Esparza v. Univ. Med. Ctr. Mgmt. Corp.

Decision Date24 October 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION No. 17-4803 SECTION I
PartiesKIMBERLY ESPARZA v. UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER MANAGEMENT CORPORATION ET AL.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
AMENDED ORDER AND REASONS

Before the Court are two motions to dismiss. The first motion1 to dismiss was filed by the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College ("the LSU Board"). The LSU Board argues that sovereign immunity bars the Court from hearing Esparza's claim against it under § 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("ACA"). As for Esparza's claims against the LSU Board under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the LSU Board argues that Esparza has failed to state a claim upon which the Court can grant relief.

University Medical Center Management Corporation ("UMC")2 and Louisiana Children's Medical Center ("LCMC") also filed a motion3 to dismiss. They argue that Esparza's state law claims against them are premature and as such should be dismissed. They also argue that Esparza has failed to state claims for compensatory damages under § 1557 of the ACA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Finally, UMCand LCMC ask the Court to stay the case while Esparza submits her state law claims to the requisite state administrative process.

Esparza opposes4 both motions. For the following reasons, the Court denies the motions.

I.

Kimberly Esparza is a deaf individual whose primary mode of communication is American Sign Language ("ASL").5 UMC operates University Medical Center New Orleans ("the hospital"), a full-service medical facility allegedly owned by the LSU Board.6 LCMC is UMC's sole member.7

From October 2016 through March 2017, Esparza visited the hospital on a number of occasions to receive medical care, including treatment for a broken arm, dental treatment, and lab work.8 During these visits, the hospital did not provide a qualified in-person sign language interpreter to assist Esparza in communicating with staff and learning healthcare-related information.9 Instead, the hospital offered Esparza use of a Video Remote Interpreting ("VRI") machine.10

According to Esparza, the VRI machine—the only accommodation provided by the hospital—was "heavily pixilated."11 Moreover, Esparza alleges that use of the VRI machine was not appropriate during certain visits, because she "had limited ability [to] sign with both hands" for a certain period of time "as a result of her injury" to her right arm.12 The VRI machine also required "several hours to set up."13

As a result, Esparza contends that the VRI machine was an ineffective accommodation, and so she had to resort to written English, or the assistance of her mother or boyfriend to communicate with hospital staff. However, Esparza alleges that her proficiency in written English is "limited";14 that her mother is not a qualified sign language interpreter;15 that use of her mother as an interpreter required Esparza to relinquish her medical privacy and "embarrassed" her;16 and that her boyfriend is also deaf, and he had to attempt to read the lips of hospital staff and then translate his reading of their lips into ASL.17

Esparza requested that the hospital provide her with a qualified in-person sign language interpreter.18 However, the hospital refused to provide one, informing Esparza that it would not pay for the service.19

Because the hospital did not provide a qualified in-person sign language interpreter to assist her during her visits, Esparza alleges that she was not able to effectively communicate with hospital staff about the "nature, scope, or consequence" of her broken arm or dental treatment,20 treatment options,21 the use and side effects of medications,22 lab work,23 and women's health issues.24 Esparza also alleges that she was not able to understand various medical documents.25

In response, Esparza filed the present case against UMC, LCMC, and the LSU Board. Esparza alleges that UMC and LCMC violated her rights under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights Act.26 Esparza also alleges that all three defendants violated her rights under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and § 1557 of the ACA.27

II.
A.

Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of an action where the court finds that it does not possess subject matter jurisdiction over the action. Where "a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).

"A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case." Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). Courts may dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any one of three different bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Clark v. Tarrant County, 798 F.2d 736, 741 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)). Where the defendant has questioned the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff has the burden of "proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the trial court does" possess the requisite jurisdiction to hear the case. Patterson v. Weinberger, 644 F.2d 521, 523 (5th Cir. 1981).

B.

Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district court may dismiss a complaint, or any part of it, where a plaintiff has not set forth well-pleaded factual allegations that would entitle him to relief. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007). A plaintiff's factual allegations must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In other words, a complaint "mustcontain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

A facially plausible claim is one where "the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. If the well-pleaded factual allegations "do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct," then "the complaint has alleged—but it has not 'show[n]''that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. at 679 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)) (alteration in original).

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court limits its review "to the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint." Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010); see also Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). In assessing the complaint, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and liberally construe all such allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Spivey, 197 F.3d at 774; Lowrey v. Tex. A&M Univ. Sys., 117 F.3d 242, 247 (5th Cir. 1997). Where "the complaint 'on its face show[s] a bar to relief,'" then dismissal is the appropriate course. Cutrer v. McMillan, 308 Fed. App'x. 819, 820 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Clark v. Amoco Prod. Co., 794 F.2d 967, 970 (5th Cir. 1986)).

III.
A.

The LSU Board first moves to dismiss Esparza's claim under § 1557 of the ACA for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, contending that sovereign immunity bars the Court from adjudicating Esparza's § 1557 claim against it.28 However, the LSU Board's position assumes that Esparza has the right to bring an individual claim under § 1557. The Court will first address that question.

i.

Section 1557 of the ACA provides:

Except as otherwise provided for in this title (or an amendment made by this title), an individual shall not, on the ground prohibited under title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.), title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.), the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (42 U.S.C. 6101 et seq.), or section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794), be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under, any health program or activity, any part of which is receiving Federal financial assistance, including credits, subsidies, or contracts of insurance, or under any program or activity that is administered by an Executive Agency or any entity established under this title (or amendments). The enforcement mechanisms provided for and available under such title VI, title IX, section 504, or such Age Discrimination Act shall apply for purposes of violations of this subsection.

42 U.S.C. § 18116(a). The ACA does not provide an express private right of action under § 1557. As such, the Court must consider whether the ACA provides an implied one.

The existence of an implied private right of action is determined by reference to the four-factor test first articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Cort v. Ash, 422 U.S. 66 (1975):

(1) Is this plaintiff a member of the class for whose "especial" benefit the statute was passed? In other words, does the statute create a federal right for this plaintiff?
(2) Is there any evidence of legislative intent, either explicit or implicit, to create or deny a private remedy?
(3) Is it consistent with the legislative scheme to imply a private remedy?
(4) Is the cause of action one traditionally relegated to state law so that implying a federal right of action would be inappropriate?

Lundeen v. Mineta, 291 F.3d 300,...

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