Louisiana Record

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Injunctive relief request denied over claim Kentwood mental health hospital didn't provide interpreter

By Karen Kidd | Apr 25, 2018

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has denied a deaf St. Tammany Parish man's request for injunctive relief in his lawsuit against a Kentwood mental health facility that he alleges failed to accommodate his disability.

"The Court finds that plaintiff’s claim of future injury is too speculative to support standing to seek injunctive relief," U.S. District Court Judge Sarah S. Vance of Louisiana's Eastern District said in her order handed down April 3.

The plaintiff in the case, Joseph Green, didn't show that his return to Oceans Behavioral Hospital of Kentwood "would be a futile gesture" and didn't respond to defense reference to the facility's current contract to provide sign language interpreters upon request, Vance said in her 17-page order. "Moreover, plaintiff fails to demonstrate that he has a concrete intent to return to defendants' facility, or that he is otherwise affected by defendants' alleged statutory violations in a concrete way," the order said.

"Plaintiff does not respond to defendants' argument that the hospital is not in fact close to his home. Moreover, although the complaint alleges that plaintiff would seek defendants' healthcare services in the future because of a 'need for medical treatment,' plaintiff does not specify what kind of medical treatment he is likely to need from defendants in the future. A past statutory violation alone is insufficient to establish a concrete risk of future harm."

In her order dismissing with prejudice Green's claims for injunctive relief for lack of standing, Vance also granted parts of defense motions to dismiss.  

The case filed by Green, who communicates via American Sign Language, stems from his admission into Oceans Behavioral Hospital in November 2016 "after a psychiatric episode," according to the background portion of Vance's order. Green was hospitalized for about a week, during which time he claims to have asked for a sign language interpreter but was provided an interpreter on only one occasion.

"Plaintiff further alleges that, because he lacked an interpreter or other auxiliary aid, he was unable to meaningfully engage in treatment and did not know the status of his treatment or when he would be discharged," the order said.

Green filed suit last November against Oceans Behavioral Hospital and Oceans Healthcare and in his amended complaint filed in January added Oceans Acquisition as a defendant, according to the background portion of Vance's order. Green claims the defendants "failed to accommodate his disability and failed to implement policies and train their employees on the civil rights and communication needs of deaf individuals," Vance said in her order.

Green filed his claims under the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Green asked for declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages and attorneys' fees while defense counsel moved for dismissal and a stay on Green's federal claims.

The defense argued that Green lacked standing because he had not indicated he intended to seek future treatment from the defendant and based a motion for prematurity on Green's having not presented his claim to a medical review panel as required under the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act. In denying that motion and the defense's request for a stay on Green's federal claims, Vance said Green's claim under the state's Commission on Human Rights statute is not a medical malpractice claim.

She added that the defense counsel's reference to a previous medical malpractice case, Bernius v. Ochsner Medical Center-North Shore, "is unpersuasive."

"The plaintiffs in that case had submitted a request for review to a medical review panel that was nearly identical to their complaint," Vance wrote in her order. "Because of the undisputed overlap between the plaintiffs' discrimination claim and their pending malpractice claim, the Bernius Court found the discrimination claim premature without analyzing whether the plaintiffs alleged intentional conduct. Here, plaintiff represents that he has not filed a malpractice claim with a medical review panel and he does not intend to file a malpractice action. Because plaintiff’s discrimination claim is not a medical malpractice claim, he is not required to present it to a medical review panel."

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana