2nd Circuit Says Plaintiff’s Disability Claim Falls Under ACA Statute of Limitations, Remands to District Court

The Second Circuit ruled in a per curiam opinion Wednesday that a disability discrimination claim made by an individual three years and three months after the alleged incident was governed by the four-year statute of limitations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), vacating and remanding the matter back to the Eastern District of New York after the district previously ruled the claim instead arose under the Rehabilitation Act, which has a three-year statute of limitations.

On Jan. 28, 2019, Lissette Vega-Ruiz filed a complaint under the ACA against Long Island Jewish Valley Stream, a Northwell Health facility, after an Oct. 13, 2015, visit to the facility where she acted as health care proxy to her brother. Vega-Ruiz, who is “profoundly deaf,” requested an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter in order to “fulfill her duties as a proxy,” the court explained. However, Northwell provided a Spanish language interpreter who used written notes and lip reading to communicate with Vega-Ruiz, prompting the disability discrimination suit against the health facility.

The issue brought to the circuit court was not the merits of Vega-Ruiz’s allegation, but whether her claim arose under the ACA and, accordingly, whether it fell under the four-year catch-all statute of limitations applied to the ACA. The district court ruled to dismiss because it characterized the claim as a Rehabilitation Act claim, rendering it untimely, relying on the argument that Vega-Ruiz’s allegation came from an ACA section that “borrows enforcement mechanisms from the Rehabilitation Act.”

The court vacated the district’s ruling pursuant to Jones v. RR Donnelley & Sons Co., which held “a cause of action arises under an Act of Congress enacted after December 1, 1990—and therefore is governed by § 1658’s (four)-year statute of limitations—if the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment.”

The defendant had argued for a narrower reading of “arising under” that would “subvert() (Congress’s) goal by restricting § 1658 to cases in which the plaintiff’s cause of action is based solely on a post–1990 statute that establishes a new cause of action without reference to preexisting law,” according to Jones.

The court found that Vega-Ruiz’s disability claim is “made possible by” the ACA based on an application of the ACA to Northwell’s alleged conduct; by Vega-Ruiz lodging her claim under the ACA, “the ACA subjected Northwell to the ‘primary consideration’ obligation” of public disability accommodations “where it had previously been subjected to the lesser ‘encouraged to consult’ obligation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Vega-Ruiz is represented by Eisenberg & Baum LLP. Northwell is represented by Collazo & Keil LLP.