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Johnston v. Intermountain Healthcare

United States District Court, D. Utah

August 13, 2019

ZACH JOHNSTON, and BARBIE JOHNSTON, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERMOUNTAIN HEALTHCARE, INTERMOUNTAIN NORTH OGDEN CLINIC, MCKAY-DEE HOSPITAL, ASL COMMUNICATIONS, INSYNC INTERPRETERS, and ROES I-X, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          David Nuffer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Zach and Barbie Johnston assert several claims against Defendant ASL Communications (“ASLC”) arising from multiple hospital visits at which the Johnstons allegedly requested, but were denied or refused accommodation for their hearing-impaired status.[1] ASLC seeks summary judgment on the Johnstons' claims.[2]

         Because the undisputed material facts demonstrate that ASLC did not own, lease, or operate a place of public accommodation, ASLC is entitled to summary judgment on the Johnstons' claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).[3] Additionally, because the Johnstons fail to present facts or evidence that ASLC ever denied or refused their requests for an American Sign Language interpreter, ASLC is entitled to summary judgment on the Johnstons' claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).[4] And because the Johnstons fail to present facts or evidence that ASLC owed them a duty of professional care or breached that duty, ASLC is entitled to summary judgment on the Johnstons' claim for professional negligence.[5] Therefore, ASLC's Motion for Summary Judgment[6] is GRANTED.

         Contents

         UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS ............................................................................................ 3

         DISCUSSION ................................................................................................................................. 4

         The Johnstons' ADA claims fail because ASLC did not own, lease, or operate a place of public accommodation ........................................................................................ 5

         The Johnstons' Rehabilitation Act and ACA claims fail because they did not any present facts or evidence that ASLC ever denied or refused their requests for an American Sign Language interpreter ................................................................. 8

         The Johnstons' professional negligence claim fails because they did not present any facts or evidence that ASLC owed them a duty of professional care or breached that duty .................................................................................................................. 9

         ASLC is not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees under Utah Code Ann. § 78B-5-825 ......................................................................................................................... 11

         ASLC is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees as the prevailing party on the Johnstons' ADA claims ........................................................................................ 12

         ORDER ......................................................................................................................................... 14

         UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS[7]

         1. ASLC does 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]

         2. Neither of the Johnstons have ever made a request for services directly to ASLC.[9]

         3. In each instance referenced in the Complaint where an interpreter was requested, but no interpreter showed up, the Johnstons' requests were made to a third party, not directly to ASLC.[10]

         4. In each instance referenced in the Complaint where an interpreter was requested, but no interpreter showed up, the Johnstons do not know whether their request was conveyed to ASLC.[11]

         5. According to Barbie Johnston, Intermountain Healthcare's (“IHC”) is responsible for conveying requests for a live interpreter to ASLC.[12]

         6. In instances where an interpreter allegedly failed to show up to a scheduled appointment, the Johnstons are unsure which interpreters cancelled appointments or whether those interpreters were associated with ASLC.[13]

         7. Neither of the Johnstons have ever been to ASLC's offices.[14]

         8. Neither of the Johnstons have ever visited ASLC's website.[15]

         9. With the exception of a single telephone call made by Zach Johnston to complain about a specific interpreter (which had nothing to do with the Johnstons' claims in this case), neither of the Johnstons have ever called ASLC.[16]

         10. Outside of having interpreters show up at appointments not related to the Johnstons' claims in this case, the Johnstons have had no interactions with ASLC.[17]

         11. The Johnstons have never entered into any agreements with ASLC.[18]

         12. The Johnstons are unaware of ASLC's policies and procedures.[19]

         13. Besides interpreters allegedly failing to show up, the Johnstons have no complaints about the services provided by ASLC.[20]

         14. ASLC has a contract with IHC to provide American Sign Language interpreters at IHC facilities.[21]

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[22] A factual dispute is genuine when “there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way”[23] or “if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”[24] A fact is material if “it is essential to the proper disposition of [a] claim.”[25] And in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the factual record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom are viewed in a light most favorably to the nonmoving party.[26]

         The moving party “bears the initial burden of making a prima facie demonstration of the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.”[27] The movant “need not negate the nonmovant's claim, but need only point out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.”[28] If the moving party carries this initial burden, the nonmoving party “may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of [the] pleading[s], but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial as to those dispositive matters for which it carries the burden of proof.”[29] “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant's] position will be insufficient to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment.”[30]

         The Johnstons' ADA claims fail because ASLC did not own, lease, or operate a place of public accommodation

         The Johnstons assert four claims against ASLC for violation of the ADA: (1) excluding from participation in or denying the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity; (2) disparate treatment by reason of disability; (3) discriminatory policies, practices, and procedures; and (4) discriminatory administrative methods.[31] However, the ADA expressly provides that its requirements and obligations apply only to “any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.”[32] And it is undisputed that ASLC does not own, lease, or operate a “place of accommodation, ” as defined by the ADA.[33] The Johnstons nevertheless argue that because the ADA applies to IHC, and because ASLC has an exclusive contract with IHC to provide American Sign Language interpreters at IHC's facilities, the ADA must apply to ASLC.[34] The Johnstons' argument fails for several reasons.

