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King v. Marion Circuit Court

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

September 13, 2016

DUSTIN A. KING, Plaintiff,
v.
MARION CIRCUIT COURT, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge United States District Court

         The Court conducted a damages bench trial in this action on August 23, 2016. Plaintiff Dustin A. King was present in person and by Counsel Andrea Ciobanu and Alex Beeman. Defendant Marion Circuit Court was present by Counsel Philip Gordon and Betsy Isenberg.

         Mr. King filed this cause of action against Marion Circuit Court under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for failure to provide him with an American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreter during his participation in the Modest Means Mediation Program. [Filing No. 1.] On May 27, 2016, the Court issued an Order granting Mr. King's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and denying Marion Circuit Court's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment. [Filing No. 157.] Specifically, the Court held that Marion Circuit Court had violated the ADA when it failed to provide Mr. King with an interpreter or a reasonable accommodation for the Modest Means Mediation Program. [Filing No. 157 at 28.] On August 23, 2016, the Court held a bench trial to determine the issue of damages.

         The Court now issues its findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         I.

         Findings of Fact [1]

         Mr. King is deaf and his primary form of communication is through ASL. In 2013, he was the respondent in a family law matter in Marion Circuit Court regarding parenting time and child support with respect to his daughter. Instead of pursuing the family law matter through trial, Mr. King requested to participate in the Modest Means Mediation Program. He wanted to participate in mediation because he did not want his daughter to go through trial, did not want to experience the delays of a trial, and wanted his daughter to participate in his upcoming wedding. Marion Circuit Court granted Mr. King's request and ordered the parties to participate in the Modest Means Mediation Program.

         Because he is only able to communicate through an ASL interpreter, Mr. King filed a request with Marion Circuit Court on June 21, 2013 to appoint an ASL interpreter for mediation, and Marion Circuit Court denied that request on June 24, 2013. Mr. King filed a motion to reconsider his request arguing that the denial of an interpreter for mediation would be a violation of the ADA, and Marion Circuit Court denied his renewed request on July 3, 2013. Mr. King moved to certify the issue of being denied an ASL interpreter for an interlocutory appeal, and Marion Circuit Court also denied that request on July 18, 2013. Mr. King and his step-father, Roland Hodges, also visited the Office of the Governor and the Marion County Clerk's Office in an attempt to seek assistance in arranging for an ASL interpreter for the Modest Means Mediation Program, but those entities would not provide him with an interpreter.

         Despite being denied an interpreter, Mr. King continued with the Modest Means Mediation Program, which took place on July 29, 2013, and lasted approximately three to four hours. Mr.

         King asked his step-father, Mr. Hodges, to be his ASL interpreter during the mediation. Mr. Hodges has taken classes in ASL at the Indiana School for the Deaf and has charged as much as $60 per hour to interpret. He has previously interpreted in different settings, such as for church and school related functions, but he is not a certified court interpreter and has never interpreted in court or for court-related services prior to Mr. King's mediation. Mr. Hodges has also interpreted for Mr. King throughout his life for school meetings, sports, and in other similar settings. At the time of the mediation, Mr. Hodges worked at Eli Lilly and Company and had to use one vacation day to attend. He never charged Mr. King for interpreting for him because Mr. King was unemployed at the time, but he expressed to Mr. King that he expected to be paid if Mr. King was ever compensated.

         Mr. Hodges' wife, Nancy Hodges, and Mr. King's wife (then fiancée), Kassandra King, were also present during the mediation. Although Mr. Hodges was the primary interpreter, Nancy Hodges and Kassandra King were there for emotional support and to help Mr. Hodges interpret during the times that he got emotionally involved and/or distracted.

         Although Mr. King was ultimately satisfied with the outcome of the mediation, he incurred $380 in attorneys' fees for the process of requesting an interpreter from Marion Circuit Court and suffered emotional distress as a result of being denied an ASL interpreter. He felt awful, angry, upset, and anxious from being denied an interpreter for the mediation and from having to file subsequent motions with the court in an effort to obtain an interpreter. Mr. Hodges observed that Mr. King was stressed out during the mediation since it was his first time participating in a legal proceeding and Mr. King was worried about being able to fully understand what was taking place. Mr. King and Mr. Hodges recounted many challenges Mr. King has experienced throughout his life as a result of being deaf. Mr. King was shocked, hurt, frustrated and angry that he was being denied an interpreter by a court - the entity he had believed would protect his rights and provide an interpreter for the mediation. Mr. King's distress was physically apparent. He cried. His facial expressions reflected his worry. He exhibited nervous behavior such as shaking, sweating, and picking his fingernails. He has a sense of dread because the justice system violated his rights. Mr. King believed that he could not participate unless he had an interpreter, and further believed that he was denied the same quality of opportunity as someone who was not disabled. The denial of an interpreter still bothers him. However, he did not seek care from any doctor, medical provider, psychologist, therapist or any other medical professional for his emotional distress.

         II.

         Conclusions ...


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