Thursday, November 18, 2010

Loye v. County of Dakota

Nov 17: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Case No. 09-3277. The Appeals Court explains the background of the case as follows: On the afternoon of September 6, 2004, boys stole two bottles of mercury from an abandoned building, took this hazardous substance to a playground near the Rosemount Woods mobile home park, and released it while playing. Before police from the City of Rosemount, Minnesota were notified and arrived at the scene, people, homes, and vehicles were contaminated. Police officers knocked on doors to identify those who had been exposed, and the City contacted state and local agencies to help deal with the environmental and public health emergency. The Special Operations Team (SOT), a disaster response unit created by an agreement between Dakota County and eleven cities including Rosemount, arrived at about 9:00 p.m. and set up a decontamination tent.
    Shortly after 11:00 p.m., the SOT began decontaminating forty-nine persons who had been exposed to mercury, including plaintiff and others, who are deaf. The next day, nurses from the Dakota County Department of Public Health began attending to the victims' health, housing, and financial needs. The victims were provided temporary housing while their quarantined homes were decontaminated. By the end of the month, the health and environmental hazards were successfully abated.
One year later, plaintiffs filed a discrimination suit saying defendants "failed to provide ASL [American Sign Language] interpreters . . . for all of the services they were providing to the public."
    At the close of discovery, the district court granted Dakota County's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Plaintiffs received "effective communication, and therefore meaningful access to the programs and services offered during three relevant periods: (1) the emergency decontamination process; (2) public group meetings between victims and representatives of various government agencies conducted the following week; and (3) additional private meetings between Dakota County Public Health Nurse Gerilee Greeley and individual plaintiffs."
    The Appeals Court affirmed the district court decision and said in part, " . . . as we have explained, the legal standard is effective communication that results in meaningful access to government services. There is no evidence that Plaintiffs failed to obtain any service because Nurse Greeley's advice or assistance was not understood, and no evidence Nurse Greeley ignored a specific request for more effective communication or refused a specific request for an ASL interpreter. . ."
    Access the complete opinion (click here).