U.S. District Court Judge Susan Wigenton ruled for liability and nominal damages yesterday in a case where a deaf Jersey City man alleging he faced discrimination by the municipal court back in 2020.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Ryan Cuevas, through his attorney Andrew Rozynski, alleged in a federal lawsuit that the municipal court violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination by failing to provide him a sign language interpreter in a timely fashion.
In short, Cuecas claimed that he received a parking ticket on August 22, 2019 and was informed in January his license would be suspended for failing to present proof of liability insurance.
“Just days before that hearing, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission informed Plaintiff in a letter dated January 17, 2020, that it was suspending his registration and driving privileges because of a separate infraction—his failure to present proof of liability insurance,” Wigenton wrote in her 21-page decision.
“Although Plaintiff promptly resolved the liability-insurance issue, the NJMVC refused to reinstate his driving privileges until JCMC adjudicated the Ticket.”
According to the suit, Jersey City Municipal Court only offers an “interpreter day” on the first Wednesday of each month, and while he was initially scheduled to be heard on January 22, 2020, a sign language interpreter wasn’t available until August 5, 2020.
Adding insult to injury, the ticket was dismissed, since he received the summons at 8:04 p.m., but parking in the bus lane was only prohibited between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
While a judge waived the parking ticket fees and restored his driver’s license, Cuevas did not receive his license back from the NJMC until September 15, 2020.
“Here, when viewing the undisputed facts in the light most favorable to Defendant, it is clear that JCMC failed to comply with the ADA’s regulatory directives and, thus, discriminated against Plaintiff,” Wigenton explained.
“There is no dispute that Plaintiff proactively—and repeatedly—requested an ASL interpreter, and that Defendant failed to provide one for months before the onset of the COVID- 19 pandemic. Specifically, on January 8 and February 26, 2020, Plaintiff called JCMC staff to ask for the assistance of an ASL interpreter at his then-upcoming hearings; and both times, JCMC staff refused.”
While the city argued that they made reasonable efforts to provide accommodations, the court ruled this does not satisfy a public entity’s obligations under the ADA.
They essentially made the same determination regarding the municipal court’s interpreter day policy, which made access to the court “both unrestricted and unreliable” for Cuevas.
Wigenton also scoffed at the assertion that a full-time sign language interpreter would place an undue burden on the municipal court since that’s not what Cuevas asked for, as well as asserting that the COVID-19 pandemic is an insufficient excuse since “discrimination against Plaintiff cannot be excused by an event that postdates it.”
Ultimately, the motion for summary judgement was granted for liability and nominal damages and denied a request for an injunction since Cuevas did not have another upcoming court date.
As it stands today, the federal court will still hold a trial on further damages, including punitive damages.
“We are pleased with the judge’s well reasoned opinion,” Rozynski added.