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CONSTANCE v. STATE UNIV. OF N.Y. HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER

July 2, 2001

NAVELLA CONSTANCE AND VERNAL CONSTANCE, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK HEALTH SCIENCE CENTER AT SYRACUSE DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM — DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Vernal and Navella Constance, bring this action against Defendant State University of New York Health Science Center ("Hospital" or "SUNY HSC"), alleging that the Hospital failed to provide them with a sign language interpreter in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794.*fn2 They seek declaratory and injunctive relief along with damages.*fn3

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are husband and wife. Mrs. Constance was brought to Defendant's facility in Syracuse for emergency medical treatment on May 18, 1996. Mr. Constance remained by her side much of the time. According to Plaintiffs' complaint, they both informed hospital officials that they were deaf and needed an interpreter. No interpreter was provided.
The Hospital claims that it had, and still does have, in place a detailed written policy outlining how to provide hearing impaired patients equal and effective access to the Hospital. Pursuant to that policy, the Hospital informs the patient that, while friends or relatives are not expected to interpret, they may assist, on a voluntary basis, in emergency situations. If the patient desires a professional interpreter, as was the case here, the Hospital contacts an independent agency to obtain one.
In the instant case, the Hospital maintains that within thirty minutes of Plaintiffs' arrival social worker Mark Buttiglieri requested an interpreter from the Aurora agency to assist Plaintiffs in their communications with Hospital staff. See Affidavit of Mark Buttiglieri, sworn to June 12, 2000, at ¶ 6. While waiting for the interpreter to arrive, a respiratory therapist, Mary McCoy, with some finger spelling skills attempted to assist Plaintiffs. See Deposition of Mary McCoy, sworn to Jan. 25, 2000, at 6-8, 17. Ms. McCoy stopped assisting Plaintiffs when one of their friends, Reverend Nagel, arrived and proved to be more proficient at signing. See id. at 16. The Hospital asserts that Reverend Nagel served as an interpreter for Plaintiffs. Yet, Plaintiffs and the Reverend maintain that she never acted as an interpreter and merely assisted Mrs. Constance in a limited capacity.
Mrs. Constance was kept overnight for observation. In the morning, a physician examined her with the assistance of a hospital staff member named Tony, who was taking sign language courses.*fn4 See Deposition of Navella Constance, sworn to Jan. 21, 2000 ("Navella Dep."), at 28.
Subsequent to Mrs. Constance's discharge on May 19, 1996, Plaintiffs filed an administrative complaint with the New York State Department of Health ("DOH"). Thst agency substantiated Plaintiffs' allegations and sent Defendant a statement of deficiencies for which a plan of correction had to be submitted.
On June 15, 1999, this Court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss, brought pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court allowed Plaintiffs thirty days to amend their complaint to allege that they are likely to seek medical services at the Hospital in the future. The Court also found that the complaint, on its face, stated a claim of intentional discrimination.*fn5 See Order, dated June 15, 1999, at 4-7.
Presently, before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court heard oral argument in support of, and in opposition to, this motion on March 16, 2001. At that time, the Court reserved decision. The following constitutes the Court's determination of Defendant's motion.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standing to seek injunctive relief

In order for a plaintiff to have standing to seek relief from a federal court, that plaintiff must satisfy three elements: (1) an injury in fact, (2) a causal connection between that injury and the conduct complained of, and (3) a likelihood, not a mere possibility, that the injury will be redressed only if the relief is granted. See, e.g., Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992). When a plaintiff seeks injunctive relief she must "show more than `past exposure to illegal conduct;' [she] must show a `real and immediate threat of repeated injury.'" Freydel v. New York Hosp., No. 97 CIV. 7926, 2000 WL 10264, *2 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 4, 2000) (quoting City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 102, 103 S.Ct. 1660, 75 L.Ed.2d 675 (1983) (internal quotation ...


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