Justia Summary

Cummings, who is deaf and blind, sought physical therapy services from Premier, requesting an American Sign Language interpreter at her sessions. Premier declined. Cummings sought damages, alleging discrimination on the basis of disability under the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act. Premier is subject to those statutes because it receives reimbursement through Medicare and Medicaid. The district court determined that the only compensable injuries allegedly caused by Premier were emotional in nature.

The Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. Spending Clause legislation, including the statutes at issue, operates based on consent; a particular remedy is available in a private Spending Clause action only if the funding recipient is on notice that, by accepting federal funding, it exposes itself to liability of that nature. Because the statutes at issue are silent as to available remedies, the Court followed the contract analogy. A federal funding recipient is on notice that it is subject to the “usual” remedies traditionally available in breach of contract suits; emotional distress is generally not compensable in contract.

The Court rejected an argument that such damages may be awarded where a contractual breach is particularly likely to result in emotional disturbance. Even if it were appropriate to treat funding recipients as aware that they may be subject to rare contract-law rules, they would lack the requisite notice that emotional distress damages are available under these statutes. There is no majority rule on what circumstances may trigger the allowance of such damages.