Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Associates, M.D.'s, P.A.

Decision Date03 February 1997
Docket NumberNo. 95-3006,95-3006
Citation104 F.3d 1256
Parties73 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 153, 69 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 44,524, 36 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1134, 10 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 689 Luis E. GARCIA, M.D., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COPENHAVER, BELL & ASSOCIATES, M.D.'S, P.A., Defendant-Third Party Plaintiff-Appellee, St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company, Third Party Defendant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Ronald Fraley, Tampa, FL, for plaintiff-appellant.

David G. Levenreich, Clearwater, FL, for Copenhaver, Bell & Associates.

Pamela Mark Burke, Park, Goodwin, McGuire, et al., Orlando, FL, for St. Paul Fire & Marine.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge, FAY, Senior Circuit Judge, and ALDRICH *, Senior District Judge.

FAY, Senior Circuit Judge:

Appellant, Luis E. Garcia ("Garcia"), filed a complaint against appellee, Copenhaver, Bell & Associates, M.D.'s, P.A. ("Copenhaver/Bell"), alleging Copenhaver/Bell discriminated against him on the basis of age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 (1994). At the conclusion of a jury trial (but before the case was submitted to the jury), the Magistrate Judge, 1 after hearing the evidence presented from both sides, made the factual determination that Copenhaver/Bell was not an "employer" as defined by ADEA and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Moreover, given the facts of this case, in determining that Copenhaver/Bell was not an "employer," the Magistrate Judge also indirectly decided that Garcia was not an "employee," but an independent contractor. Garcia appeals the Magistrate Judge's ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. 2 Partly based on the procedural confusion (see supra note 2), the parties' briefs do not fully address the true issue before the Court.

The issue that emerges on appeal is whether the factual determination that defendant is or is not an "employer" is an element of the cause of action in an ADEA case. For purposes of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), Eleventh Circuit precedent seems to direct the judge, and not a jury, to decide whether Copenhaver/Bell is an "employer." The importance of determining whether an "employer" is an element of the claim, is that it will determine the procedural posture of the Magistrate Judge's ruling. If we should find that being an "employer" is an element of an ADEA case, then well established precedent requires the district court, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, "to find that jurisdiction exists and deal with the objection as a direct attack on the merits of the plaintiff's case." Simanonok v. Simanonok, 787 F.2d 1517, 1520 (11th Cir.1986) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 415 (5th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 897, 102 S.Ct. 396, 70 L.Ed.2d 212 (1981)). The appropriate standard of review would then be the one applicable to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) or Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 motions, "both of which place greater restrictions on the district court's discretion." Williamson, 645 F.2d at 415.

Because in the instant case we hold that whether or not the defendant is an "employer" as defined in the Act goes to the merits of an ADEA case, we believe the Magistrate Judge erred in resolving questions of fact pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). In finding that being an "employer" is an element of an ADEA claim, we rely upon analogous cases within this Circuit, persuasive cases from other circuits that have found being an "employee" to be an element of the cause of action, and the unusual factual scenario presented by this case. In accordance with this holding, the proper procedure for a district court is to assume jurisdiction and utilize the standards associated with a 12(b)(6) motion or Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. Applying these standards to the case at hand, the motion to dismiss should have been denied on the merits and the jury allowed to decide the issue of whether Copenhaver/Bell was an "employer" and consequently whether Garcia was an "employee." Accordingly, for the reasons discussed below, we reverse the Magistrate Judge's order dismissing the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remand the case for a jury trial.


Garcia is a physician in emergency medicine. In 1991, Garcia submitted an application to Copenhaver/Bell, an exclusive provider of emergency room doctors to nine hospitals in Florida. Copenhaver/Bell matches physicians to hospitals after considering the physicians' temperaments and the volume of patients and their acuity. On August 26, 1991, Garcia and Copenhaver/Bell entered into a "Medical Service Sub-Contract" ("the Contract") pursuant to which Garcia would provide emergency room services to Mease Hospital in Dunedin, Florida. The Contract was for one year with automatic renewal unless terminated by either party.

Paragraph seven of the Contract provides in pertinent part:

[Garcia] shall perform his duties and obligations hereunder as an independent contractor and not as an employee. Accordingly, [Copenhaver/Bell] shall not exercise control, or have the right to control, [Garcia] as to the specific means or manner in which [Garcia] discharges his duties hereunder and [Garcia] shall perform his duties at all times in accordance with the exercise of his independent medical judgment.... Nothing herein shall be construed to create a partnership, joint venture, agency or other relationship between the parties other than an independent contractor relationship. (Emphasis added).

The Contract contained other limitations on the relationship between the parties. For instance, the Contract required Garcia to maintain various certifications and licenses; obligated Garcia and Copenhaver/Bell respectively to provide at least ninety or sixty days notice of termination; authorized liquidated damages against Garcia in the event of his premature termination of the contract; based Garcia's compensation on an hourly rate; and permitted Garcia to determine his own schedule in conjunction with the other physicians at the hospital. Over thirty other physicians entered into similar contracts with Copenhaver/Bell to perform emergency work at various Florida facilities.

