Lange v. City of Oconto

Decision Date16 March 2022
Docket NumberNos. 20-3048,21-1110,s. 20-3048
Citation28 F.4th 825
Parties Renee LANGE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF OCONTO and City of Oconto Falls, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Reyna Lubin, Andrew Rozynski, Attorneys, Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Richard J. Carlson, Attorney, Town Counsel Law & Litigation LLC, Kaukauna, WI, for Defendants-Appellees.

Natasha Babazadeh, Thomas E. Chandler, Katherine Elmlinger Lamm, Attorneys, Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, for Amicus Curiae United States of America.

Before Sykes, Chief Judge, and Flaum, and Kirsch, Circuit Judges.

Flaum, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Renee Lange, who is deaf and communicates in American Sign Language ("ASL"), filed suit against defendants-appellees the City of Oconto and the City of Oconto Falls ("the Cities"). She alleged that the Cities violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq. , and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, when their police officers did not provide a qualified ASL interpreter for her during four interactions in 2016 and 2017. The case proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict for the Cities. The district court then awarded costs to the Cities.

Lange now appeals, asserting that various errors require reversal of the district court's judgment or, at the least, reversal of the decision to impose costs on her. We conclude, however, that Lange was not prejudiced by the district court's jury instructions, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding a reduced amount of costs to the Cities despite Lange's apparent indigency. Therefore, we affirm both the judgment of the district court, as well as the decision to impose costs on Lange.

I. Background

Lange was born deaf. She primarily communicates through ASL,1 with some ability to verbalize and read lips. She has two children, R. and B., who were minors at the time of the events that form the basis of this case. Her daughter, R., was seventeen, and her son, B., was fourteen. These children are not deaf, and Lange communicates with them using ASL.

Lange brought this lawsuit asserting that the Cities discriminated against her in violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act during interactions between Lange and the Cities' police departments. The case survived summary judgment and proceeded to trial regarding four episodes (the "incidents"), which occurred from May 30, 2016, to February 3, 2017. One of the incidents at issue occurred in Oconto; the other three occurred in Oconto Falls. In each of these incidents, the police did not provide Lange with an ASL interpreter but instead relied on one of Lange's minor children for interpretive services in some capacity. Lange alleged that during each incident she requested an interpreter or, alternatively, the need for an interpreter was obvious. Because the Cities did not provide an interpreter, Lange contended, she could not effectively communicate with the officers involved.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Cities. The following facts reflect the witness testimony and documentary evidence introduced at trial.

A. Factual Background
1. The May 30, 2016 Incident

The first incident took place on the evening of May 30, 2016, in Oconto. Oconto Police Officers Glenn Sowle and Erek Belongia arrived at Lange's residence in response to a noise complaint. Officer Sowle and Lange offered competing versions of what transpired.

According to Officer Sowle, upon arriving, the officers could hear banging on a door inside the home. Lange's daughter, R., then came outside and said that Lange's friends, who are also deaf, had caused the noise. Lange came out after a few minutes, yelling and screaming. R. tried signing to Lange that R. did not call the police, and Officer Sowle attempted to tell Lange verbally that the officers had responded to a noise complaint from a neighbor. Lange herself testified that she was upset and yelled at R. to "[s]hut up" and "[s]top it." Officer Sowle testified that he wrote on his notepad asking Lange to "please be quiet" and showed that message to her "a number of times"—although Lange testified that he only showed it once—but she still would not keep quiet. Officer Sowle testified that he could smell a strong odor of intoxicants coming from Lange, so he wrote on his notepad, "How much have you had?" Lange did not answer. Officer Sowle stated that after everybody calmed down, he told them verbally that if the officers had to come back, they would arrest somebody. According to Officer Sowle, all parties "agreed to call it a night."

About fifteen minutes later, the officers received another call about a disturbance at Lange's residence. Officer Sowle testified that, when he returned, he could hear "yelling and screaming coming from inside the house." R. came outside and said that Lange had locked them out of the house. Lange's next-door neighbors, Doug and Cheryl Wusterbarth, also came outside and were upset. They told Officer Sowle that Lange had been fighting with and hitting her children in the street, and they complained about "drugs going in and out of the house."

Officer Sowle testified that Lange came outside and started yelling and screaming again. He verbally requested that she please be quiet, but she did not comply. He stated that he again showed her his notebook with the "please be quiet" message. Lange still did not comply. Other neighbors came out, and they also said that Lange had fought with her children in the street. At that time, Officer Sowle had R. sign to Lange that he was placing her under arrest for disorderly conduct. Lange signed back asking, "Why are we being placed under arrest?" R. showed Officer Sowle the sign for arrest by clicking the wrists together, and he mimicked that sign. Officer Sowle testified that he placed Lange's handcuffs on in the front in response to a comment from R. about protecting Lange's ability to communicate with her hands.

