Summary Judgment Reversed in Creighton Medical School ADA Case

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Michael Argenyi has a serious hearing impairment. He's also a medical student at Creighton Medical School in Omaha, Nebraska. Before medical school, he handled academics like a boss. His undergraduate GPA was a 3.87.

What was the secret to his success? Besides the obvious factors, like intelligence and hard work, he received reasonable accommodations to facilitate his education. Beginning in eighth grade, he began using Communication Access Real-time Transcription (CART), a system that transcribes the speaker's words and displays them on a computer screen.

When he was admitted to Creighton, he requested accommodations, including the CART system, once again. Instead, Creighton provided him with an insufficient half-measure.

After giving Creighton's provided accommodation a shot, and trying to reach an agreement with the school, Argenyi eventually sued.

Argenyi offered an expert who testified the accommodation provided by the school actually decreased Argenyi's speech perception. Argenyi also explained that he obtained $114,000 in private student loans to pay for the CART system, but that Creighton wouldn't allow an interpreter in clinical courses, even if Argenyi paid for it.

The district court granted summary judgment to Creighton in the ADA and Rehabilitation Act lawsuit, dismissing Argenyi's affidavit about his abilities as "self-serving" and noting a lack of supporting evidence in the record.

(Self-serving? Isn't every affidavit by a defendant self-serving?)

To succeed on an ADA or Rehabilitation Act claim, one must demonstrate three things:

  • The plaintiff is disabled and academically qualified to attend the institution;
  • The institution is a "place of public accommodation and receives federal funding;
  • The institution discriminated against the plaintiff based on his disability.

The first two elements were undisputed, so the appeal hinged on discrimination.

Discrimination, in the ADA context, is the failure to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that a person with a disability is not treated differently than others because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.

Of course, institutions do not have to provide unlimited aids. They simply have to provide "necessary" aids.

In a matter of first impression, the Eighth Circuit concluded that a necessary aid is an accommodation sufficient to allow "meaningful access" to the benefit that the guarantee offers. In this case, that would be an aid sufficient to allow Argenyi meaningful access to gain the same benefit from classes and clinics as his nondisabled peers.

The lower court, in granting summary judgment, misinterpreted a SCOTUS golfer case where the professional golfer suffered from a degenerative disorder that necessitated the use of a golf cart. SCOTUS ruled against the golfer, citing competitive advantages.

The lower court felt that, while uncomfortable or difficult, Argenyi could handle his studies without the additional aids. Phrased differently, if his disability didn't completely bar him from studying, accommodations were not needed.

This reasoning obviously does not jibe with the ADA regulations, the Eighth Circuit's "meaningful access" standard, or common decency. Thus the Eighth Circuit reversed the summary judgment ruling, and kicked the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

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