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Fink v. St. Bernard Parish Government

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

March 20, 2019

RYAN FINK
v.
ST. BERNARD PARISH GOVERNMENT

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a partial motion[1] for summary judgment filed by the defendant, the St. Bernard Parish Government (“St. Bernard Parish”). St. Bernard Parish seeks dismissal of plaintiff Ryan Fink's (“Fink”) claims for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) and his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process. For the following reasons, the motion is granted with respect to Fink's ADA discrimination claim.[2]

         I.

         Fink worked as a St. Bernard Parish civil service employee from April 2008 until April 2017, when he was terminated.[3] According to Fink, in 2015 he was diagnosed with “pain, decreased muscular strength and range of motion in both arms” as a result of “a congenital narrowing of the spinal canal at the C5-C7 levels.”[4] In his opposition to the present motion, Fink also characterizes his diagnosis as degenerative disc disease.[5] After a surgery in May 2015 related to Fink's diagnosis, his treating physician, Dr. John Steck (“Dr. Steck”), eventually released him to return to work, restricting Fink from pulling, pushing, lifting, or carrying more than ten pounds.[6] Fink contends that he was adequately accommoDated: work until May 2016 because he had a qualified assistant who was available to lift and carry heavy equipment.[7] In May 2016, however, the assistant was laid off.[8] In January 2017, another assistant was hired for the department.[9] Fink alleges that the newly hired assistant was “unqualified.”[10]

         Fink originally asserted a Fourteenth Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a claim for overtime compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (the “FLSA”), and discrimination and retaliation claims under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.[11] Because St. Bernard Parish's motion for partial summary judgment does not address Fink's ADA retaliation claim or his FLSA claim, this order pertains only to Fink's ADA discrimination claim.

         II.

         Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the Court determines that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the existence of a material fact; it need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id.; see also Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue is not satisfied by creating “‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,' by ‘conclusory allegations,' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions,' or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).

         Instead, a genuine issue of material fact exists when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Although the substance or content of the evidence submitted to support or dispute a fact on summary judgment must be admissible . . ., the material may be presented in a form that would not, in itself, be admissible at trial.” Lee v. Offshore Logistical & Transp., LLC, 859 F.3d 353, 355 (5th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The nonmoving party's evidence, however, “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor.” Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).

         III.

         Fink asserts that St. Bernard Parish violated the ADA by failing and refusing to accommodate his disability and by retaliating against him for asserting his rights under the ADA.[12] The present motion only challenges Fink's discrimination claim.

         The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating “against a qualified individual on the basis of disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). “Discrimination includes failure to make ‘reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability . . . unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.'” Feist v. Louisiana, Dep't of Justice, Office of the Attorney Gen., 730 F.3d 450, 452 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting § 12112(b)(5)). To succeed on an ADA claim for a failure to accommodate, a plaintiff must prove (1) that he is a qualified individual with a disability, (2) that the disability and its corresponding limitations were known to his employer, and (3) that his employer nevertheless failed to make “reasonable accommodations” for the known limitations. Id.

         “As a threshold requirement in an ADA claim, the plaintiff must, of course, establish that he has a disability.” Waldrip v. General Elec. Co., 325 F.3d 652, 654 (5th Cir. 2003). St. Bernard Parish argues that Fink cannot demonstrate that he was a qualified individual with a disability during the relevant timeframe because there is no evidence he had a disability.[13] The relevant timeframe is the time during which Fink alleges that he was not properly accommodated-from May 2016 until his termination in April 2017.[14]

         The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” § 12102(1)(A). “Major life activities include ‘caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.'” Kemp v. Holder, 610 F.3d 231, 235 (5th Cir. 2010). To determine whether Fink met the ADA definition of disabled, the Court applies a three-part test. Waldrip, 325 F.3d at 654. “[The Court] must determine first whether [Fink] ha[d] an ‘impairment,' next whether the activity on which he relies is a ‘major life activity,' and, if so, whether his impairment ‘substantially limit[ed]' that major life activity.” Id. “[T]hese terms need to be interpreted strictly to create a demanding standard for qualifying as disabled.” Id. (quoting Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 197 (2002)).

         After his surgery in May 2015, Dr. Steck approved Fink's return to work. However, Fink was restricted from pulling, pushing, lifting, or carrying more than ten pounds.[15] The only other evidence of a work-related restriction is a memorandum signed by Dr. Steck from March 2016. In the memorandum, Dr. Steck noted that Fink was “doing really well.”[16] Dr. Steck wrote, “The only thing we are going to limit him to [is] working no more than 40 hours per week. He is going to start working out.”[17]

         Fink's alleged impairment is his degenerative disc disease.[18] However, even if degenerative disc disease qualifies as a physical impairment, Fink cannot point to any evidence in the record to establish that his disease substantially limited a major life activity. In fact, he does not specify a major life activity. The only evidence he cites are the restrictions imposed by Dr. Steck and deposition testimony from Dr. Steck, in which he read from a form that Fink completed in November 2016 stating that his pain affected his “[e]njoyment of life, mood, ability to work, sexual activity, [and] ability to perform household duties.”[19] Even assuming that the foregoing activities are major life activities, and accepting Fink's self-reporting as factual, the evidence does not suggest that his disease was “substantially limit[ing].” Waldrip, 325 F.3d at 652; see also Dupre v. Charter Behavioral Health Sys. of Lafayette Inc., 242 F.3d 610, 614 (5th ...


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