As Officer Sowle walked Lange to the squad car after placing her in handcuffs, R. told him that Lange was requesting an interpreter. He said that he called dispatch to report the request. According to Officer Sowle, as they drove to the jail, Lange was yelling, screaming, and jumping around in the back of the car. At the jail, she demanded to know why she was being arrested. Officer Sowle told her it was for disorderly conduct, and Lange became upset again. The parties do not dispute that Lange never received an interpreter at the jail.

At trial, Officer Sowle testified that he believed that Lange "fully understood what was going on." He stated that he had at least four or five previous contacts with Lange, and during those contacts, he had primarily communicated with Lange using a pen and paper, as well as speaking verbally. He contended that Lange had a strong ability to read and write, as well as lip read, and they could effectively communicate through these methods. Officer Sowle further testified that—other than during the May 30, 2016 incident—Lange never requested an ASL interpreter during any of her contacts with him. Finally, Officer Sowle stated that Lange was easily agitated, and communication became difficult if not impossible when she was agitated. He added that he was concerned for the safety of Lange's children on the night of her arrest, and that concern factored into his decision to arrest Lange.

Lange, however, testified that she had great difficulty understanding the May 30, 2016 interaction with the police. She said that she did not know if R. interpreted Lange's questions to the police or the fact that she wanted an interpreter. Lange said that she attempted to request an interpreter through R. as well as through verbal communication, body language, and a written note. She said that if she had received an interpreter, she "would have been less upset because I would have understood what was going on."

Several other witnesses testified regarding the May 30, 2016 incident, as well as other interactions Lange had with the Oconto Police Department.

Lange's next-door neighbor at the time, Doug Wusterbarth, confirmed that he witnessed Lange and R. fighting in the street and called the police. He testified that he observed the police attempting to talk to Lange after they arrived. He saw Lange and R. signing back and forth and watched an officer offer Lange a pad of paper. Nonetheless, the yelling continued. Wusterbarth said that the police asked Lange to be quiet and go back in her house, but Lange did not comply or quiet down. He stated that the officer had a notepad in his hand "pretty much the whole time" and offered it to Lange "[a]t least a couple times." Wusterbarth testified that Lange appeared intoxicated, and he never heard her request an interpreter (although he acknowledged the possibility he simply did not hear such a request).

Retired Oconto Police Chief Bernard Faith testified that Lange voluntarily came to the Oconto Police Department two days after the incident, on June 1, 2016. With her son, B., interpreting, Lange requested a complaint and witness forms regarding her arrest on May 30; she later returned the completed complaint. Both Chief Faith and current Oconto Police Chief Michael Rehberg testified generally that they had other contacts with Lange, and in their experience, she never requested an ASL interpreter. Chief Faith would write notes to her, and she would frequently use her children to translate back to him. Chief Rehberg would let Lange dictate the method of communication; if she wanted to write on paper or use her children to interpret, he would follow her choice. According to Chief Rehberg, R. said that Lange could read lips, but the speaker needed to face Lange and speak clearly and slowly for her to do so. Finally, Rehberg acknowledged that it would be inappropriate to rely on...

To continue reading

Request your trial
21 cases
  • Saint Anthony Hosp. v. Eagleson
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • July 5, 2022
    ...of review, we will reverse "only if no reasonable person would agree with the decision made by the trial court." Lange v. City of Oconto , 28 F.4th 825, 842 (7th Cir. 2022) (quoting Smith v. Hunt , 707 F.3d 803, 808 (7th Cir. 2013) ).On appeal Saint Anthony points to Rule 15(a), which gover......
  • Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Special Memories Zoo
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • August 1, 2022
    ...suggests that it erases the presumption of recovering the litigation costs enumerated in 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See Lange v. City of Oconto , 28 F.4th 825, 848–49 (7th Cir. 2022) (explaining in context of ADA that fee-shifting statutes do not necessarily impact presumption of costs).We VACATE th......
  • Walsh v. Alight Solutions LLC
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • August 12, 2022 an abuse of discretion only if no reasonable person would agree with the decision made by the trial court." Lange v. City of Oconto , 28 F.4th 825, 842 (7th Cir. 2022) (quoting Smith v. Hunt , 707 F.3d 803, 808 (7th Cir. 2013) ). Under clear-error review, we will overturn a decision "onl......
  • REXA, Inc. v. Chester
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • July 28, 2022
    ...agree with the trial court's ruling." Aldridge v. Forest River, Inc. , 635 F.3d 870, 875 (7th Cir. 2011) ; accord Lange v. City of Oconto , 28 F.4th 825, 842 (7th Cir. 2022). A court may abuse its discretion if it bases its decision "on an erroneous view of the law or a clearly erroneous ev......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT