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King v. Indiana Supreme Court

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 5, 2015

DUSTIN A. KING, Plaintiff,
v.
INDIANA SUPREME COURT, MARION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, MARION COUNTY OFFICE OF THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR, MARION COUNTY COUNCIL, and INDIANA SUPREME COURT DIVISION OF STATE COURT ADMINISTRATION, Defendants.

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Presently pending before the Court are two motions to dismiss the claims brought by Plaintiff Dustin A. King pursuant to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. [Filing No. 62.] One motion was filed by Defendants Marion County Council and Marion County Office of the Court Administrator (collectively "County Defendants"), [Filing No. 70], and the other was filed by Defendants Indiana Supreme Court, Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration ("DSCA"), and Marion Circuit Court[1] (collectively, the "State Defendants"), [Filing No. 75]. Because the pending motions present some of the same arguments, the Court will address both motions together and differentiate between the moving defendants as necessary.

I.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2)). "Specific facts are not necessary, the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93 (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint "contain[s] 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). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal, Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court will not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief "to a degree that rises above the speculative level." Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

II.

BACKGROUND

Mr. King's Second Amended Complaint is the operative pleading in this litigation. [Filing No. 62.] Consistent with the applicable standard of review, the allegations that the Court must accept as true at this stage of the litigation are set forth below.

A. Marion County Alternative Dispute Resolution Program

Indiana Code § 33-23-6-1 provides that if a county meets certain requirements, "the clerk of the court shall collect from the party filing a petition for legal separation, paternity, or dissolution of marriage... an alternative dispute resolution fee of twenty dollars ($20)." Those funds "shall be used to foster domestic relations alternative dispute resolution, " including "mediation, reconciliation, nonbinding arbitration, and parental counseling." Ind. Code § 33-23-6-2(d) (numbers of subparagraphs omitted). Litigants referred to the services covered by the fund "shall make a copayment for the services in an amount determined by the court based on the litigants' ability to pay, " and "[e]ach circuit... that administers an alternative dispute resolution fund shall ensure that money in the fund is disbursed in a manner that primarily benefits those litigants who have the least ability to pay." Ind. Code § 33-23-6-2(d)-(e).

These alternative dispute resolution ("ADR") services are commonly referred to as an "ADR program." To participate, a county must "develop a plan to carry out the purposes [of the applicable statutory section] that is approved by a majority of the judges in the county exercising jurisdiction over domestic relations and paternity cases" and must "submit the plan to the judicial conference of Indiana." Ind. Code § 33-23-6-3(a). Pursuant to Indiana ADR Rule 1.11, that plan must be approved by "the Executive Director of the Indiana Supreme Court Division of State Court Administration." Once approved, a participating county shall submit a yearly report "summarizing the results of the program." Ind. Code § 33-23-6-4.

Marion County has operated an ADR program since 2004. [Filing No. 62 at 5.] One facet of that program is the Modest Means Mediation Program. [Filing No. 62 at 4-5.] If a party in a domestic relations case is approved for participation in the Modest Means Mediation Program, the trial court appoints a mediator from a specified panel of mediators who meet certain requirements as required by the Indiana Supreme Court and DSCA. [Filing No. 62 at 5; see also Ind. ADR Rule 2.5.]

B. Mr. King's State Court Case

Mr. King resides in Marion County. [Filing No. 62 at 2.] In 2013, Mr. King was the respondent in a state court action pending in the Marion Circuit Court regarding custody and parenting time for his daughter. [Filing No. 62 at 6; Filing No. 47 at 2.] The judicial decisions at issue in this case were made by Marion Circuit Court Judge Louis Rosenberg (the "state court"). [Filing No. 49.]

Mr. King is deaf and his primary mode of communication is American Sign Language ("ASL"). [Filing No. 62 at 3.] Mr. King asserts that he is only able to follow, understand, and participate in court proceedings with an ASL interpreter. [Filing No. 62 at 3.] In his domestic relations case, Mr. King "paid the requisite filing fee, for which portions of funds derived are utilized to support the Marion County Modest Means Mediation Program." [Filing No. 62 at 6.] Because the issues in his case "would require two or more hours of the trial court's time, " Mr. King was initially required to participate in mediation pursuant to a local Marion County Rule. [Filing No. 62 at 6.] Mr. King "applied for and qualified through the court process to participate in the Marion County Modest Means Mediation Program." [Filing No. 62 at 6.] The trial court appointed a mediator and the mediation was initially scheduled for July 12, 2013. [Filing No. 62 at 6-7.]

On or about June 21, 2013, Mr. King moved for an ASL interpreter to be appointed by the state court at its expense for his mediation. [Filing No. 62 at 7.] The trial court denied that motion, stating that it "does not supply interpreters for mediation hearings." [Filing No. 62 at 7.] On June 27, 2013, Mr. King filed a motion to reconsider that decision because "not providing an ASL interpreter during his mediation was a violation of the ADA and Section 504." [Filing No. 62 at 7.] The state court denied his motion to reconsider on July 3, 2013, noting that "no funding has been budgeted for providing interpreters during mediation proceedings. The Court only has funding budgeted for interpreters during Court proceedings." [Filing No. 47 at 3.] To "alleviate the need for an interpreter under the circumstances presented, " however, the trial court waived the parties' obligation to participate in mediation under the applicable local rule. Mr. King moved for the trial court to certify the issue for interlocutory appeal, but that request was denied on July 17, 2013. [Filing No. 62 at 7; Filing No. 49.]