Garcia was subjected to a six-month probationary period once he began working at Mease Hospital. On July 14, 1992, Dr. Solomon, assistant director of the emergency department at Mease Hospital, informed Garcia that he had successfully completed his probationary term. On that same day, however, Mr. David Mitchell, an administrator for Copenhaver/Bell, informed Garcia that Copenhaver/Bell was forced to replace him due to "hospital politics." Pursuant to the Contract's termination clause, Garcia continued to practice at Mease Hospital for an additional sixty days.

On March 8, 1994, Garcia filed a complaint against Copenhaver/Bell alleging age discrimination under ADEA. Following some discovery, Copenhaver/Bell filed a motion for summary judgment contending there was no disputed issue of material fact and Garcia, as a matter of law, was an independent contractor. See Daughtrey v. Honeywell, Inc., 3 F.3d 1488, 1495 n. 13 (11th Cir.1993) ("The ADEA does not provide relief for discrimination against an independent contractor."). The Magistrate Judge entered an order denying Copenhaver/Bell's motion for summary judgment. In denying the motion, the Magistrate Judge concluded there were questions of fact as to whether Garcia was an "employee" or an independent contractor.

Prior to the Magistrate Judge's order denying the motion for summary judgment, Copenhaver/Bell filed a "Notice of Suggestion of Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction" and then an "Amended Notice of Suggestion of Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction." 3 The argument advanced in these two pleadings was that Copenhaver/Bell did not employ twenty or more "employees," and therefore was not an "employer" as defined in ADEA. The court would then lack subject matter jurisdiction. The Magistrate Judge did not rule on these notices before commencement of the trial.

On the first day of trial, the Magistrate Judge discussed preliminary matters with the parties. One of the issues raised was whether the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the proceedings. Counsel for Copenhaver/Bell stated, "the issue of subject matter jurisdiction. If you want, I can do the motion right now. I might have to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. I understood during a status conference, you would discuss that during the course of the trial." To which the Magistrate Judge responded: "Correct. At the appropriate time, we will move on the motions taken under advisement. With regards to that [subject matter jurisdiction], what amount of evidence deals with that issue and does not, for instance, relate to Dr. Garcia's claim,...." Later on, the Magistrate Judge further commented, "[t]he reason it occurs to me if we are going to get into a series of witnesses that will take--purely on that issue [subject matter jurisdiction], it may be necessary to do that outside the hearing of the jury. But it may not be necessary because it seems to me to a certain extent I think there's an overlap." Garcia proceeded to present evidence in front of the jury.

At the conclusion of Garcia's case, Copenhaver/Bell stated it had two motions to make. Copenhaver/Bell announced it would reassert its motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and also move for a directed verdict pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). The motion for directed verdict was premised on Proud v. Stone, 945 F.2d 796 (4th Cir.1991). In Proud, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case holding that the plaintiff failed to establish pretext. Id. In other words, Copenhaver/Bell's motion for directed verdict was based on Garcia's failure to establish pretext, and not...

To continue reading

Request your trial
477 cases
  • Ohio Valley Envtl. Coal., Inc. v. Maple Coal Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 2, 2011
    ...the Court DENIES as moot Plaintiffs' first motion for partial summary judgment (ECF 7). 8. Compare Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Associates, M.D.'s, P.A., 104 F.3d 1256, 1261 (11th Cir.1997) (holding that if a motion implicates the merits of a cause of action, the district court should find ......
  • Ohio Valley Environmental v. Apogee Coal Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
    • January 24, 2008
    ...520(f) [30 U.S.C. § 1270(f)] to provide for citizen suits for damages in primacy states.") 8. Compare Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Assoc., M.D.'s, P.A., 104 F.3d 1256, 1261 (11th Cir.1997) (holding that if a motion implicates the merits of a cause of action, the district court should find j......
  • McGuire v. Marshall
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • January 7, 2021
    ...exists and deal with the objection as a direct attack on the merits of the plaintiff's case." Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Assocs., M.D.’s, P.A. , 104 F.3d 1256, 1261 (11th Cir. 1997) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker , 645 F.2d 404, 415–16 (5th Cir. 1981) ). This ques......
  • In re Takata Airbag Prods. Liab. Litig.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • June 20, 2019
    ...of the plaintiff's case ...." Morrison v. Amway Corp. , 323 F.3d 920, 925 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Assocs., M.D.'s, P.A. , 104 F.3d 1256, 1261 (11th Cir. 1997) ).Here, the thrust of Mercedes's standing challenge is that they did not install defective airbags in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Age discrimination
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Federal Employment Jury Instructions - Volume I
    • April 30, 2014
    ...claim and is more appropriately a question for the factfinder deciding the merits of the claim. Garcia v. Copenhaver, Bell & Assocs. , 104 F.3d 1256, 1264 (11th Cir. 1997). References: Religious institutions, application of Age Discrimination in Employment Act (29 U.S.C.A. §§621 et seq. ) t......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT