Private plaintiffs cannot receive compensation for damages to emotional distress under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
Jane Cummings, who is deaf and legally blind and communicates primarily through American sign language, sought physical therapy from Keller, Texas-based Premier Rehab Keller PLLC, according to the 6-3 ruling on Thursday by the US Supreme Court in the United States. Jane Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller PLLC All six Conservative judges voted against the plaintiffs.
Ms Cummings asked Premier Rehab to provide an ASL interpreter at her meetings, but it refused, telling her she could communicate with the therapist using written notes, lip reading or gestures, the verdict said.
Ms. Cummings received care from another provider and then brought an action against Premier Rehab alleging discrimination on the grounds of disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act, statutes to which Premier Rehab is subject because they receive compensation through Medicare and Medicaid.
The U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed the complaint, stating that “the only compensable damages that Cummings claimed the Premier caused were ̵6;humiliation, frustration and emotional suffering'” and damages for emotional harm cannot be compensated under any of the law. The decision was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
“Even if it is” except a dispute that private individuals can sue to enforce‘ the anti-discrimination statutes we consider here, “it is less clear what remedies are available in such a trial”, said the majority of the Supreme Court’s opinion, referring to its 2002 judgment in Barnes against Gorman.
In that judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that state entities in most circumstances cannot be forced to pay damages in cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The majority decision said: “The question posed in this case is whether another special form of damages – damages for emotional suffering – can be recovered.”
The court ruled that under Barnes it “may not treat federal beneficiaries as if they have agreed to be subject to damages for emotional suffering.”
“There is … no basis in contract law to claim that damages for emotional distress are ‘traditionally available in breach of contract proceedings’,” it said, referring to the Barnes judgment.
The verdict was written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
A dissenting opinion written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer and confirmed by Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said: “Compensation for emotional suffering has long been available as a remedy for breach of contract – at least where the violation was particularly likely to cause such suffering.”
Lawyers in the case did not respond to a request for comment.