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Siegel v. Dignity Health

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 25, 2019

Mitchell Siegel, et al., Plaintiffs,
Dignity Health, Defendant.



         Defendant moves for summary judgment as to all claims asserted by Plaintiffs Brian Embrey, Emily Embrey, Tony Rodriguez, Brenda Rodriguez, Laurie Reynolds-Sherwood, Mitchell Siegel, Dawn Siegel, Patsy Orlando, and Marlene Orlando (Doc. 68).[1] The Court rules as follows.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs Mitchell Siegel, Dawn Siegel, Tony Rodriquez, Brenda Rodriquez, Laurie Reynolds-Sherwood, Jesus Casarez, Jessica Armenta, Patsy Orlando, Marlene Orlando, Emily Embrey, and Brian Embrey filed this action against Defendant Dignity Health- doing business as Chandler Regional Medical Center and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center- for alleged violations of: (1) Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189, and its implementing regulations, 28 C.F.R. pt. 36 (Doc. 24 at 23 25); (2) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and its implementing regulations, 45 C.F.R. pt. 84 (Doc. 24 at 25-26); and (3) the Arizonans with Disabilities Act (“AzDA”), Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 41-1492 (Doc. 24 at 26-27).

         All Plaintiffs are either deaf individuals or the family members of deaf individuals (Doc. 24 at 2), and allege similar facts involving Defendant's failure to provide auxiliary aids to ensure effective communication with Plaintiffs regarding either their own medical care or the medical care of a family member (Doc. 24 at 20-23). Defendant argues summary judgment is warranted as to nine Plaintiffs because there is no genuine issue of material fact for a juror to conclude that Dignity Health denied Plaintiffs effective communication.

         II. Standard of Review

         A court shall grant summary judgment if the pleadings and supporting documents, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, “show[] that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Material facts are those facts “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact arises when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322. If the movant meets its burden, “its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, “the nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 587 (citation omitted).

         III. ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and AzDA claims[2]

         “Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against the disabled in the full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations.” Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., 545 U.S. 119, 128 (2005). To successfully bring a claim under Title III of the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that “(1) he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) the defendant is a private entity that owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation; and (3) the plaintiff was denied public accommodations by the defendant because of his disability.” Arizona ex rel. Goddard v. Harkins Amusement Enters., Inc., 603 F.3d 666, 670 (9th Cir. 2010). The parties do not dispute that Plaintiffs are disabled or that Defendant's facilities are public accommodations under Title III. Accordingly, each of the Plaintiff's claims are dependent on whether Defendant discriminated against them in violation of applicable law.

         Discrimination under Title III of the ADA includes a public accommodation's “failure to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iii). As explained in Title III's implementing regulations, “[a] public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(c)(1). Appropriate auxiliary aids and services include on-site qualified interpreters, [3] video remote interpreting (“VRI”) services, written materials, and the exchange of handwritten notes. 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(b)(1). The appropriateness of an auxiliary aid or service is dependent on: (1) “the method of communication used by the individual”; (2) “the nature, length, and complexity of the communication involved”; and (3) “the context in which the communication is taking place.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(c)(1)(ii). “In order to be effective, auxiliary aids and services must be provided in accessible formats, in a timely manner, and in such as way as to protect the privacy and independence of the individual with a disability.” Id. Although a public accommodation should consult with disabled individuals as to the type of auxiliary aid needed, the ultimate decision rests with the public accommodation, so long as the method results in effective communication. 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(c)(1)(ii); see also McCullum v. Orlando Reg'l Healthcare Sys., Inc., 768 F.3d 1135, 1147 (11th Cir. 2014) (“The regulations do not require healthcare providers to supply any and all auxiliary aids even if they are desired or demanded.”); Liese v. Indian River Cty. Hosp. Dist., 701 F.3d 334, 342-43 (11th Cir. 2012) (noting the difference between “demanded” and “necessary” auxiliary aids and stating “the proper inquiry is whether the auxiliary aid that a hospital provided to its hearing-impaired patient gave that patient an equal opportunity to benefit from the hospital's treatment.”).

         Whether a public accommodation, such as Defendant, has provided patients with appropriate auxiliary aids “is inherently fact-intensive.” Liese, 701 F.3d at 342; see Chisolm v. McManimon, 275 F.3d 315, 327 (3rd Cir. 2001) (“Generally, the effectiveness of auxiliary aids and/or services is a question of fact precluding summary judgment.”). Accordingly, in the motion, because the arguments categorically rest on factual details, Defendant addresses each Plaintiff in turn. Plaintiffs' response, on the other hand, fails to include any in-depth discussion of the facts or arguments raised by Defendant with respect to each individual Plaintiff. Instead, Plaintiffs lump all of their claims together and argue generally that Defendant's unreliable VRI system fails to meet the required standards set forth in the ADA's implementing regulations (Doc. 76 at 11-14), see 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(f), Plaintiffs are only capable of communicating the simplest of matters through written notes (Doc. 76 at 14-18), it was inappropriate for Defendant to rely on family members to serve as interpreters (Doc. 76 at 18-19), and Defendant had a duty to provide in-person interpreters to Plaintiffs in the absence of a functional VRI system (Doc. 76 at 19-20). Although this Court is required to review the record prior to granting a motion for summary judgment, it is not this Court's role to advocate on behalf of a party and search through voluminous records to substantiate that party's claims. “Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs.” U.S. v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991). “Nor are they archaeologists searching for treasure.” Jeralds ex rel. Jeralds v. Astrue, 754 F.Supp.2d 984, 985 n.1 (N.D. Ill. 2010). Nevertheless, this Court will address each of Defendant's arguments to determine whether it has met the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         A. Brian and Emily Embrey

         Plaintiffs Brian and Emily Embrey are married deaf individuals who bring claims related to alleged discrimination they experienced during Plaintiff Brian Embrey's treatment at Defendant's facilities in 2015 (Doc. 24 at ¶ 15). Defendant has moved for summary judgment on each of Plaintiffs' claims, arguing ...

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