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SOTO v. CITY OF NEWARK

October 29, 1999

JORGE & JESSICA SOTO, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NEWARK AND NEWARK MUNICIPAL COURT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolin, District Judge.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Plaintiffs, Jorge and Jessica Soto (the "Sotos") for partial summary judgment as to liability pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and on the cross-motion of Defendants, the City of Newark and the Newark Municipal Court (collectively, "Defendants"), for summary judgment to dismiss the Complaint, with prejudice pursuant to Rule 56. The Court has considered the matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons stated below, the Plaintiffs' motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Furthermore, the Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

On three occasions, the Sotos requested that the Defendant, the Municipal Court, accommodate their disability by providing a qualified sign-language interpreter. (Df.Stat.Undis. Facts ¶¶ 9-11). The Municipal Court repeatedly rejected their requests. (Id.). First, on December 3, the Municipal Court rejected Jessica Soto's request for an interpreter for her wedding. (Id. ¶ 9). The Municipal Court informed her that it does not provide interpreters for weddings. (Id.). After that, on December 14, the Municipal Court rejected the same request made by Jessica Soto's father, Luis Silva. (Id. ¶ 10). Finally, on the day of the wedding, the Municipal Court rejected Jorge Soto's request. (Id. ¶ 11).

Because the Municipal Court wedding was conducted without a sign-language interpreter, the Sotos could not understand much of the proceedings. (Jorge Soto Certif. ¶ 3; Jessica Soto Certif. ¶ 4). Indeed, as a result of their disability, they did not fully understand their vows or the words spoken by the presiding judge. (Jorge Soto Certif. ¶ 3; Jessica Soto Certif. ¶ 4-5).

Seeking to redress alleged injuries, the Sotos filed a Complaint in the Essex County Superior Court. The Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. In the Complaint, they claim that Defendants' conduct violated Title II of the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD").*fn1 They also assert a common law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Sotos now seek partial summary judgment on liability concerning the ADA, RA, and LAD claims. Defendants oppose the motion. Defendants also cross-move for summary judgment seeking a dismissal of the Complaint in its entirety. Defendants maintain that the ADA, RA, and LAD do not require them to provide sign-language interpreters at Municipal Court wedding ceremonies. Defendants further maintain that a public entity may not be found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment shall be granted if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). In making this determination, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. See Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1983), cert. dismissed, 465 U.S. 1091, 104 S.Ct. 2144, 79 L.Ed.2d 910 (1984). Whether a fact is "material" is determined by the substantive law defining the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); United States v. 225 Cartons, 871 F.2d 409, 419 (3d Cir. 1989). The burden is upon the moving party to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

"[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Summary judgment must be granted if no reasonable trier of fact could find for the non-moving party. See id.

When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party's burden can be "discharged by `showing'—that is, pointing out to the District Court—that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548. If the moving party has carried its burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). When the non-moving party's evidence in opposition to a properly-supported motion for summary judgment is merely "colorable" or "not significantly probative," the Court may grant summary judgment. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

Further, when a non-moving party who bears the burden of proof at trial has failed, in opposition to a motion for summary judgment, to raise a disputed fact issue as to any essential element of his or her claim, summary judgment should be granted because "a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

II. The ADA Claim

Before the enactment of the ADA, Congress recognized that "current laws were `inadequate' to combat the `pervasive problems of discrimination that people with disabilities are facing.'" Helen L. v. DiDario, 46 F.3d 325, 331 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting S.Rep. No. 116, 101st Cong., 1st Sess. 18 (1989); H.R.Rep. No. 485 (II), 101st Cong., 2d Sess. 47 (1990) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 1989 pp. 303, 329). Congress found that "discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as . . . access to public services." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(a)(4). Congress also found that "individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination including . . . communication barriers." Id. § 12101(a)(5).

As a result of this discrimination, Congress enacted the ADA. Through the ADA, Congress sought "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." Id. § 12101(b)(1).

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against the disabled in public services. See 42 U.S.C. § 12132; Civic Ass'n of the Deaf v. Giuliani, 915 F. Supp. 622, 634 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). Title II provides that:

  no qualified individual with a disability shall, by
  reason of such disability, be excluded from
  participation in or be denied the benefits of the
  services, programs, or activities of a public entity,
  or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

42 U.S.C. § 12132. Thus, to show a violation of title II, a plaintiff must prove that (1) he is a "qualified individual with a disability;" (2) he is being excluded from participation in or being denied the benefits of some "services, programs, or activities," by reason of his disability; and (3) the entity which provides the service, program or activity is a public entity.*fn2 See, e.g., Layton v. Elder, 143 F.3d 469, 472 (8th Cir. 1998); Bowers v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, ACT, Inc., 9 F. Supp.2d 460, 475 (D.N.J. 1998); Adelman v. Dunmire, No. Civ-A. 95-4039, 1997 WL 164240 (E.D.Pa. Mar. 28, 1997), aff'd, 149 F.3d 1163 ...


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