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Miller v. University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 30, 2019

PATRICIA GANZZER MILLER, et al
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND UPPER CHESAPEAKE MEDICAL CENTER, et al

          MEMORANDUM

          CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case concerns the rights of a deaf companion's access to auxiliary aids when attending the medical appointments of a family member. The plaintiffs, Patricia Ganzzermiller and her son Andrew Ganzzermiller, generally allege that the defendants, the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center and Upper Chesapeake Health System (collectively, the "Medical Center") discriminated against them due to Mrs. Ganzzermiller's deafness. The Ganzzermillers have filed a motion for partial summary judgment (on liability) and the Medical Center has filed a motion for summary judgment. Both parties have filed motions to seal. For the forthcoming reasons, the court will deny the Ganzzermillers' motion for partial summary judgment, deny in part and grant in part the Medical Center's motion for summary judgment, and deny in part both motions to seal.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

         Mrs. Ganzzermiller is the widow of Lawrence Ganzzermiller and the mother of Andrew Ganzzermiller.[2] Mrs. Ganzzermiller is deaf, has very limited English reading and writing proficiencies, and can communicate effectively only by American Sign Language ("ASL"). For much of their lives together, Mr. Ganzzermiller served as Mrs. Ganzzermiller's primary ASL interpreter. Andrew Ganzzermiller is the adult son of Mr. and Mrs. Ganzzermiller and has limited ASL signing abilities.

         In January 2014, Mr. Ganzzermiller was diagnosed with stage four terminal lung cancer. His related treatment was largely palliative. Following his diagnosis, the Medical Center treated Mr. Ganzzermiller extensively for his cancer and related ailments. Mrs. Ganzzermiller routinely accompanied Mr. Ganzzermiller to his appointments. Mr. Ganzzermiller was hospitalized at Medical Center facilities on seven separate occasions: April 30-May 3, 2014; September 18, 2014; October 21-24, 2014; November 13-29, 2014; December 2-4, 2014; December 11-18, 2014; and February 16-18, 2015. During each of these hospitalizations, Mrs. Ganzzermiller visited Mr. Ganzzermiller daily. For the majority of the time he was hospitalized, Mr. Ganzzermiller was weak and fatigued. Mr. Ganzzermiller also attended numerous outpatient appointments at the Medical Center and underwent colon surgery on November 25, 2014.

         Throughout the course of Mr. Ganzzermiller's treatment, the Medical Center usually did not provide Mrs. Ganzzermiller with an interpreter, leaving Mrs. Ganzzermiller confused and unable to communicate with hospital staff. Mrs. Ganzzermiller claims that she "continually asked for interpreting services" during her husband's hospitalizations and that Mr. Ganzzermiller "also made repeated requests" on her behalf. (Pls.' Mot. for Summary Judgment ("Pls.' Mot.") ¶ 42, ECF No. 65-1), The Medical Center, by contrast, asserts that "Mrs. Ganzzermiller never requested nor did she require an interpreter.. . because Mr. Ganzzermiller communicated the information he wanted her to know about his medical care and treatment[.]" (Defs.' Cross Mot. for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot") at 3-4, ECF No. 77-2).[3] On occasion, often when Mr. Ganzzermiller was unable to interpret due to his condition, Andrew would interpret for his mother, requiring him to begin attending appointments that he otherwise would not have attended. Consequently, Andrew missed work, neglected family responsibilities with his wife and children, and was unable to drive his wife to the hospital when she was in labor. Andrew asserts that he asked for interpretation services for his mother multiple times but that he was denied. (Pls.' Mot. ¶¶ 54, 57, 78).

