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$11,428 in Costs Awarded For Failure to Provide Sign Language Interpreter; Attorney Fees Denied

A Louisiana federal district court denied an award of attorney fees where the plaintiff was only awarded nominal damages. However, the court awarded $11,428.06 in costs.

After Nelson Arce, who was deaf, pleaded guilty to a drug possession offense, he was placed on probation in Jefferson Parish. He alleged in his lawsuit that probation officials knew he required a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to effectively communicate, but they did not provide such an interpreter. That, it was alleged, led to Arce inadvertently violating the terms and conditions of his probation, which led to Arce serving 90 days in jail.

Following the filing of the suit, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety (LDPS) entered into an agreement that required it to provide Arce with a qualified ASL interpreter during his probation meetings. That resulted in the dismissal of the claim for injunctive relief. While the suit was pending, Arce died. Ana Christine Shelton was substituted as plaintiff.

During settlement negotiations, Shelton requested $2 million from each defendant. On the eve of trial, she rejected a settlement offer of $95,000, inclusive of attorney fees.

The jury found LDPS and the sheriff had both discriminated against Arce in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the discrimination was intentional. It, however, did not find that Arce was caused injury as a result of the violations. Pursuant to a stipulation between the parties, the court awarded $1 in nominal damages against each defendant.

Subsequent to trial, Shelton sought $495,853.50 in attorney fees and $32,373.08 in costs. The court found that Shelton was a prevailing party that qualifies for an award of attorney fees. Where nominal damages are the only relief, special circumstances must exist to be granted such an award. The court found no such circumstance exists in this case, and it denied the request for attorney fees.

After reviewing the request for costs, it found several items that were not "allowable cost items." The court, therefore, struck those items and awarded costs of $5,714.03 against each defendant. Shelton was represented by attorneys from the Bizer Law Firm in New Orleans and Eisenberg and Baum in New York.

See: Arce v. La. State, USDC, E.D. Louisiana, Case No. 16-14003.

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Related legal case

Arce v. La. State