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Prakel v. State

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division

March 30, 2015

STEVEN PRAKEL, CAROLYN PRAKEL, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF INDIANA, INDIANA SUPREME COURT Division of State Court Administration, KIMBERLY A. SCHMALTZ Magistrate Judge, JAMES D. HUMPHREY Judge, JONATHAN N. CLEARY, LORETTA H. RUSH Chief Justice, Defendants

For STEVEN PRAKEL, CAROLYN PRAKEL, Plaintiffs: Debra J. Patkin, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF THE DEAF LAW AND ADVOCACY CENTER, Silver Spring, MD; Jeffrey Archer Miller, Mary C. Vargas, Michael Stein, PRO HAC VICE, STEIN & VARGAS, LLP, Emmitsburg, MD; Matthew Wilder Lorch, LORCH LAW OFFICE LLC, New Albany, IN.

For THE STATE OF INDIANA, BRENT E. DICKSON, Acting Chief Justice, INDIANA SUPREME COURT, Division of State Court Administration, KIMBERLY A. SCHMALTZ, Magistrate Judge, JAMES D. HUMPHREY, Judge, JONATHAN N. CLEARY, Defendants: Laura Lee Bowker, William M. Horne, INDIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL, Indianapolis, IN.

ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

SARAH EVANS BARKER, United States District Judge.

This cause is now before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs [Docket No. 64] and Defendants [Docket No. 73] on October 9, 2013 and November 22, 2013, respectively. Plaintiffs Steven Prakel and Carolyn Prakel have brought this claim against Defendants State of Indiana; Indiana Supreme Court, Division of State Court Administration; Magistrate Judge Kimberly A. Schmaltz; Judge James D. Humphrey; Judge Jonathan N. Cleary; and Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court Loretta H. Rush, alleging that Defendants denied the Prakels equal access to the courts by failing to provide Mr. Prakel, who was a spectator at the proceedings and is deaf, the services of an interpreter at various court proceedings in which his mother, Ms. Prakel, was a criminal defendant, in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. For the reasons detailed below, we DENY Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

Factual Background

The Parties

Mr. Prakel is an adult deaf individual whose primary mode of communication is American Sign Language. He requires a qualified sign language interpreter in order to access spoken communications. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ ¶ 5-6. Mr. Prakel attended the National Technical Institute of the Deaf where his classes were conducted in American Sign Language and he uses a video relay service to make telephone calls, which allows a deaf person who uses sign language to call a hearing person by videoconferencing through a qualified sign language interpreter. Id. ¶ ¶ 7, 23. The only way Mr. Prakel is able to follow proceedings such as the court hearings at issue in this case is to use auxiliary aids and services such as a qualified sign language interpreter. Id. ¶ 9.

Ms. Prakel is Steven Prakel's mother. She is a hearing individual and was the criminal defendant in proceedings held during the time period relevant to this litigation in Dearborn Circuit Court and Dearborn Superior Court. The criminal proceedings at issue in this litigation were open to the public, which includes family members of criminal defendants. Cleary Dep. at 8, 16; Humphrey Dep. at 29, 33. Ms. Prakel wanted her son to attend the court proceedings in which she was involved, both to provide emotional support and to better understand the legal situation she was facing. C. Prakel Decl. ¶ ¶ 6, 14. Mr. Prakel has testified that he wished to attend his mother's court proceedings for the same reasons. S. Decl. ¶ 8.

Defendants are two Dearborn County Judges, a Dearborn County Magistrate, the Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice, the Indiana Division of State Administration (" the Division" ) and the State of Indiana. The Honorable James D. Humphrey is the judge of the Dearborn Circuit Court and the Honorable Jonathan Cleary is judge of the Dearborn Superior Court No. 1. Kimberly Schmaltz is a Dearborn County magistrate. All of the judicial officers in this case are named in their official capacities and liability is asserted against them jointly and severally.

The Indiana Court System

The State of Indiana does not have a unified court system. Rather, Indiana courts consist of separately elected judicial officers in each county as provided for by Article 7, Section 7 of the Indiana Constitution. Remondini Dep. at 9, 62. The Dearborn Circuit and Superior Courts are established under the Indiana Constitution and the Indiana Code. Ind. Const. Art. 7, § 7, Ind. Code § 33-33-15-2; Ind. Code § 33-29-1. The powers of the Dearborn Circuit and Superior Courts are also established by statute. Ind. Code § 33-28-1-5; Ind. Code § 33-29-5-3. The salaries of the Dearborn Circuit and Superior Court judges are paid by state funds and the rate of pay is established by statute. However, the county courts' operating expenses including staff and other expenses are paid for by the individual counties in which the courts sit. See Ind. Code § 33-33-82-29 (budgets submitted to county auditor for approval by the county council). The individual courts, in conjunction with county officials, develop and administer their own budgets each year and set their own budgetary policies. Humphrey Dep. at 6-7. Neither the Indiana Supreme Court nor the Division plays any role in the day-to-day operations or governance of the individual county courts, including the manner in which they conduct any given proceeding. See Ind. Const. art. 7, § § 1, 4, 7; Ind. Code § § 33-24-1, 3, 6; Ind. Code § 33-33-25.

