N.D.Ohio: Disparate Impact beyond Scope of TItle VI

Relying on Fifth and Seventh Circuit precedent holding that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act only applies to intentional discrimination and not disparate impact, a district court in Ohio dismissed a claim by the City of Cleveland and its mayor that a hospital’s decision to move its operations from a low-income area violates Title VI. Jackson v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation, No. 1:11 Civ. 1334, 2011 WL 4007732 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 9, 2011). Chief Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., a Clinton nominee, wrote the opinion.

The Cleveland Clinic Foundation is a private, not-for-profit corporation that receives federal funding – including payments from Medicare and Medicaid – to support the delivery of its health care services. Huron Hospital, one of the Clinic’s ten regional hospitals, has maintained a Level II Trauma Care Unit for over 15 years, and serves the Clinic system’s highest number of poor patients. Around November 2009, the Clinic agreed to coordinate the delivery of vital trauma services with MetroHealth System, another health care provider in the area. As part of the agreement, the Clinic announced that it intends to transfer its Level II trauma care services from Huron Hospital to a hospital located in Mayfield, Ohio, and to cease operating the emergency room at Huron Hospital as a Level II Trauma Care Unit.

In response to the announcement, the City of Cleveland and its mayor (collectively “Plaintiffs”) met with the Clinic numerous times to try to dissuade it from moving forward with its plan. While the Clinic acknowledged that the move would increase its response time in the area around Huron Hospital’s current site, it decided to go ahead with its plan anyway. The Plaintiffs responded by filing a lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to compel the Clinic to continue operating Huron Hospital. The Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the Clinic’s plan violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d; constitutes a breach of charitable trust obligations; and constitutes a breach of contract.  The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss.

The court began its opinion by discussing the Plaintiffs’ Title VI claim. The court noted that § 2000d, which prohibits discrimination under any program that receives federal funding, can be enforced by private individuals, who can obtain injunctive relief and damages. See Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, 279 (2001). However, the court found that Sandoval held that § 2000d prohibits only intentional discrimination, and that activities which have a disparate impact on a protected group are beyond the scope of the statute. Id. at 280. The court stated: “In light of Sandoval, courts have routinely dismissed claims under Title VI for failure to assert plausible allegations of an intent to discriminate.”  See Sudduth v. Donnelly, 367 Fed. App’x 703, 705 (7th Cir.2010) Price ex rel. Price v. La. Dep’t of Educ., 329 Fed. App’x 559, 561 (5th Cir.2009).   Therefore, the court dismissed as beyond the scope of Title VI the Plaintiffs’ claim that the closure of Huron Hospital would have a disparate impact on the minority residents of Cleveland.

The court further held that the Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege intentional discrimination.  The complaint did not allege specific facts to support allegations of “deliberate indifference,” which requires a showing of fault beyond heightened negligence.  Plinton v. Cnty. of Summit, 540 F.3d 459, 465 (6th Cir.2008).

After dismissing the Plaintiffs’ Title VI claim, the court addressed the Plaintiffs’ other claims. The court dismissed the claim for breach of charitable trust obligations after concluding that the Plaintiffs failed to plead sufficient facts to support a claim that a charitable trust exists. Additionally, the court stated that even if such a trust existed, the Plaintiffs would lack standing to enforce it. The court dismissed the claim for breach of contract for similar reasons.

Scott Herrig, University of California, Berkeley-School of Law 2012


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