initial win in federal court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling and damages award of $10,380 in 2017.  The U.S. Supreme Court declined King’s petition for writ of certiorari.

King then brought the instant case in state court, in which Marion Superior Judge James Osborn denied the Marion Circuit Court’s motion to dismiss King’s case. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for dismissal Friday, finding the 7th Circuit ruling settled King’s federal claims, and further action in state court is barred.

While we are sympathetic to King’s plight, we are procedurally unable to provide him relief in this matter,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel in Marion County Circuit Court v. Dustin King, 19A-MI-01536

“The trial court is precluded by claim preclusion under the doctrine of res judicata from considering King’s claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Similarly, the trial court is precluded by issue preclusion under the doctrine of res judicata from considering the issue of abrogation of Indiana’s sovereign immunity based on the language of Title II of the ADA. Finally, there has been no state action evincing Indiana’s consent to suit under a non-tort claim such as King’s claim under Title II of the ADA. Therefore, we conclude the trial court erred when it denied MCC’s motion to dismiss King’s claims. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for dismissal of King’s complaint.”

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