PEREZ v. CAMDEN MUNICIPAL COURT, TOWNSHIP OF CAMDEN
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 12/19/2016. (dmr)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
(Docs. No. 14, 15)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil No. 14-7473 (RBK/JS)
CAMDEN MUNICPAL COURT, et al.,
KUGLER, United States District Judge:
This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Miguel Perez’s (“Plaintiff”) Complaint
against Defendants Camden Municipal Court and the City of Camden (“Defendants”) asserting
violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq.,
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, and New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
(“NJLAD”), N.J. Stat. Ann. 10:5-1 et seq. (Doc. No. 1). Currently before the Court is
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 14) and Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 15). For the reasons expressed below, Defendants’ Motion is
GRANTED IN PART and Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff has profound deafness and requires a sign language interpreter to communicate
and understand spoken words. Pl.’s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“Pl.’s SMF”) ¶ 1.1
Plaintiff cannot speak intelligibly, read lips, or read written English beyond a second grade
level.2 Id. ¶ 2. In 2007, Plaintiff was convicted of driving under the influence and ordered to
complete an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (“IDRC”) program. Id. ¶ 3. However, Plaintiff
failed to complete the program and the reason why is a subject of dispute between the parties.
Plaintiff alleges that the IDRC failed to provide him an interpreter, id. ¶ 13, and Defendants
assert that Plaintiff decided not to attend despite accommodations that the IDRC offered, Def.’s
Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.’s MSJ”) Exs. B, D.3
Because Plaintiff failed to complete the program, he was summoned to appear in Camden
Municipal Court (“CMC”) in July 2013. Pl.’s SMF ¶ 3. Prior to the scheduled date, Plaintiff
called the CMC to notify it of his hearing impairment and request an interpreter. Id. ¶ 7. When
Plaintiff arrived at the court on July 22, 2013, he was not provided an interpreter and waited
several hours in confusion. Id. ¶ 8. After five hours of waiting, Plaintiff appeared before Judge
Steven Burkett who instructed someone to hand Plaintiff a piece of paper. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10. The paper
stated that his hearing was rescheduled for August 8, 2013, and the Judge stated on the record
that an interpreter would be needed at that time. Id. ¶¶ 10–11.
To the extent the parties agree on particular facts, the Court will cite Plaintiff’s SMF and
Defendants’ SMF in support. For disputed facts, the Court will rely on the record.
Defendants dispute several factual assertions in Plaintiff’s SMF by asserting legal arguments.
Local Civil Rule 56.1, however, requires a party to dispute a material fact by citing to affidavits
or other documents. Accordingly, this Court will deem any improperly disputed facts as
undisputed for the purposes of the present Motions.
The Court notes that Defendants repeatedly cite to exhibits without identifying page or
paragraph numbers, including a deposition transcript that totals more than 60 pages. Such
indefinite citations hamper the Court’s responsibility to identify whether disputes of material fact
exist, and the Court cautions that other courts in this District have disregarded facts that are not
properly attributed to the record. See, e.g., Webster v. Dollar General, Inc., 2016 WL 3769748
(D.N.J. July 14, 2016).
Plaintiff returned to the CMC on August 8, 2013, but was again not provided an
interpreter, which Judge Burkett explained was because of financial reasons. Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.
Plaintiff’s counsel, a public defender, asserted that Plaintiff had been unable to attend IDRC
because he could not afford his own interpreter, but the Judge instructed Plaintiff to complete the
program. Id. ¶ 13. The Judge stated that an interpreter would not be necessary at the next
proceeding because Plaintiff could simply bring documentation showing attendance. Id. ¶ 15.
During the hearing, Plaintiff could neither participate nor understand his attorney and Judge
Burkett, and the only communication he received was cursory notes written by his lawyer. Id. ¶
13. When Plaintiff returned to court on September 26, 2013, he could provide no documents
showing completion of IDRC and there was no interpreter, so the matter was relisted for October
10, 2013. Id.
