Southern District Court of Florida
No. 20-CV-80247-RAR, 2022
January 31, 2022
Keywords: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, American Sign Language (ASL), district court, Florida, legal authority, civil contempt, settlement agreement
Summary and Facts of the Case
Linda Adams is a person who is deaf or hearing-impaired. She came to Cleveland Clinic Florida (CCF) for medical treatment. The Cleveland Clinic Florida did not provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter so she could fully understand her treatment options. She sued the Cleveland Clinic Florida and both parties reached a settlement agreement on December 7, 2020.
The settlement agreement said that Cleveland Clinic Florida must train their staff on (ASL) interpretation and translation services as a patient accommodation. When Cleveland Clinic Florida failed to perform the training the settlement motion was again brought before the court. CCF asked the court for another extension of time to finish the training. Again, Cleveland Clinic Florida did not conduct the training.
Over one year after the settlement agreement, Cleveland Clinic Florida said they did not have the proper training materials to provide the required training on ASL. In addition, in a hearing scheduled for January 28, 2022, Cleveland Clinic Florida failed to report on where they were in terms of getting the training materials. The Court warned Cleveland Clinic Florida that unless they provided the ASL training immediately, they would be found in contempt of the court and would be fined. On January 31, 2022, the court began fining Cleveland Clinic Florida $1,000 per day.
Issue of the Case
- Should Cleveland Clinic of Florida be found in civil contempt of the Court for non-compliance with the Settlement Agreement?
Arguments and Analysis
1. All federal courts have the power to impose fines against parties that do not comply with the orders of a court.
The court can enforce these penalties under civil contempt.
The elements of civil contempt are:
- (1) a party, in this case, Cleveland Clinic Florida, has violated an order of the court;
- (2) the party does not show a good faith and reasonable effort to obey the court order they are trying to avoid. A contempt charge can be ended if the party (e.g. Cleveland Clinic Florida) complies with the court requirement.
2. The Court described that the Cleveland Clinic Florida and Adams had been in the settlement agreement for over a year and Cleveland Clinic Florida had failed to provide the training to their staff.
The Court ruled that Cleveland Clinic Florida met both elements of civil contempt.
First, it was clear that Cleveland Clinic Florida had not complied with the Settlement Agreement in two status reports.
Second, Cleveland Clinic Florida failed to show that they made “a good faith and reasonable effort” to comply with the court order. The Court did not find Cleveland Clinic Florida’s reasoning to be true.
The Court believed that the American Sign Language training would only require the Cleveland Clinic Florida staff to watch a fifteen-minute video.
3. The Court described the many ways Cleveland Clinic Florida’s lawyers were in non-compliance with the Court order.
These included being late with court deadlines, lying about communications with Ms. Adam’s lawyer, and trying to have an “ex parte”, or one-sided, communication with the Court.
The District Court granted Ms. Adam’s fourth motion to enforce the settlement and hold Cleveland Clinic Florida in contempt of the court’s orders.
The Court ruled Cleveland Clinic Florida was in civil contempt of Court for failure to comply with the settlement agreement and ordered Cleveland Clinic Florida to pay a $1,000 per day fine for each day Cleveland Clinic Florida did not comply with the agreement.
Ms. Adams had ten days to file to have her attorney’s fees paid by Cleveland Clinic Florida.
Policy and Practice
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person who is deaf or who has a hearing disability has a right to an interpreter to ensure effective communication.
In response to this case and others like it, the judge, Rodolfo Ruiz, ordered the funds from Cleveland Clinic Florida’s fine (total $16,000) be put in a fund to pay for sign language interpreters. This fund will pay for interpreters when there is no legal obligation to do so. See Matthew Dietz’s article: Sign Language Interpreting Fund for Community and Family Inclusion (Disability Independence Group – March 19, 2022).
- Full Case: Adams v. Cleveland Clinic Fla., No. 20-1087, 2021 No. 20-CV-80247-RAR, 2022
(U.S. District Court – Jan. 31, 2022)
- Sign Language Interpreting Fund for Community and Family Inclusion.
Author: Matthew Dietz
(Disability Independence Group – March 19, 2022)
These materials do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon in any individual case. Please consult an attorney licensed in your state for legal advice and/or representation. These materials were prepared by the legal research staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University in partnership with the Southeast ADA Center to highlight legal and policy developments relevant to civil rights protections and the impact of court decisions in the Southeast Region under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These materials are based on federal disability rights laws and court decisions in effect at the time of publication. Federal and state disability rights law can change at any time. In addition, state and local laws and regulations may provide different or additional protections. Materials are intended solely as informal guidance, and are neither a determination of your legal rights nor responsibilities under the ADA or other federal, state, and local laws, nor binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA. The accuracy of any information contained herein is not warranted. Any links to external websites are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement of the linked materials.