655 F.3d 43 (1st Cir. 2011), 09-1503, Roman-Oliveras v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Authority

Docket Nº:09-1503.
Citation:655 F.3d 43
Opinion Judge:LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:H
Attorney:Juan R. Rodriguez, with whom Rodriguez Lopez Law Office, P.S.C. was on brief, for appellant. Marie L. Cort
Judge Panel:Before LIPEZ, Circuit Judge, SOUTER, Associate Justice,[*] and SELYA, Circuit Judge.
Case Date:August 18, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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655 F.3d 43 (1st Cir. 2011)

Hé ctor Luis ROMÁN-OLIVERAS, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

PUERTO RICO ELECTRIC POWER AUTHORITY (PREPA), James Vé lez, Julio Renta, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 09-1503.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

August 18, 2011

Heard Jan. 6, 2011.

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Juan R. Rodriguez, with whom Rodriguez Lopez Law Office, P.S.C. was on brief, for appellant.

Marie L. Corté s-Corté s, for appellee PREPA.

Rosa Elena Pé rez-Agosto, with whom Irene S. Soroeta-Kodesh, Solicitor General, Leticia M. Casalduc-Rabell, Deputy Solicitor General, Zaira Z. Girón-Anadón, Deputy Solicitor General, and Rosa Elena Pé rez-Agosto, Assistant Solicitor General, were on brief, for appellees Vé lez and Renta.

Before LIPEZ, Circuit Judge, SOUTER, Associate Justice,[*] and SELYA, Circuit Judge.

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LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Hé ctor Luis Román-Oliveras (" Román" ) claims that he was an exemplary employee at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (" the Authority" or " PREPA" ) for more than two decades despite suffering from schizophrenia throughout the period of his employment. In this action against the Authority and two PREPA supervisors, he alleges that he was inexplicably removed from his job in 2006, required to undergo multiple medical evaluations, and prevented from resuming his duties even though each evaluation pronounced him fit to work. Román brought this action against the Authority and two PREPA supervisors under federal and Commonwealth law, alleging violation of his civil rights and unlawful discrimination on the basis of his medical condition. 1 The district court dismissed Román's complaint in its entirety. It discerned no basis for relief under federal law and, accordingly, declined to address the supplemental Commonwealth claims.

Although we affirm the district court's rulings on most of Román's claims, we vacate the dismissal of his claim against his employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ) because the complaint plausibly depicts discrimination based on the perception that Román is disabled. On an issue of first impression for our circuit, we conclude that Title I of the ADA does not provide for liability against individuals who are not themselves employers. 2

I.

We recite the facts in the manner appropriate for reviewing a dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b): " [W]e ‘ assume the truth of all well-pleaded facts' in the complaint," and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Rivera v. Centro Mé dico de Turabo, Inc., 575 F.3d 10, 13 (1st Cir.2009) (quoting Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc. v. Feliciano de Melecio, 406 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir.2005)).3

Before the events at issue in this litigation, Román had worked successfully for PREPA for twenty-two years while receiving regular psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia. The condition had been diagnosed more than thirty years earlier. Román received excellent evaluations and was always available for overtime work. Beginning in 2005, Román's immediate superior, defendant James Vé lez, and the plant superintendent, defendant Julio Renta,4 made Román's life difficult in retaliation for his union activities and role as a " leader of workm[e]n." Román's complaint states that the PREPA supervisors harassed him, " making improper rude comments against him, taking adverse person [ne]l action and fabricating labor cases against him." The complaint accuses the defendants of attempting on one occasion

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to transfer Román " without the benefit of paying him [food] and car allowance" and of treating him " differently from similarly situated individuals outside of his protected group." The complaint further alleges that Vé lez and Renta used false information and " their official positions improperly as employees and engineers of co-defendant PREPA" to cause harm to Román.

On March 1, 2006, PREPA's social worker asked the Authority's physician to bar Román from working until he was evaluated by a psychiatrist, and PREPA thereafter did not allow him to work. On April 24, the social worker received the psychiatric report, which stated that Román could resume his duties. On May 23, PREPA " formally acknowledge[d]" the psychiatrist's report and recommendation. Román, however, remained out of work, involuntarily, despite the satisfactory report. On August 7, PREPA's physician ordered " asbestos [ ] medical evaluations" of Román. The resulting report stated that Román was " fit for duties including as per his psychiatric condition."