On October 10, 2013, two interpreters were present at court, and Judge Burkett noted that
“Mr. Perez can understand fully what is going on today.” Id. ¶ 18. When asked, Plaintiff stated
that he had completed IDRC but still had no documentation stating as such, and the Judge
instructed him to bring proof of compliance on October 24, 2013. Id. ¶ 20. In fact, Plaintiff had
been mistaken about completing the program, and the IDRC requested a continuance of the
October 24, 2013 hearing in order to determine how to accommodate Plaintiff’s disability. Id. ¶¶
20–21. When Plaintiff returned to the CMC on January 9, 2014 and April 10, 2014, there once
again were no interpreters in court. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24. Upon being informed that the IDRC ultimately
decided against providing an interpreter for the program, Judge Burkett stated it was the
“IDRC[‘s] problem” and that he would call the center. Id. ¶¶ 23, 26. The Judge remarked, “I
don’t know all there is to know about the law in terms of people with disabilities but I think the
government has to provide an individual with disabilities with the... [sic].” Id. ¶ 25. On May 22,
2014 and July 24, 2014, Plaintiff reappeared at the CMC but the proceedings were conducted
without interpreters and involved wait times of several hours during which Plaintiff avers he was
confused. Id. ¶¶ 28, 30. Out of eight court proceedings, Plaintiff was provided an interpreter for
only one instance. Id. ¶ 31.
In July 2014, Plaintiff was finally able to complete the IDRC requirement because, as
Plaintiff contends, he hired an attorney who persuaded the IDRC to provide him adequate
accommodations. Id. ¶ 29; Perez Dep. at 33. Defendants, however, maintain that the IDRC had
repeatedly offered Plaintiff other ways to participate but Plaintiff had refused those alternatives.
Def.’s MSJ Ex. D.
Plaintiff filed a Complaint on December 2, 2014 (Doc. No. 1) alleging violations of the
ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and NJLAD. Defendants filed an Answer on January 12, 2015 (Doc.
No. 4). On April 29, 2016, Defendants filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 14). On the same day, Plaintiff filed the present Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on
liability under the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and NJLAD (Doc. No. 15).
The Court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party “shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). An issue is “material” to the dispute if it could alter the
outcome, and a dispute of a material fact is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986);
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting First
Nat’l Bank of Az. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)) (“Where the record taken as a
whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine
issue for trial.’”). In deciding whether there is any genuine issue for trial, the court is not to
weigh evidence or decide issues of fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Because fact and credibility
determinations are for the jury, the non-moving party’s evidence is to be believed and
ambiguities construed in its favor. Id. at 255; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.
Although the movant bears the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of
material fact, the non-movant likewise must present more than mere allegations or denials to
successfully oppose summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The non-moving party must
at least present probative evidence from which the jury might return a verdict in his favor. Id. at
257. Where the non-moving party fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence
of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof
at trial,” the movant is entitled to summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
Plaintiff and Defendants both move for summary judgment as to liability under Title II of
the ADA. Congress enacted the ADA in 1990 with the purpose of providing “a clear and
comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with
disabilities” and “clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination
against individuals with disabilities.” 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b). Title II of the ADA generally makes
it unlawful for public entities to discriminate against individuals with disabilities in the provision
of public services. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131–12134. To prove a prima facie case under Title II,
the plaintiff must show: “ he is a qualified individual with a disability;  that he was
excluded from a service, program, or activity of a public entity; and  that he was excluded
because of his disability.” Disability Rights New Jersey, Inc. v. Comm’r, New Jersey Dep’t of
Human Servs., 796 F.3d 293, 301 (3d Cir. 2015) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life
activity. 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)–(2). In the instant matter, it is undisputed that Plaintiff is
profoundly deaf and cannot communicate without a sign language interpreter. Thus, he is a
qualified individual with a disability.
To show that the plaintiff was excluded from a service, program, or activity of a public
entity, he can allege that the public entity failed to provide “appropriate auxiliary aids and
services” where “necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to
participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity.” Chisolm v. McManimon,
275 F.3d 315, 325 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b)(1)).4 In determining the
appropriate auxiliary aids and services, the public entity should “give primary consideration to
the requests of the individual with disabilities.” Chisolm, 275 F.3d at 325 (citing 28 C.F.R. §
35.160(b)(2)). There is no dispute here that Defendants failed to provide an interpreter on seven
occasions that Plaintiff appeared in court. Not providing access to the courts is an exclusion for
which a plaintiff can recover under the ADA. See Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 510 (2004).
