In 2022, the Supreme Court delivered their decision on Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C. In this case, the plaintiff, Jane Cummings, had signed up for physical therapy services from Premier Rehab Keller. Cummings requested Premier Rehab provide an ASL interpreter for her sessions because she is legally blind and deaf. Premier Rehab declined the request and told Cummings that the physical therapist could communicate with her in other ways.
Cummings filed a lawsuit against Premier Rehab for failing to provide an ASL interpreter, which she believed was an act of discrimination based on her disabilities, and consequently violating the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Affordable Care Act. Premier Rehab is required to abide by these federal statutes because it receives federal funding through Medicare and Medicaid. In addition, Cummings requested emotional damages because of the distress she allegedly suffered from not having an interpreter during her physical therapy sessions.
The Supreme Court's Ruling
The District Court determined that damages for emotional distress cannot be recovered in private actions when they are brought to enforce these anti-discrimination statutes. The Fifth Circuit affirmed this decision. The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of both courts, stating that damages for emotional distress cannot be recouped under these Spending Clause anti-discrimination statuses.
The Supreme Court has stated in the past that Spending Clause statutes, including Title IX, may allow for recovery based on emotional distress, but it depends on how a particular statute functions. The Government and the federally funded beneficiary (the clinic) create a contract when the Government promises to give them federal funding in exchange of promising not to discriminate. It is the same with Title IX-- schools receive federal funding in return for agreeing to comply with the Title IX rules, which also outlaw discrimination. Congress's power to create such a law is determined by whether the federally funded beneficiary voluntarily and knowingly accepted the contract's terms.
This framework applies to both the scope of conduct that these beneficiaries might be liable for if they violate the anti-discriminatory requirement and the specific remedies available in private Spending Clause actions. As such, certain remedies are only available in Spending Clause actions if the beneficiary is on notice that they are exposing themselves to liability by accepting the federal funding.
Further, the Court determined that, based on this framework, the types of liabilities most beneficiaries were on notice for are based on contract law, and under contract law, emotional distress is not usually something that can be recouped. Because of this, the Court stated that it cannot treat beneficiaries of federal funding as having consented to being liable for emotion distress damages when they accepted the funding, and thus emotional damages are not recoverable.
How an Attorney Advisor Can Help
Even though the Cummings case was based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Affordable Care Act, the analysis the Court used would be the same one used in a Title IX issue that involved emotional distress. Title IX beneficiaries would have no clear notice that they could be held liable for emotional distress in private actions.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and Lento Law Firm have been working tirelessly to protect students, faculty, and others in academia accused of Title IX violations and otherwise subject to what can often be unfair school proceeding and actions. They have years of experience and will ensure your due process rights are upheld at the school level and in court when necessary throughout the United States.
Call 888-535-3686 today to schedule a consultation or contact us online. Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm can help.