The State Bar of Texas, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the American Bar Association, and others proudly support National Pro Bono Celebration Week (Oct. 25-31).
Pro Bono week is an opportunity to educate the public about the good work the legal community is doing to improve the lives of vulnerable Texans and to encourage more individuals to get involved in pro bono support of the legal system.
Today, we are featuring Ralph Miller and Nathan White of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
Miller and White are helping the Texas Civil Rights Project represent a South Texas couple, Rolando and Miriam Pérez, in Pérez v. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. Miriam Pérez is completely deaf and communicates only in American Sign Language (ASL). Her husband, Rolando, has very limited hearing and communicates primarily in ASL, though he can sometimes communicate in English with difficulty.
In August 2011, the couple took their then-4-month-old daughter to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. She began regularly receiving chemotherapy. The family claims Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR) repeatedly declined to provide an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. The couple contends that by refusing to provide a translator, the hospital prevented the mother and father from taking part in the decision-making process for their child’s treatment.
The Texas Civil Rights Project helped the Pérezes sue DHR in March 2013, seeking an injunction requiring DHR to provide the interpreting services required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other federal and state disability laws. In late 2013, while the lawsuit was pending, the hospital began providing some interpreting services through a video remote interpreting (VRI) machine. However, plaintiffs claimed DHR staff were not trained to operate it and sometimes did not know what it was, leaving it unplugged in a corner.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane of the McAllen Division granted summary judgment to DHR in 2014, finding that the ADA did not protect the couple and, because DHR started providing some remote video interpreting — regardless of whether it provided effective communication — the family did not face a present or future harm, and there was no need for an injunction.
At this point, the Weil pro bono attorneys stepped into the case. White wrote appellate briefs to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (along with TCRP attorneys Efrén Olivares, Wallis Nader, and Wayne Krause Yang), and Miller argued the case in New Orleans in August. Less than a month later, the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the Pérez family and reversed the summary judgment, finding:
“The summary judgment evidence is sufficient to create a genuine dispute as to whether DHR intentionally discriminated against the plaintiffs. There is evidence indicating that on several occasions, an interpreter was requested but not provided. There is also evidence indicating that one of the forms of communication that DHR was utilizing, the VRI machines, was often ineffective … [T]he plaintiffs made repeated requests for auxiliary aids, yet DHR failed on several occasions to provide effective aids and in some instances refused to provide an interpreter after one had been requested.”
The Fifth Circuit sent the case back to the district court for trial, which is scheduled for early next year.
Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of TCRP, said, “The Pérez family is overjoyed that Ralph Miller and Nathan White were willing to step into this case and reverse a ruling they found to be utterly unjust. Now that these whip-smart Weil attorneys have our backs, we look forward to the upcoming trial.”
Show You Care: If your firm would like to learn how it can contribute to the pro bono community, please contact the State Bar of Texas Legal Access Division at (800) 204-2222, ext. 1855, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read about other pro bono volunteers making a difference in the lives of others on the Texas Bar Blog.