343 F.3d 811 (6th Cir. 2003), 01-5571, Mitchell v. Chapman

Docket Nº:01-5571
Citation:343 F.3d 811
Party Name:Mitchell v. Chapman
Case Date:September 11, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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343 F.3d 811 (6th Cir. 2003)

Joey L. MITCHELL, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Glenn CHAPMAN, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 01-5571.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 11, 2003

Argued Feb. 7, 2003.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Sharon K. Morris, James M. Morris (argued and briefed), Morris & Morris, Lexington, KY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Joey L. Mitchell, Lexington, KY, pro se.

John S. Osborn, III, Asst. U.S. Attorney, Lexington, KY, Mark B. Stern (briefed), Sharon Swingle (argued and briefed), U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: GILMAN and GIBBONS, Circuit Judges; ECONOMUS, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

ECONOMUS, District Judge.

I. OVERVIEW

The Appellant, Joey L. Mitchell ("Appellant" or "Mitchell"), appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to his employer, the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), and three USPS employees, in this action alleging various civil rights claims.

Mitchell advances three arguments on appeal: (1) the district court misapplied the doctrine of claim preclusion as a means to bar the claims alleged against the defendants in the defendants' official capacities; (2) the district court should have allowed his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims to proceed

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under the holding of Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971); and (3) the district court erred in interpreting the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654 (1994), as to preclude individual liability claims asserted against federal agency supervisors.

For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the decision of the district court.

II. BACKGROUND

A. FACTUAL HISTORY

On July 8, 1995, Mitchell began his employ as a letter carrier at the United States Post Office located in Paris, Kentucky (the "Paris Facility"). (J.A., 23, 166.) Prior to and throughout his employment, Mitchell suffered from chronic neck pain arising from an injury that he sustained while serving in the United States Navy. (J.A., 23, 54, 57-58,166.)

On November 11, 1996, Mitchell's treating physician, Dr. Ballard Wright ("Dr.Wright"), certified that Mitchell's neck pain was a chronic serious illness pursuant to the FMLA. (J.A., 24, 54, 59, 166.) Dr. Wright's certification indicated that the neck injury required Mitchell's occasional absence from work. (J.A., 24, 54, 59,166.)

On February 12, 1997, Mitchell submitted a formal request to the Paris Facility Postmaster, Richard A. Derrickson ("Derrickson"), requesting a transfer from his letter carrier position to the position of clerk. (J.A., 16-17, 24, 77, 85.) Derrickson took no immediate action on the transfer request.

Several months later, on May 12, 1997, Mitchell failed to appear during his regularly scheduled shift. (J.A., 17, 24, 116.) When Mitchell returned to work the following day, his acting supervisor, Glenn Chapman ("Chapman"), verbally reprimanded Mitchell for the non-excused absence. (J.A., 17, 24, 116, 167.) Chapman indicated to Mitchell that poor attendance was a significant factor that could detrimentally impact Mitchell's transfer request. (J.A., 45, 116, 167.)

In response, Mitchell explained that his absence was the result of a re-injury to his neck that he sustained while carrying boxes of canned goods for a charity event. During the ensuing volatile discussion, Mitchell declared his intention to designate the absence as FMLA leave and referred to Dr. Wright's prior certification. (J.A., 24, 45, 167, 173.) Mitchell further informed Chapman that he would have to file for permanent disability if compelled to continue working as a letter carrier. (J.A., 40, 45, 116-17.) Ultimately, Mitchell designated the eight hours as unscheduled sick leave. (J.A., 24, 168.)

Chapman immediately alerted Derrickson to Mitchell's comments regarding the neck injury. (J.A., 77, 116-17.) In response to this information, Derrickson instructed Mitchell to receive a medical fitness-for-duty examination ("FFD Exam").1 (J.A., 17, 24, 78-79, 117, 169.) Derrickson additionally transferred Mitchell from letter carrier to temporary clerk duties pending the results of the FFD Exam. (J.A., 24, 78, 117, 167-68.)

On May 15, 1997, Mitchell provided to Derrickson a letter from Dr. Wright indicating that he was "medically cleared to perform his duties as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service with no restrictions." (J.A., 12, 17, 24, 54, 60, 78-79, 93, 168.) Dr. Wright's letter further indicated that, "if a less physically strenuous position becomes available ... [Mitchell

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should] be considered for such a position so as to not exacerbate his head and neck pain." (J.A., 54, 60, 93.) Derrickson refused to return Mitchell to the letter carrier position pending the results of the FFD Exam. (J.A., 24, 79, 168.)