         Mr. Ganzzermiller withheld information about his health from both Mrs. Ganzzermiller and Andrew. Mr. Ganzzermiller received his terminal prognosis from oncologist Venkata Parsa, M.D., at an appointment he attended alone. Mrs. Ganzzermiller attended subsequent appointments with Dr. Parsa but did not receive interpretation services. Although Mr. Ganzzermiller filled out a form indicating that Mrs. Ganzzermiller was permitted to access his protected health information, the form is revocable at any time; it was Dr. Parsa's practice to confirm whether health information may be shared during each visit. When Dr. Parsa asked Mr. Ganzzermiller if Mrs. Ganzzermiller needed an interpreter, Mr. Ganzzermiller told Dr. Parsa that he would interpret for his wife. (Parsa Deposition, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 7 at 71:6-13, ECF No. 77-10). According to Dr. Parsa, Mr. Ganzzermiller told him not to contact Mrs. Ganzzermiller or Andrew regarding his terminal diagnosis. (Id. at 148:8-18). It was also the understanding of other Medical Center staff that Mr. Ganzzermiller did not want his family to know the gravity of his prognosis.[5]

         Mrs. Ganzzermiller and Andrew did not become aware of the terminal nature of Mr. Ganzzermiller's diagnosis until December 2014, when he permitted the Medical Center to disclose this information. Even after December 2014, during Mr. Ganzzermiller's last stay in the hospital in February 2015, no interpreter was provided for Mrs. Ganzzermiller. Mr. Ganzzermiller passed away at home on February 20, 2015.

         On April 28, 2017, the Ganzzermiller's filed their second amended complaint. Now pending is the motion for partial summary judgment, filed by Mrs. Ganzzermiller and Andrew, and the cross motion for summary judgment filed by the Medical Center.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows 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) (emphases added). "A dispute is genuine if 'a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Didaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it 'might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (emphasis in original). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014) (per curiam) (citation and quotation omitted), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Boachat v. Bait. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)). When parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must consider "each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law." Paulone v. City of Frederick, 787 F.Supp.2d 360, 368 (D. Md. 2011) (quoting Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Both motions must be denied if the court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact." Id.

         ANALYSIS

         The Ganzzermillers allege that the Medical Center's failure to provide Mrs. Ganzzermiller with an ASL interpreter, either in person or via videoconference, constituted violations of federal statutes. Specifically, the Ganzzermillers contend that the Medical Center violated Title in of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq., and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA"), 42 U.S.C. § 18116 et seq.[7]The Ganzzermillers seek summary judgment on liability only, reserving the question of damages for trial, while the Medical Center argues that the court should grant summary judgment in its favor on all counts.

         Title III of the ADA mandates that

[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.

42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). To that end, Title III directs that "[i]t shall be discriminatory to subject an individual or class of individuals on the basis of a disability ... to a denial of the opportunity of the individual or class to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of an entity." Id. at § 12182(b)(1)(A)(i). Hospitals are defined as "public accommodations." Id. at § 12181 (7)(F). Title III further defines discrimination as the "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[.]" Id. at § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iii).

         The purpose of the Rehabilitation Act is to ensure that no disabled person "shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). While the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act use different language, "[courts] construe the ADA and Rehabilitation Act to impose similar requirements," and each statute "require[s] a plaintiff to demonstrate the same elements to establish liability." Halpern v. Wake Forest Univ. Health Scis., 669 F.3d 454, 461 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). The two statutes differ only in establishing causation: The Rehabilitation Act requires that discrimination be the sole reason for the exclusion, while the ADA only requires that discrimination be a motivating cause of such exclusion. Id. at 461-62 (internal citation omitted). Further, while the Rehabilitation Act provides that injured parties may recover money damages, Title III of the ADA permits parties to obtain only injunctive relief. Proctor v. Prince George's Hosp. Or., 32 F.Supp.2d 820, 824, 828-29 (D. Md. 1998); see also Gillespie v. Dimensions Health Corp., 369 F.Supp.2d 636, 640 (D. Md. 2005) ("Although Title III [of the ADA] does' not allow a private party to seek damages, it does provide for injunctive relief (internal citations, omitted)).

         Neither party disputes that Mrs. Ganzzermiller has a disability covered by the relevant statutes, nor do they dispute that the Medical Center is subject to those statutes. The only dispute is whether the Medical Center violated the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act by not providing interpretation services to Mrs. Ganzzermiller.

         A. Injunctive Relief under the ADA

         As noted supra, Title III of the ADA permits only equitable relief. Gillespie, 369 F.Supp.2d at 640. To establish standing to seek injunctive relief under ...


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