Our Crazy Legal System

The Associated Press reports on a 3rd Circuit decision involving a movie theater:

Federal disability law requires movie theaters to provide specialized interpreters to patrons who are deaf and blind, an appeals court said Friday.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest movie chain, in a case involving a Pennsylvania man who wanted to see the 2014 movie “Gone Girl” and asked a Cinemark theater in Pittsburgh to supply a “tactile interpreter.” The theater denied his request.

Why would a person who is blind and deaf want to attend a movie?

The plaintiff, Paul McGann, is a movie enthusiast who reads American Sign Language through touch. He uses a method of tactile interpretation that involves placing his hands over the hands of an interpreter who uses sign language to describe the movie’s action, dialogue and even the audience response.

Interesting. But who pays for the tactile interpreter? Or interpreters?

The federal appeals court concluded Friday that tactile interpreters are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that public accommodations furnish “auxiliary aids and services” to patrons with vision, hearing and speech disabilities.

“It would be impossible for a deaf-blind person to experience the movie and understand the content without the provision of tactile interpretation,” said Carol A. Horowitz, managing attorney of Disability Rights Pennsylvania, which filed suit on McGann’s behalf.

I think it is impossible for a deaf and blind person to “experience the movie” even with “tactile interpretation.”

Because of the intensive nature of the work, McGann requires the services of two interpreters. The interpreters cost a few hundred dollars per showing.

So Cinemark is required to furnish two interpreters–one for each hand, I take it–at a cost of “a few hundred dollars” apiece, in exchange for this individual’s $15 ticket?

Perhaps not:

The ruling said Cinemark still can argue that providing the interpreters would present an “undue burden,” an exception to the disability law that takes into account the cost of the accommodation and the business’s ability to pay for it. It sent the case back to a federal judge to consider that argument.

It seems obvious that paying hundreds of dollars for a single person to attend a movie is an undue burden. But this is not an area of the law in which I am an expert, and perhaps Cinemark’s “ability to pay for it” will tilt the needle the other way.

The broader point is that this is insane. Our indiscriminate provision of “rights” never before heard of to groups that are often vanishingly small–Cinemark says this is the first time it has had a request to furnish a “tactile interpreter”; I doubt that any such interpreters would even be available in most locations where there are Cinemark theaters–has made an expensive joke out of our legal system. We may be a society that is too stupid to survive.

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