The Indiana Supreme Court provides certain funding to the trial courts through grants for specific projects and programs, including, inter alia, the provision of grants for improvements in technology and funding for special projects, such as providing interpreters for litigants with limited English language proficiency. The Supreme Court receives federal funding that is distributed by the Division for use by drug courts, for domestic violence training, for tracking CDL violations, and for child support enforcement, but has not received federal grants for provision of interpreters in recent years. Remondini Dep. at 66.

The Division operates under the supervision of the Indiana Supreme Court. Its primary functions are to serve as " paymaster" for judges and prosecutors and to provide support services and consultation to trial court judges. Remondini Dep. at 7-8. The Division serves as a resource to Indiana state court judges, but does not direct the activities of the state courts. Id. at 9, 62. By statute, the Division examines business and administrative methods and systems of the courts; collects and compiles statistical data on the courts; prepares reports on judicial work; assists the judicial nominating commission and the judicial qualifications commission; administers the civil legal aid fund; and administers the judicial technology project and other technology activities, among other responsibilities. Ind. Code § 33-24-6-3; Remondini Dep. at 8. The Division makes no decisions concerning the provision of interpreters or expenditures of money for interpreters. The Division does not have the authority to order a county court to provide interpreter services. Such decisions lie solely with the county court judges. Remondini Dep. at 69-70.

The Judicial Proceedings

Prior to the court proceedings which led to the instant litigation, Ms. Prakel pled guilty in Dearborn Circuity Court to driving while intoxicated causing serious bodily injury. As part of her sentence, she had her driver's license suspended for five years. Subsequently, in 2010, while still on probation, Ms. Prakel was stopped by police for driving with a suspended license. As a result, Ms. Prakel was required to appear in Dearborn Circuit Court for probation revocation proceedings and in Dearborn Superior Court No. 1 on a charge of operating while suspended. Humphrey Dep. at 12-14; Cleary Dep. at 8. The probation revocation and misdemeanor proceedings are the court hearings about which Plaintiffs complain.

Dearborn Superior Court No. 1

Mr. Prakel asserts that he first requested interpreter services from Dearborn Superior Court No. 1 for a hearing in his mother's case that was set for April 29, 2010. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ ¶ 10-11. It appears from the Dearborn Superior Court's Chronological Case Summary that the proceeding that was set for April 29 was a pretrial conference. Defs.' Exh. B at 2. According to Mr. Prakel, he appeared at the courthouse on April 29 to discover that he had not been provided an interpreter. Judge Cleary presided over the conference, but Mr. Prakel was unable to understand the proceedings without the services of an interpreter. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ ¶ 15, 17.

On May 14, 2010, Mr. Prakel contacted the Superior Court No. 1 and requested that he be provided an interpreter for all of his mother's court proceedings. Mr. Prakel alleges that he was told the court would not provide interpreters unless he was a witness or a defendant. Mr. Prakel persisted in asserting a need for an interpreter and was informed that Judge Cleary would be consulted about his request. Id. ¶ ¶ 11-13. At the Superior Court's behest, Mr. Prakel submitted a written request for an interpreter and Judge Cleary scheduled at hearing for June 23, 2010 to address the request. Pls.' Exh. G. Mr. Prakel did not appear at that hearing, however. Mr. Prakel contends that although he was in the courthouse that day, he did not attend the hearing because no interpreter had been provided to assist him, so he knew he would not have been able to understand what was being said or to communicate at the hearing at which his need for an interpreter was to be decided. Mr. Prakel testified that when he arrived at the courthouse and discovered that no interpreter had been secured for the hearing, he approached a woman working in the court and asked why there was no interpreter. According to Mr. Prakel, the woman refused to write back and forth or otherwise communicate with him. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ ¶ 16-21.

At the June 23rd hearing, Judge Cleary questioned Ms. Prakel's attorney, Timothy Day, about Mr. Prakel's need for an interpreter. Mr. Day responded that he did not believe it was necessary at that point in time for the court to provide Mr. Prakel an attorney because he was not a witness or participant in the proceeding, but Mr. Day did express some confusion regarding the court's responsibility to Mr. Prakel and mentioned the possibility of consulting the Judicial Commission for guidance. Day Aff. ¶ ¶ 15-16; Defs.' Exh. F. at 3-4 (Transcript of June 23, 2010 Hearing). Ms. Prakel was present with her attorney and did not object to or otherwise contradict Mr. Day's statement. Day Aff. ¶ ¶ 17-18. Judge Cleary denied Mr. Prakel's request for an interpreter. Mr. Prakel later learned that, in addition to denying his request for an interpreter, Judge Cleary also discussed with Mr. Day in open court whether Mr. Prakel would need someone to take care of him if his mother was incarcerated. Mr. Prakel testified that it was " hurtful and demeaning" for him to discover that the court engaged in such a discussion outside of his presence and without his participation.[1] Id. ¶ 20.