On May 20, Mitchell's collective bargaining representative, the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO (the "Union"), filed a grievance (the "Grievance") on Mitchell's behalf. The Grievance alleged violations of the FMLA and parallel provisions of the collective bargaining agreement (the "CBA") entered into between the Union and the USPS. (J.A., 17, 160, 169.)

On May 23, 1997, Dr. Robert Davenport ("Dr. Davenport"), a physician under contract with the USPS, conducted a FFD Exam of Mitchell. (J.A., 13, 17, 24-25, 40, 45, 54, 61-66, 79, 169.) Dr. Davenport rendered three determinations regarding Mitchell's condition: (1) Mitchell maintained the ability to perform letter carrier duties so long as he refrained from carrying mail with a satchel; (2) Mitchell could continue to perform clerk duties and maintain a low risk for injury; and (3) Mitchell should be referred to a neurosurgeon, Dr. John Gilbert ("Dr.Gilbert"), for further evaluation. (J.A., 25, 54, 66.)

That same day, the USPS denied the Grievance. (J.A., 160.) Pursuant to the CBA, the Union initiated Step 2 of the grievance procedure requesting that the USPS award Mitchell backpay, sick/annual leave, and reinstatement to letter carrier duties. (J.A., 13, 161.)

By letter dated June 9, 1997, the USPS denied the requested relief stating, "In the interest of the Grievant's health and safety, Management has taken [Mitchell] out of the situation causing him physical problems, pending further evaluation. Therefore in the absence of any contractual violation, the grievance is denied." (J.A., 161.) The Union thereafter initiated Step 3 of the grievance procedure. (J.A., 13, 162-64.)

A third physician, Dr. Gilbert, examined Mitchell on June 30, 1997 and issued a report returning Mitchell to work duty without restrictions. (J.A., 13, 17, 25, 69, 169.) Subsequently, Naewana Nickles ("Nickles"), a USPS Occupational Health Nurse Administrator responsible for reviewing medical evaluations of USPS employees, received Dr. Gilbert's report. (J.A., 13, 25, 55.) Nickles found the report deficient in several respects and requested that Dr. Gilbert specifically address whether Mitchell could perform "all of the essential functions of a City Carrier without risk of hazard to self or others." (J.A., 13, 18, 25, 55, 70-71, 169-71.)

Dr. Gilbert responded to Nickles's request as follows:

[B]ased on my exam and discussion with the patient and the fact that the patient tells me that he feels he can do his job without restrictions, I feel this [sic] is not unreasonable for him to perform his job without restrictions. If the [USPS] would like a more detailed assessment of restrictions, ... we would need to proceed with a functional capacity evaluation done by a licensed physical therapist.

I note in your records that [Mitchell] has said that the stresses from carrying a satchel cause him problems on his neck. If this is indeed true, then I would recommend that he not carry the satchel. However, the patient did not tell me this. He told me he felt he could do his job without restrictions. If you want to be on the safe side and if it is true that the patient feels that the satchel's giving him problems, then we need to get rid of the satchel.

(J.A., 25, 55, 72.)

Nickles ultimately reported to Derrickson that Mitchell "[c]ould continu[e] carrying mail if [Mitchell] doesn't use [a] satchel."

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(J.A., 55, 74, 79.) Derrickson did not, however, return Mitchell to full letter carrier duties. (J.A., 79.)

On August 11, 1997, Mitchell submitted a second request for transfer to a full-time clerk position. (J.A., 13, 18, 25, 80, 95.) Derrickson approved the request on August 19, 1997. (J.A., 13, 25, 80, 95.)

On August 25, 1997, Dr. Gilbert issued a supplemental report to the USPS indicating that Mitchell "can't work with a neck harness because it puts him at a high risk" for injury. (J.A., 55, 75.) Dr. Gilbert further indicated that he examined a model USPS waist harness for carrying mail that "transfers the weight from the bag from the shoulder to the waist" and that Mitchell was at a "low risk" of injury while using the waist harness. (J.A., 13-14, 55, 75.) Consequently, Dr. Gilbert "recommended releasing Mr. Mitchell to full duty restricted to using the harness provided to [him] by the [USPS] which transfers the weight of the bag to the waist rather than the shoulder." (J.A., 13-14, 55, 75.)

Mitchell alleges that he attempted to withdraw his transfer request based on Dr. Gilbert's recommendation--however, Derrickson refused the withdrawal. (J.A., 174-75.) Derrickson denies that Mitchell submitted such a request. (J.A., 80.) Mitchell's transfer to the clerk position became effective August 30, 1997. (J.A., 14, 25, 80, 96.)

B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The EEO Proceedings

...

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