Lastly, demonstrating that the individual was excluded because of his disability “does not
require a failure-to-accommodate plaintiff to show that his injury was the result of purposeful
discrimination.” Muhammad v. Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny Cty., Pa., 483 F. App’x
Regulations promulgated by the Department of Justice are entitled to substantial deference
“[b]ecause Title II was enacted with broad language and directed the Department of Justice to
promulgate regulations.” Helen L. v. DiDario, 46 F.3d 325, 331–32 (3d Cir. 1995).
759, 764 (3d Cir. 2012). The plaintiff need only show that “but for the failure to accommodate,
he would not be deprived of the benefit he seeks.” Id. Plaintiff here furnishes ample evidence
that he would have been able to participate in and understand the hearings at the CMC had
Defendants provided an interpreter. Therefore, Plaintiff has made out a prima facie case against
Defendants under Title II of the ADA.
Defendants respond with several arguments, none of which are successful. Defendants
first contend that Plaintiff was not deprived of meaningful access to the court. It is undisputed
that Plaintiff is profoundly deaf, cannot lip read, and reads written material at a second grade
level; no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the exchange of written notes would afford
Plaintiff meaningful access to court proceedings. Next, Defendants attempt to argue that their
responsibilities under the ADA are extinguished because Plaintiff was at fault for not attending
IDRC. The Supreme Court, however, has characterized access to the courts as a “basic right,”
Lane, 541 U.S. at 523, and this Court is aware of no authority restricting the right based on a
litigant’s culpability. Such a holding would indeed contradict the fundamental purpose of
guaranteeing access to the courts. Defendants also appear to assert that Judge Burkett acted
“reasonably” towards Plaintiff during court proceedings, a point that does not bear on whether
the CMC provided appropriate auxiliary aids and services. Lastly, Defendants’ argument that
Plaintiff furnishes no evidence regarding the reasonableness of their policies is off point —
Plaintiff need not make any averments regarding Defendants’ policies to prove a Title II
violation. See Soto v. City of Newark, 72 F. Supp. 2d 489, 496 (D.N.J. 1999) (finding the city
violated Title II absent any analysis of its policies). Because there are no genuine disputes of
material fact and Defendants violated Title II as a matter of law, the Court grants Plaintiff partial
summary judgment on liability.
Defendants seek summary judgment on the issue of compensatory damages under the
ADA. A plaintiff can recover damages under § 202 of the ADA only for intentional
discrimination. S.H. ex rel. Durrell v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 729 F.3d 248, 262 (3d Cir.
2013). A showing of deliberate indifference satisfies the intentional discrimination standard, and
a plaintiff must prove: “(1) knowledge that a federally protected right is substantially likely to be
violated . . . , and (2) failure to act despite that knowledge.” D.E. v. Cent. Dauphin Sch. Dist.,
765 F.3d 260, 269 (3d Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). The defendant must have acted with
“deliberate choice, rather than negligence or bureaucratic inaction,” but “a showing of personal
ill will or animosity toward the disabled person” is not required. Id. (citations omitted).
Defendants argue that they did not act with deliberate indifference because Judge Burkett
tried to help Plaintiff avoid jail time and avoid paying for an interpreter. The deliberate
indifference standard, however, turns not on personal animus but on knowledge that a right is
substantially likely to be violated and failure to act. Plaintiff here shows that Plaintiff informed
the CMC of his disability and need for an interpreter prior to his first hearing, Judge Burkett saw
Plaintiff on numerous occasions and acknowledged that Plaintiff could not understand or
communicate in spoken word, and Judge Burkett knew the government has an obligation to
provide accommodations to people with disabilities. Based on these facts, a reasonable trier of
fact could find that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference. Defendants assert that Judge
Burkett has judicial immunity, but judicial immunity only bars suit against a judicial officer.5 See
Defendants also reiterate that Plaintiff was at fault for not completing the IDRC program, at
one point comparing Plaintiff’s claim for disability discrimination to a person who burns himself
with a lit match and sues the match manufacturer. Def.’s MSJ. This Court finds the analogy
inapposite and the argument unavailing for the same reasons as above.
Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991). As such, the Court denies Defendants’ request for
summary judgment on damages.
