Eady v. Mesilla Valley Transp.

Decision Date17 July 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 3:19-cv-00767
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee

Judge Aleta A. Trauger

Magistrate Judge Alistair E. Newbern

To: The Honorable Aleta A. Trauger, District Judge


Pro se Plaintiff Ronald Dwight Eady alleges that Defendant Mesilla Valley Transportation (MVT) violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it terminated his employment as a commercial truck driver after he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. (Doc. No. 1.) MVT has filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Eady's claims fail on the merits or, in the alternative, that Eady should be compelled to arbitrate his claims because he signed a mandatory arbitration agreement. (Doc. Nos. 21, 22.) MVT's motion is fully briefed. (Doc. Nos. 26, 27, 28.) For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge will recommend that MVT's motion be granted in part: Eady's claim should be dismissed without prejudice and that the claim be compelled to arbitration.

I. Background
A. Undisputed Facts1

Eady began employment as a driver with MVT on June 26, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 21-1, 23.) That day, Eady signed a "Mandatory Arbitration of Disputes - Waiver of Rights Agreement[,]" which provides:

In consideration of the Employee's employment by MVT (and/or any of its affiliates) as good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, the Employee and MVT agree that any claim, controversy, and/or dispute between them, arising out of and/or in any way related to Employee's application for employment, employment and/or termination of employment, whenever and wherever brought, shall be resolved by arbitration. The employee agrees that this Agreement is governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq., and is fully enforceable.

(Doc. No. 21-1, PageID# 89.)

On March 30, 2019, Eady notified MVT that he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. (Doc. Nos. 21-1, 23.) Upon learning of his diagnosis, MVT "provided . . . Eady with a thirty (30) day Leave of Absence to allow him to deal with the diagnosis and obtain medical clearance, certifying that he was medically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle." (Doc. No. 21-1, PageID# 87, ¶ 8; Doc. No. 23.) Eady was expected to return to work on May 2, 2019. (Doc. No. 21-1.) However, "Eady did not return to work[,] [n]or did he provide any proof from a physician or medical professional certifying that he had been medically cleared as physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle again, request any additional leave, or request any other accommodation." (Id. at PageID# 87, ¶ 10.) MVT terminated Eady's employment on May 2, 2019, "because his Leave of Absence expired." (Doc. No. 23, PageID# 111, ¶ 16.) MVTinformed Eady that he would be eligible for rehiring if he obtained the necessary medical clearance, reapplied, and passed the driver qualification process. (Doc. No. 23.)

B. Procedural History

Eady initiated this action on August 30, 2019, by filing a complaint alleging that MVT violated the ADA when it terminated his employment and seeking $5,000,000.00 in damages. (Doc. No. 1.) On October 2, 2019, the Court granted Eady's application to proceed in forma pauperis and screened his complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), finding that Eady had stated a colorable claim against MVT under the ADA. (Doc. No. 4.) On February 13, 2020, MVT filed a motion for summary judgment, along with a memorandum of law; the affidavit of its human resources director and supporting exhibits, including the arbitration agreement that Eady signed; and a statement of undisputed material facts.2 (Doc. Nos. 21-23.) MVT argues that Eady's ADA claim must fail because it terminated Eady's employment to comply with federal law, which prohibits people with an active diagnosis of congestive heart failure from working as commercial truck drivers. (Doc. No. 22.) MVT also argues that Eady's claim is subject to mandatory arbitration. (Id.)

Eady responded in opposition to MVT's motion. (Doc. Nos. 26, 26-1.) Eady's response consists of a variety of documents, including a document labeled "Affidavit," in which Eady alleges that the arbitration agreement appended to MVT's motion for summary judgment is not the one he signed, and Eady's responses to MVT's statement of undisputed material facts.3 (Doc.No. 26-1.) At the end of the response is a "Certificate of Acknowledgement" from a notary in Lincoln County, Tennessee, providing that, on March 10, 2020, Eady personally appeared before her and

proved to [her] on the basis of satisfactory evidence to be the person whose name is subscribed to the within instrument and acknowledged to [her] that he . . . executed the same in his . . . authorized capacities, and that by his . . . signature on the instrument the person or the entity upon behalf of which the person acted, executed this instrument.

(Id. at PageID# 205.) The notary's signature and official seal appear at the bottom of the page, along with a written statement that the "instrument executed and witnessed" were "documents for summary judgment for federal court[.]" (Id.)

In its reply, MVT objects to the evidence that Eady submitted in his response. (Doc. No. 27.) MVT argues that Eady's response in opposition to its statement of undisputed material facts fails to comply with the Court's Local Rules because the response does not cite to any document in the record to demonstrate the existence of a triable factual dispute. (Id.) Further, MVT argues that none of the allegations in Eady's response is sworn and therefore those allegations are not evidence that can be considered at summary judgment. (Id.) Eady has also "resubmit[ed]" various documents from his response, including his response to MVT's statement of undisputed material facts and the document labeled "Affidavit." (Doc. No. 28, PageID# 216, 219.) The resubmitted documents are individually notarized with the same acknowledgement.4 (Id. at PageID# 219.)

II. Legal Standard

In resolving a motion for summary judgment, the Court must undertake "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial—whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must grant summary judgment if the moving party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law[,]" and a dispute about a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that no genuine issues of material fact exist. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party meets its burden, the non-moving party must "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (citation omitted); see also Blizzard v. Marion Tech. Coll., 698 F.3d 275, 282 (6th Cir. 2012) ("Once a moving party has met its burden of production, 'its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'" (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986))). The parties "must support" their assertions "that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed" by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" or, alternatively, by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact."Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). Courts must view the record evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Barrett v. Whirlpool Corp., 556 F.3d 502, 511 (6th Cir. 2009). However, if the moving party carries its initial burden, the non-moving party must show more than "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of" his or her position. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In order to proceed to trial, "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find" for the non-moving party. Id.

III. Analysis

MVT argues that Eady failed to comply with the Court's Local Rules governing responses to motions for summary judgment and that the Court cannot consider Eady's unsworn allegations in resolving MVT's motion. The Court therefore turns first to the question of whether Eady has properly supported his response in opposition to MVT's motion. Ultimately, Eady has failed to provide any evidence to rebut MVT's well-supported position that Eady agreed to arbitrate the claim that he asserts in this action.

A. Local Rule 56.01 and the Invalidity of Unsworn Factual Allegations

This Court's Local Rule 56.01 provides that "any motion for summary judgment . . . must be accompanied by a separate, concise statement of the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue for trial." M.D. Tenn. R. 56.01(b) (statement of undisputed material facts). Under this rule, "[e]ach fact must be set forth in a separate, numbered paragraph [and] . . . must be supported by specific citation to the record." Id. Any party opposing a motion for summary judgment must specifically respond to each asserted fact by: "(1) Agreeing that the...

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