Mr. King wanted to participate in the Modest Means Mediation Program. [Filing No. 62 at 7.] Thus, he "proceeded in the modest means mediation without the provision of a trial court appointed or supplied [ASL] interpreter." [Filing No. 62 at 7.] Instead, Mr. King "was required to furnish his own ASL interpreter for the mediation" and "found a family member that was available to interpret during the mediation." [Filing No. 62 at 8.] Mr. King alleges that he "incurred the expense of seeking and obtaining his family member to interpret for him during mediation." [Filing No. 62 at 8.]

C. Mr. King's Federal Case

Mr. King filed a Complaint against the Defendants in this Court on June 29, 2014. [Filing No. 1.] His operative pleading alleges claims against all of the Defendants for violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. [Filing No. 62 at 8-12.] Specifically, Mr. King alleges[2] that he was "treated unequally because of his disability" and that the Defendants "intentionally discriminated" against him in violation of applicable federal law "by refusing to provide auxiliary aids and services necessary to ensure an equal opportunity for King to participate in modest means mediation, a program and law required, funded, and promoted by Defendants." [Filing No. 62 at 11.] He further contends that Defendants did not provide reasonable modification or accommodation as required by applicable federal law because they "were obligated to provide impartial' interpreting services, that is, an interpreter that does not have a personal relationship to King." [Filing No. 62 at 11.] Mr. King alleges that he suffered emotional distress for being treated differently because of his disability. [Filing No. 62 at 11.]

Mr. King seeks judgment in his favor, including a declaration that the Defendants violated the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. [Filing No. 62 at 12.] He asks the Court to award him actual and compensatory damages, including reasonable attorneys' fees and litigation costs. [Filing No. 62 at 12.] The Defendants have moved to dismiss Mr. King's claims, and the Court will now address those motions. [Filing No. 70; Filing No. 75.]

III.

DISCUSSION

Both the State Defendants and the County Defendants challenge various aspects of the merits of Mr. King's claims because, in their view, even taking his allegations as true, his claims fail as a matter of law. [Filing No. 71 at 4-7 (County Defendants' motion); Filing No. 76 at 25-31 (State Defendants' motion).] The State Defendants also argue that Mr. King lacks Article III standing to assert his claims and that, additionally, his claims are barred by legal principles such as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, collateral estoppel, the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction, Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, judicial immunity, judicial estoppel, waiver, and mootness. [Filing No. 76 at 4-23; Filing No. 76 at 31-34.] The Court will begin its analysis by addressing the State Defendants' defenses before turning to the parties' arguments regarding the merits of Mr. King's allegations for his ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims.

A. State Defendants' Defenses

1) Standing

The State Defendants argue that Mr. King does not have Article III standing to pursue his claims against them.[3] [Filing No. 76 at 4-10.] Specifically, they contend that his operative complaint "only contains general threadbare allegations" regarding the involvement of the Indiana Supreme Court and DSCA in the Marion County Modest Means Mediation Program at issue. [Filing No. 76 at 6.] They emphasize that the state court waived mandatory mediation for Mr. King and contend that the Indiana Supreme Court and DSCA "do not play any role in the day-today operations or governance of the individual county courts" and that Mr. King has not alleged any facts sufficient to establish the elements of Article III standing here. [Filing No. 76 at 7-8.]

In response, Mr. King acknowledges that the mandatory mediation requirement was waived for him and that, instead, he voluntarily participated in the mediation. [Filing No. 82 at 2.] He contends, however, that he wanted to participate in the Modest Means Mediation Program and that the denial of his request for an ASL interpreter for that proceeding emotionally harmed him and he incurred the expense of seeking and obtaining his own interpreter to participate. [Filing No. 82 at 2.] Mr. King points out that the decision to deny his ASL interpreter request was "based on the lack of funding, " and he emphasizes that the State Defendants "approve the financial qualification guidelines and funding structure of modest means mediation programs." [Filing No. 82 at 3.]

In reply, the State Defendants downplay any role in funding decisions regarding modest means mediation. [Filing No. 85 at 2-3.] They emphasize that they cannot decide to increase, decrease, or not fund the program; that Marion County voluntarily undertook the program; and that the "only limited role" of the Indiana Supreme Court or DSCA "is in approving a county's planned use of the funds it collects so that it is consistent with the dictates established by the General Assembly." [Filing No. 85 at 2.]

There are two "concepts" of standing-"Article III standing, which requires just an injury in fact, and prudential' standing, a more complex, judge-made concept of standing." MainStreet Org. of Realtors v. Calumet City, Ill., 505 F.3d 742, 744 (7th Cir. 2007). The State Defendants confirm that they are challenging Mr. King's Article III standing, not his prudential standing. [Filing No. 76 at 4 ("Prudential standing is not implicated by Plaintiff's Complaint and will not be addressed here.").]

Standing ensures that the parties at issue have a "vested interest in the case" and guarantees that the Court only adjudicates "cases and controversies." Cabral v. City of Evansville, Ind., 759 F.3d 639, 641 (7th Cir. 2014). "To satisfy Article III's standing requirements, a litigant must show that (1) it has suffered an actual or imminent concrete and particularized "injury in fact"; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by ...


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