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PJC Files Amicus Brief on Access to Courts for Immigrants and Those With Limited Language Abilities

On November 9, 2004, the Public Justice Center took another stand to give legal recognition to the difficulties that immigrants and others with limited language abilities face in navigating America’s legal maze. The PJC filed with the Court of Appeals an amicus curiae brief on behalf of itself, the Maryland Latino Coalition for Justice, and CASA of Maryland, Inc. in Rios v. Montgomery County (September Term 2004, No. 71).  The brief was written by Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Beth Mellen Harrison.
The brief urges the Court to hold that language ability and immigrant status are relevant considerations in determining whether “good cause” exists to excuse a plaintiff’s failure to file a timely administrative notice under Maryland’s Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA).  Nelly Rios filed suit on behalf of her minor son for injuries suffered during his delivery by a doctor working part-time for Montgomery County.  The LGTCA requires potential plaintiffs to file an administrative notice with the local government within 180 days of an injury; an exception applies if a plaintiff establishes “good cause” for the delay, which is determined under a “reasonable person” standard.  Ms. Rios did not file administrative notice until nearly ten years after her son’s birth.  She argued, in part, that she did not realize that the public health clinic where she received prenatal care was operated by Montgomery County, because she spoke very little English at the time and was a recent immigrant from Bolivia.  The circuit court dismissed Ms. Rios’ claim, finding that she failed to establish “good cause.”  The amici brief argued that the LGTCA’s “good cause” exception allows for consideration of individual circumstances such as immigrant status and language ability, pointing to other cases that have considered these and similar circumstances under other “reasonable person” standards.  The brief also highlighted research about the linguistic and cultural barriers of entry that immigrants and limited English proficient face to accessing the health care system, government services, and the legal system.  These barriers leave limited English proficient immigrants poorly positioned to protect their rights when they are injured by local government employees in the delivery of health care services, and provides a context for making a “reasonable person” determination in these circumstances.  The case is now pending with the Court.

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