The following year, in April 2011, Ms. Prakel had another court appearance in Superior Court No. 1 at which a guilty plea and sentencing order were submitted. Defs.' Exh. B at 2-3. In advance of this court appearance, Mr. Prakel contacted the court through relay services to request that an interpreter be provided for him. No such services were provided and Mr. Prakel was unable to understand the courtroom proceedings that occurred that day. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ 37.

Dearborn Circuit Court

In May 2010, Mr. Prakel telephoned the Dearborn Circuit Court using the video relay service to request that the court provide him an interpreter for future proceedings involving his mother. The individual who answered the telephone in Magistrate Kimberly Schmaltz's chambers told him that he would not be provided an interpreter unless he was a witness or a litigant. When he persisted, he was told to file a written request, which he did on May 20, 2010. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ ¶ 22, 24-27. According to Mr. Prakel, when he did not receive a response to his written request, he tried to contact the court to inquire about the status of his request, but the court refused to accept his video relay call. Id. ¶ 28. Mr. Prakel testified that he was told that the court was " upset" and " annoyed" by his requests for an interpreter. Id. ¶ 29.

Judge Humphrey, who presided over Ms. Prakel's probation revocation proceedings, received Mr. Prakel's written request for an interpreter. In response, he contacted Mr. Day as well as the Division of State Court Administration (" the Division" ) to inquire about the request. Mr. Day told Judge Humphrey that an interpreter was not necessary because Mr. Prakel was not scheduled to be a witness or participate in the proceedings involving his mother.[2] After speaking with Mr. Day and consulting with the Division, Judge Humphrey denied Mr. Prakel's request for an interpreter. Humphrey Dep. at 36.

On June 30, 2011, a fact-finding hearing on Ms. Prakel's probation revocation charge was held in Dearborn Circuit Court at which Ms. Prakel entered an admission. A sentencing hearing followed in Ms. Prakel's case on July 6, 2011 as well as an additional proceeding held on July 7, 2010. S. Prakel Decl. ¶ 32. Because the court had declined to provide interpreter services to Mr. Prakel, Ms. Prakel paid for a sign language interpreter to be present at both of those hearings so that Mr. Prakel could understand the proceedings. She paid a total of $264.00 for qualified interpreter services. Pls.' Exh. Q.

Requests for Reimbursement

Following the above-described court proceedings, Mr. Prakel contacted the National Association for the Deaf (" NAD" ). On November 9, 2010, the NAD sent a letter on the Prakel's behalf to the Dearborn County Court, addressed to Judge Humphrey, requesting that the Circuit Court reimburse Ms. Prakel for costs she incurred in securing interpreter services for the two July 2010 hearings. Pls.' Exh. K. Judge Humphrey contacted the Division upon receiving the letter, but made no written response to the reimbursement request. Humphrey Dep. at 24, 22, 32.

On February 4, 2011, a representative from the NAD called Judge Humphrey's chambers and left a message requesting that the organization be informed whether he had received its letter. When no response was received, the NAD called Judge Humphrey's chambers a second time on March 9, 2011. Judge Humphrey's executive assistant answered the call and informed the NAD representative that she would ask Judge Humphrey whether he had received the letter and would also investigate the reason the interpreter request was denied. However, neither Judge Humphrey nor any other court official responded further to the NAD's inquiries.

On April 22, 2011, NAD sent a letter addressed to then-Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard of the Indiana Supreme Court, outlining the facts and the NAD's view of the law as well as its attempts to contact Judge Humphrey. Pls.' Exh. L. at 1-3. The letter requested that Ms. Prakel be reimbursed for the funds she expended to hire an interpreter and that the state court system investigate the situation further. Id. at 3. It is undisputed that the NAD's letter was received but that no response was forthcoming or further action taken by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Instant Litigation

On April 13, 2012, Mr. Prakel and Ms. Prakel filed the instant Complaint, alleging that Defendants violated Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide Mr. Prakel an interpreter so he could fully access the court proceedings in which his mother, Ms. Prakel, was a defendant. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs seek reimbursement for the interpreter expenses Ms. Prakel incurred; compensatory damages; and attorneys' fees and costs. Plaintiffs and Defendants filed cross-motions for summary judgment on October 9, 2013 and November 22, ...


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