Although PREPA's physicians recommended on October 17 that Román return to work, and he repeatedly asked to return, defendant Renta requested additional medical evaluations on November 13 and referred Román for an involuntary medical leave. Román also was asked for the evaluations of his private doctors. In January 2007, he submitted the requested medical certification from his psychiatrist. Despite findings by " [a]ll of the doctors" that Román was capable of resuming his work, defendants again refused to allow him to do so, " changing the entire process of the reinstallation of plaintiff[']s duties."

Román was taken off PREPA's payroll in February 2007. Although he alleges that he was terminated, he submitted an employment certification in Spanish to the district court that, according to the court, " reflects that Román had been on medical leave, without pay, since February 10, 2007." The defendants presented a translated employment certification stating that, as of September 5, 2007, Román remained a PREPA employee " hold[ing] the regular position of Central Power Plant Electrician II." The complaint alleges, however, that Renta and Vé lez ordered removal of Román's personal items from the work area, removal of his name from his locker, and reassignment of his toolbox to another employee.

Román filed a timely complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and subsequently filed this action, alleging violations of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213; 5 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17; the civil rights provision codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Articles 1802 and 1803 of the Puerto Rico Civil Code, P.R. Laws Ann. tit. 31, §§ 5141, 5142. He alleged that defendants' actions violated his civil rights, created a hostile work environment, and subjected him to " adverse actions because of his medical condition and active participation with the Union."

Defendants moved for dismissal and, after an exchange of updated pleadings, the district court dismissed with prejudice each of the federal claims in plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. The court concluded that the hostile work environment claim was time-barred, that Román failed to allege facts showing that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA, and that he had alleged " neither ... a specific violation of federal law nor any independent facts" to support his section 1983 claim. Given the deficiencies in the federal causes of action, the court declined

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to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the associated Commonwealth claims and dismissed them without prejudice.

On appeal, appellant continues to press his ADA and section 1983 claims, but implicitly in his brief and explicitly at oral argument conceded the inadequacy of the complaint's Title VII allegations. We therefore limit our discussion to the disability and civil rights claims.6 Our review is de novo. See Coggeshall v. Mass. Bd. of Registration of Psychologists, 604 F.3d 658, 662 (1st Cir.2010) (applying de novo review to claims dismissed under subsections (1) and (6) of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)).

II.

A. Section 1983

Section 1983 does not provide " any substantive rights independent of those already granted under federal law," Clark v. Boscher, 514 F.3d 107, 112 (1st Cir.2008), and a plaintiff seeking to recover under that provision must therefore " identify the specific constitutional [or statutory] right allegedly infringed," Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994); see also Nieves v. McSweeney, 241 F.3d 46, 53 (1st Cir.2001). Appellant's complaint lacks any such specificity. Although the complaint alleges that he was treated differently from " similarly situated individuals outside of his protected group" — language evocative of an equal protection claim— he has never asserted a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.7

Nor does the complaint use the term " due process," which Román now argues is the right underlying his section 1983 claim. He maintains that the paragraphs in the complaint describing PREPA's repeated refusal to reinstate him were sufficient to frame a procedural due process violation because, in the words of the complaint, the defendants " chang[ed] the entire process of the reinstallation of plaintiff[']s duties."

The allegations concerning the " process" of his reinstatement, however, establish the factual basis for his disability discrimination claim, i.e., that he was repeatedly forced to undergo medical evaluations and prevented from working despite reports showing that his schizophrenia did not affect his capacity to work. See infra Part II.B. Without more, those allegations do not also signal a due process claim. Such a claim requires a showing that the plaintiff was deprived of a protected liberty or property interest without " adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard ‘ at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.’ " Aponte-Rosario v. Acevedo-Vilá, 617 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir.2010) (quoting Amsden v. Moran, 904 F.2d 748, 753 (1st Cir.1990)). Appellant's complaint does not identify a protectible interest, and it says nothing about either lack of notice or the absence of a meaningful opportunity to be heard.8

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In effect, appellant asks that his section 1983 cause of action be saved because the...

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