Health Reform WK-EDGE No sign language interpreter, but no ACA and ADA violations either
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Monday, August 26, 2019

No sign language interpreter, but no ACA and ADA violations either

By Cathleen Calhoun, J.D.

Hearing impaired patients did not get sign language interpreters, so why weren’t any violations found?

Two patients who made multiple hospital visits and allegedly requested, but were denied, accommodation for their hearing-impaired status, claimed that a communication company discriminated against them under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) and violated the American Disabilities Act (ADA), among other claims. A Utah district court dismissed the claims, with prejudice, and awarded the communication company attorneys’ fees, since it found that adequate facts were not presented, and the communication company did not own, lease, or operate a place of public accommodation (Johnston v. Intermountain Healthcare, August 13, 2019, D. Nuffer).

Undisputed facts. The court stated the following were undisputed facts:

  • the patients made multiple visits to the hospital, and in each instance when they requested an interpreter, and no interpreter showed up, they made the request to a third party, not to the communications company.
  • in each instance, the patients did not know if their requests were made to the communications company, were unsure which interpreters cancelled appointments, and unsure whether those interpreters were associated with communication company.
  • the patients were never at the communication company’s offices, visited the company’s website or had any interactions or agreements with the communication company.
  • the communication company did not own, lease, or operate a "place of accommodation," as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7) and 28 C.F.R. § 36.104.8.

Claims. Four ADA claims were made along with a discrimination claim under the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA. In the ACA claim, the patients alleged that the communications company discriminated against them by refusing and denying their requests for American Sign Language interpreters. The patients argued that they had a good faith belief that the third party, who had a contract with the communications company, would convey their requests. They maintained that because the third party is liable for failing to provide effective interpreters, the communication company is also liable.

Analysis. The court noted that the patients cited no legal authority for their arguments and could not point to any contract language between the third party and the communication company to support their arguments. The court found that the contract plainly stated that the communication company is an independent contractor and not liable for any obligation imposed on the third party. Also, the court stated that no facts or evidence were presented to show that the third party is liable for refusing or denying their requests for interpreters.

The case is No. 1:18-cv-00003-DN-DBP.

Attorneys: Jared M. Allebest (Allebest Law Group) for Zach Johnston. David C. Castleberry (Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar PLLC) for Intermountain Healthcare, Intermountain North Ogden Clinic and McKay Dee Hospital.

Companies: Intermountain Healthcare; Intermountain North Ogden Clinic; McKay Dee Hospital

Cases: CaseDecisions GeneralNews HealthInsuranceExchangeNews InpatientFacilityNews UtahNews NewsFeed

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