         First, the Johnstons argument is premised on a misreading of the ADA. The ADA contains provisions that prohibit various discriminatory activities “directly, or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements.”[35] But contrary to the Johnstons' interpretation, these references to contractual arraignments do not alter or expand the class of persons to which the ADA's requirements and obligations apply. Rather, “[t]hose clauses make clear . . . that their prohibitions cannot be avoided by means of contract[.]”[36] The ADA's requirements and obligations apply only to the person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.[37]

         Second, the Johnstons present no facts or evidence showing that the ADA's requirement and obligations apply to IHC. Nor do they present any evidence that ASLC's contract with IHC is an “exclusive contract” for the provision of American Sign Language interpreters at IHC facilities.

         Finally, the Johnstons do not identify any language in ASLC's contract with IHC that suggests ASLC is an agent of IHC, or that it assumed IHC's obligations under the ADA regarding accommodations to the hearing impaired. Indeed, the contract expressly states otherwise:

This Agreement does not constitute the hiring of [ASLC] or its Staff by [IHC]. This Agreement shall not be construed as a partnership. Neither [ASLC] nor [IHC] shall be liable for any obligation incurred by the other. It is the parties' intention that so far as shall be in conformity with the law, [ASLC] and its Staff shall be independent contractors and not [IHC]'s employees. In conformity therewith, [ASLC] shall retain sole and absolute discretion and judgment in the manner and means of providing Services to [IHC] at Facility. However, [ASLC] shall comply with all policies, rules, and regulations of [IHC] and Facility in connection with provision of the Services. All Services rendered by [ASLC] shall be rendered in a competent, efficient, and satisfactory manner and in strict accordance with the currently approved methods and practices in the field. [IHC] assumes professional and administrative responsibility for the Services rendered only to the extent that: 1) [IHC] is responsible for assuring itself that [ASLC] is qualified to render the Services; and 2) [ASLC] is satisfying all the obligations set forth in this Agreement.[38]

         Because the undisputed material facts demonstrate that ASLC did not own, lease, or operate a place of public accommodation, [39] the ADA's requirements and obligations do not apply to ASLC.[40] Therefore, ASLC is entitled to summary judgment on the Johnstons' ADA claims.[41]

         The Johnstons' Rehabilitation Act and ACA claims fail because they did not any present facts or evidence that ASLC ever denied or refused their requests for an American Sign Language interpreter

         The Johnstons assert claims against ASLC under the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA.[42]Specifically, the Johnstons allege ASLC discriminated against them by refusing and denying the Johnstons' requests for American Sign Language interpreters.[43] However, the Johnstons fail to present facts or evidence to support their allegations.

         It is undisputed that the Johnstons did not make a request for services directly to ASLC.[44]Rather, in each instance where an interpreter was requested and no interpreter showed up, the Johnstons' made their requests to a third party[45]-presumably, IHC. It is also undisputed that the Johnstons do not know whether their requests for interpreters were conveyed to ASLC.[46] And it is undisputed that in instances where an interpreter failed to show up to a scheduled appointment, the Johnstons are unsure which interpreters cancelled appointments or whether those interpreters were associated with ASLC.[47]

         In the face of these undisputed facts, the Johnstons assert they had a good faith belief that IHC had a contract with ASLC and would convey their requests to ASLC.[48] The Johnstons argue that “in the eyes of contract law and the ADA, ” it is irrelevant whether IHC conveyed the Johnstons' requests to ASLC.[49] And they maintain that because IHC is liable for failing to provide effective interpreters, ASLC is also liable.[50]

         The Johnstons cite no legal authority to support their arguments. Nor do they-or can they-point to any language in ASLC's contract with IHC to support their arguments. The contract plainly states that ASLC is an independent contractor, and that it is not liable for any obligation incurred by IHC.[51] And regardless, the Johnstons present no facts or evidence showing that IHC is liable for refusing or denying their requests for interpreters. The allegations in the Johnstons' Complaint, alone, are insufficient to avoid summary judgment.[52]

         Based on the undisputed material facts, and because the Johnstons fail to present facts or evidence that ASLC ever denied or refused the Johnstons' requests for an American Sign Language interpreter, ASLC is entitled to summary judgment on the Johnstons' Rehabilitation Act and ACA claims.[53]

         The Johnstons' professional negligence claim fails because they did not present any facts or evidence that ASLC owed them a duty ...


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