Defendants also move for summary judgment on Plaintiff’s request for compensatory
damages due to emotional distress based on a lack of supporting medical evidence. The Third
Circuit has upheld a jury award for emotional damages under the ADA based on testimony from
lay witnesses, see Gagliardo v. Connaught Labs., Inc., 311 F.3d 565, 573–74 (3d Cir. 2002), so
the Court will not dismiss Plaintiff’s claim for compensatory damages from emotional distress.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Plaintiff and Defendants move for summary judgment as to liability under § 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act. To state a claim for a violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a plaintiff
must show that: “(1) that he is a ‘handicapped individual’ under the Act, (2) that he is ‘otherwise
qualified’ for the position sought, (3) that he was [excluded from participating in or denied the
benefits of a program or activity] ‘solely by reason of his handicap,’ and (4) that the program or
activity in question receives federal financial assistance.” Menkowitz v. Pottstown Mem’l Med.
Ctr., 154 F.3d 113, 123 (3d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted); 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The elements are
the same as those for a violation of the ADA, minus the requirement that the program be
provided by a “public entity” and with the requirements that the program receive federal
financial assistance and the individual was discriminated against solely by reason of a disability.
See Helen L. v. DiDario, 46 F.3d 325, 332 (3d Cir. 1995). Because the Court analyzed and found
that Plaintiff demonstrated the elements of his ADA claim as a matter of law, the Court will only
examine the additional elements under the Rehabilitation Act, that the plaintiff was discriminated
against solely by reason of a disability and the program receives federal financial assistance.
The Court finds no dispute that Plaintiff was denied the benefit of participating in court
proceedings solely by reason of his disability of a hearing impairment. As to the prong that the
program or activity receives federal financial assistance, Plaintiff has shown that the City of
Camden receives federal funds but proffered no evidence that the funds are apportioned to the
CMC. The Court notes a split of authority over whether a local government can constitute a
program or activity, such that all operations of a city are subject to the strictures of the
Rehabilitation Act if the city accepts federal funds. Compare Innovative Health Sys., Inc. v. City
of White Plains, 931 F. Supp. 222, 234 (S.D.N.Y. 1996), aff’d in part on other grounds, 117 F.3d
37 (2d Cir. 1997) (finding § 504 applied to a city’s zoning board where the city received federal
funding), with Schroeder v. City of Chicago, 927 F.2d 957, 962 (7th Cir. 1991) (holding that §
504 was not intended to sweep in the entire city if only two small departments received federal
funding). This Court reads the plain language of § 504 to state that a program or activity includes
all operations of the entity that receives federal financial assistance. See 29 U.S.C. § 794(b).
Furthermore, Congress had previously amended § 504 to broaden the scope of what constitutes a
program or activity. See 29 U.S.C. § 794(b); Innovative Health Sys., Inc., 931 F. Supp. at 234.
Accordingly, the Court finds that the CMC is a program or activity that receives federal funding,
and Plaintiff has demonstrated a claim under § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Therefore, the
Court grants summary judgment to Plaintiff as to liability.
Defendants seek summary judgment on damages under the Rehabilitation Act. As with
claims brought under the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act also requires a plaintiff seeking
compensatory damages to show the discriminatory conduct was intentional. D.E., 765 F.3d at
269. As discussed above, Plaintiff has shown that a reasonable trier of fact could find deliberate
indifference on the part of Defendants, and the Court thus denies Defendants’ request for
summary judgment on damages.
Plaintiff and Defendants both move for summary judgment on the NJLAD claim. The
NJLAD provides protections to disabled persons analogous to the ADA’s protections, N.J. Stat.
Ann. § 10:5-4, and New Jersey courts apply the standards developed under the ADA when
analyzing NJLAD claims, Jones v. Aluminum Shapes, 772 A.2d 34, 40–44 (N.J. Super. Ct. App.
Div. 2001). Because the Court found that Plaintiff has demonstrated his claim under the ADA as
a matter of law, the Court also grants Plaintiff summary judgment on the NJLAD claim.
Plaintiff concedes that he cannot demonstrate a real and immediate threat of future harm,
Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s MSJ 3, so the Court grants summary judgment for Defendants on the issue
of injunctive relief.
For the reasons expressed above, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED IN PART and Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
s/ Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United State District Judge
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