Boone v. Bd. of Governors of the Univ. of N.C., 1:17CV113

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtLORETTA C. BIGGS, District Judge.
Docket Number1:17CV113
PartiesANNIE BOONE, Plaintiff, v. BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant.
Decision Date30 March 2018

ANNIE BOONE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF GOVERNORS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant.

1:17CV113

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA

March 30, 2018


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

LORETTA C. BIGGS, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Annie Boone, initiated this action against Defendant, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina ("UNC"), alleging four claims: (1) failure to accommodate under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.; (2) failure to accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 et seq.; (3) retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; and, as an alternative to her first and second claims, (4) interference under the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (ECF No. 1.) Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 11.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

According to Plaintiff's Complaint, she was employed by UNC, on or around April 23, 2012, as a campus police officer. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.) On or around Memorial Day in 2015,

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Plaintiff was raped by a "supposed 'friend'" whom she was visiting in South Carolina. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Plaintiff "did not report the rape to authorities, and she did not inform anyone at UNC that she had been raped." (Id. ¶ 15.) As a result of the rape, Plaintiff alleges that she has been "diagnosed with a post-traumatic stress response, anxiety, and depression." (Id. ¶ 16.) According to Plaintiff, these conditions "significantly impair" her ability to work, sleep, and think, among other things. (Id.)

"On or around August 21, 2015, [Plaintiff] told a co-worker . . . something to the effect that her head was not 'in the game.'" (Id. ¶ 18.) This information was allegedly reported "up the chain of command," and on August 22, 2015, Plaintiff was called into a meeting with her superiors. (Id. ¶ 19, 20.) During the meeting, Plaintiff was told by her superiors "that they were aware she was having problems, and suggested that she take FMLA leave." (Id. ¶ 20.)

One week later, on August 28, 2015, Plaintiff was notified by UNC "that she was being placed on investigatory status regarding her attendance at a training symposium 11 days prior," and that "she would have to undergo a Fitness for Duty examination" to determine her ability to return to work as a police officer. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff submitted to the "mandatory Fitness for Duty examination . . . with The FMRT Group, a company that provides psychological evaluations for law enforcement agencies." (Id. ¶ 23.)

On or around September 30, 2015, Plaintiff was informed by UNC's human resources department "that she was no longer under investigation and could submit her FMLA paperwork." (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff "submitted her FMLA paperwork to UNC on or around

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October 26, 2015." (Id. ¶ 26.) On November 6, 2015, UNC approved Plaintiff's request for FMLA leave from September 28, 2015 through December 18, 2015.1 (Id. ¶ 27.)

One day before the expiration of Plaintiff's FMLA leave period, "[o]n or around December 17, 2015," Plaintiff "called her chief regarding her return to work [and h]e told her that she could return after the new year." (Id. ¶ 28.) After the new year, on January 4, 2016, she told UNC "that she was cleared by her doctor to return to work and provided a doctor's note certifying her fitness for duty." (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff alleges that "UNC did not accept" the fitness-for-duty letter from her doctor, "instead returning [Plaintiff] to [t]he FMRT Group" for evaluation on or around January 8, 2016. (Id. ¶ 31.) The FMRT Group then notified UNC that Plaintiff "was unfit to return to work," and on or around January 22, 2016, UNC informed Plaintiff "that she was unable to return from FMLA leave." (Id. ¶ 32.)

Plaintiff alleges that she then asked UNC for "leave or light duty as a reasonable accommodation." (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff further alleges that she "submitted paperwork to UNC certifying that she had a disability related to mental health brought on by a personal trauma." (Id.) According to the Complaint, UNC nonetheless "demanded that [Plaintiff] provide documents from her doctor . . . stating that [she] was disabled and required accommodation." (Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff alleges that her doctor "claimed that [she] was fit to return to work and therefore would not certify that she was disabled." (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff claims that UNC

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refused to "use the FMR[T] interview conclusions as the requisite medical certification that she was disabled," (id. ¶ 37), and she was subsequently terminated by UNC, (id. ¶ 39).2

Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. ¶¶ 64-65.) Defendant has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's request for punitive damages, as well as each of Plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 11.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint," Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); "it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint may fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in two ways: first, by failing to state a valid legal cause of action, i.e., a cognizable claim, see Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012); or second, by failing to allege sufficient facts to support a legal cause of action, see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). In evaluating whether a claim is stated, "[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff," but does not consider "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual

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enhancement[,] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Claim 1 - Failure to Accommodate under Title II of the ADA ("Title II")

UNC argues that Plaintiff's ADA claim fails as a matter of law and "should be dismissed because Plaintiff is unable to bring a claim of [public] employment discrimination under Title II." (ECF No. 12 at 6.) The Court agrees.

Under Title II, it is unlawful to discriminate against a "qualified individual with a disability" in "the services, programs, or activities of a public entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Prior to the Fourth Circuit's decision in Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., 789 F.3d 407 (4th Cir. 2015), courts were divided as to whether Title II of the ADA applied to public employment discrimination claims. See id. at 419-20 (noting circuit split). In Reyazuddin, however, the Fourth Circuit joined "the majority of circuits to have considered the question" and held that "Title II unambiguously does not provide a vehicle for public employment discrimination claims." Id. at 421.

Here, Plaintiff makes the seemingly disingenuous argument that in Reyazuddin, the Fourth Circuit "blatantly ignore[d]" language from its prior decision—Doe v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 50 F.3d 1261 (4th Cir. 1995)—setting forth the elements of a claim under Title II. (ECF No. 13 at 7-8 (citing Doe, 50 F.3d at 1265).) In Reyazuddin, however, the Fourth Circuit specifically addressed Doe,3 explaining that because the appellant in Doe "advanced his claim

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against his state employer under both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the ADA[,] . . . [the Court] had no occasion to decide whether the appellant could have [sued under] Title II alone." Reyazuddin, 789 F.3d at 421.

Moreover, despite Plaintiff's misguided characterization of binding Fourth Circuit precedent as "deeply flawed" and "useless," (ECF No. 13 at 7, 9), as a district court within the Fourth Circuit, this Court is obligated to follow Fourth Circuit precedent. See Carcaño v. McCrory, 203 F. Supp. 3d 615, 637 (M.D.N.C. 2016) (stating "district courts are . . . bound to follow circuit precedent"). Accordingly, because the Fourth Circuit has explicitly held that Title II does not apply to public employment discrimination claims, see Reyazuddin, 789 F.3d at 421, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim under Title II, and UNC is entitled to dismissal of this claim.4

B. Claim 2 - Failure to Accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act makes it unlawful for a federal agency to discriminate against a "qualified individual with a disability . . . solely by reason of her or his disability." 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). Section 504 "also requires an employer to accommodate an employee with a disability who can perform the essential functions of a job with a reasonable accommodation. But an employer avoids liability if it can show that providing an accommodation would constitute an 'undue hardship.'" Reyazuddin, 789 F.3d at 409.

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Courts evaluate employment discrimination claims brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act "using the same standards as those 'applied under [T]itle I of the [ADA].'" Id. at 413 (first alteration in original) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 794(d)). Thus, to state a prima facie case of failure to accommodate under the Rehabilitation Act, Plaintiff must allege: "(1) that [she] was an individual who had a disability...

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