Sixth Circuit Applies Four-Year Statute of Limitation to Discrimination Claims under the Affordable Care Act

January 26, 2022 By Heather L. Bohnke In Legal Alerts

The Sixth Circuit Court’s decision in Tomei v. Parkwest Medical Center, 2022 WL 153178, (6th Cir. 2022), makes it clear that a failure to accommodate a patient’s disability is actionable under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).

Although lawsuits under the Rehabilitation Act may be subject to the Arizona two-year personal injury statute of limitations, the statute of limitations for a discrimination claim under the ACA is four years. In addition, Section 1557 of the ACA prohibits disability-based discrimination against individuals in a federally-funded health program or activity.

The plaintiff, Scott Tomei, twice went to Parkwest Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, for evaluation and treatment after injuring his leg. Scott is deaf and communicates using American Sign Language. He requested a sign language interpreter during each visit. Parkwest treated and discharged Tomei both times without providing an interpreter. When his problems persisted, he went to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where his leg was eventually amputated.

Fifteen months later, Tomei sued Parkwest, alleging that Parkwest violated the anti-discrimination provision of the ACA when it failed to provide an interpreter. Parkwest moved to dismiss. It pointed out that the ACA incorporated the anti-discrimination standards in the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Because the Rehabilitation Act also incorporated the state statute of limitations for personal injury actions, which is one year in Tennessee, Parkwest claimed that Tomei’s suit was untimely.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s denial of the motion to dismiss in its decision. The court noted that Tomei brought his action under the ACA, not under the Rehabilitation Act. Although the ACA’s anti-discrimination provisions incorporate the Rehabilitation Act’s substantive anti-discrimination standards, it does not incorporate the Rehabilitation Act’s provision regarding the state statute of limitations. The court held that ACA creates a separate cause of action to which the general federal four-year statute of limitations applies. Tomei’s lawsuit was timely and was allowed to proceed.

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