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Cole v. Saint Francis Medical Center

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

December 29, 2016

MARY COLE, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Mary Cole claims that, during her hospitalization on May 30-31, 2013, she was discriminated against on the basis of her disability and retaliated against by Defendant St. Francis Medical Center, in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

         Defendant has filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to Counts I, II, III, IV, and VI of Cole's Complaint. (Doc. 29.) Cole has filed a Response (Doc. 30), and Defendant has filed a Reply (Doc. 32).

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), a district court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the moving party. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op. Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). After the moving party discharges this burden, the nonmoving party must do more than show that there is some doubt as to the facts. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact is not the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties.” State Auto. Ins. Co. v. Lawrence, 358 F.3d 982, 985 (8th Cir. 2004). “Instead, the dispute must be outcome determinative under prevailing law.” Mosley v. City of Northwoods, 415 F.3d 908, 910-11 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted). A fact is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The nonmoving party bears the burden of setting forth specific facts showing that there is sufficient evidence in his favor to allow a jury to return a verdict for him. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. “If ‘opposing parties tell two different stories, ' the court must review the record, determine which facts are material and genuinely disputed, and then view those facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party - as long as those facts are not ‘so blatantly contradicted by the record . . . that no reasonable jury could believe' them.” Reed v. City of St. Charles, Mo., 561 F.3d 788 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007)). Self-serving, conclusory statements without support are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment. Armour and Co., Inc. v. Inver Grove Heights, 2 F.3d 276, 279 (8th Cir. 1993).

         In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587; Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). The court is required, however, to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Robert Johnson Grain Co. v. Chemical Interchange Co., 541 F.2d 207, 210 (8th Cir. 1976).

         II. Factual Background [1]

         Plaintiff Mary Cole was admitted to Saint Francis Medical Center (“SFMC”) on May 30, 2013, via ambulance. Cole believed she was having a heart attack.

         SFMC is a Missouri not-for-profit corporation located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. SFMC's Bylaws state, in relevant part:

The Medical Center, sponsored by Saint Francis Healthcare System, a Private Non-Collegial Juridic Person under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, participates in the health care mission of the Roman Catholic Church. As such, the Medical Center and all who are associated with it are responsible to function in a manner which is consistent with and in furtherance of the health care apostolate of the Roman Catholic Church.

(Doc. 28-2 at 1.) SFMC's Articles of Incorporation provide that it is to be “operated as a Catholic Hospital and shall be a member of the Catholic Hospital Association.” (Doc. 28-3 at 2.) The Articles of Incorporation further provide that all proposed members of the Board of Directors must be submitted to and approved by the acting Bishop or Administrator of the Diocese of Springfield/Cape Girardeau or its successor diocese. The Articles of Incorporation provide that they may be amended, but only upon the approval of the acting Bishop or Administrator of the Diocese of Springfield/Cape Girardeau.

         In its public Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) filings, SFMC describes its “mission” as follows:

The mission of Saint Francis Medical Center is to provide a ministry of healing and wellness inspired by its Christian philosophy and values…Saint Francis Medical Center is a 277-bed facility serving more than 650, 000 people throughout Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The medical center provides comprehensive inpatient acute care services for medical and surgical patients specializing in orthopedics, neurosurgery, cardiovascular services, oncology, disease management, gastroenterology, maternal-child health and neurology.

(Doc. 31-1 at 1.) In its IRS filings, SFMC gives as its reason for obtaining tax-exempt status that it is “a hospital or a cooperative hospital service organization, ” as opposed to a “church, convention of churches, or association of churches…” Id. at 13.

         Cole is deaf. Cole's first and preferred language is American Sign Language (“ASL”). When Cole was admitted to SFMC on May 30, 2013, an interpreter who is fluent in ASL was present and assisted Cole and SFMC staff in communicating effectively.

         On the morning of May 31, 2013, the same live ASL interpreter was present when Cole was scheduled to undergo medical testing. Fran Sauer, Manager of Inpatient Rehabilitation Services at SFMC, asked Cole whether she would be willing to use the hospital's new Video Remote Interpreting (“VRI”) service. Cole agreed to use VRI.

         The VRI system had not been used by a deaf patient prior to its use by Cole. Ms. Sauer thought this was the perfect opportunity to trial the system because there was a live ASL interpreter present to work in tandem with the VRI system. SFMC had implemented the VRI system after the company it uses for live interpreters, Southeast Alliance for Disability Independence (“SADI”), sent interpreters to the hospital on more than one occasion who did not have the right level of certification to provide medical interpretive services. Cole works for SADI as a Communication Specialist, but is not an interpreter.

         The VRI system was used in Cole's room for thirty to forty-five minutes. The parties dispute whether the VRI operated effectively. At some point, Cole refused the VRI system because she believed it was ineffective. Cole alleges that SFMC then instructed the live interpreter to leave. Defendant disputes that SFMC ever asked the live interpreter to leave. SFMC used other methods of communication, including a white board, after Cole refused the VRI system and the live interpreter left. The parties dispute whether Cole had effective ...

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