Johnson v. State Technology Center at Memphis

Citation24 F.Supp.2d 833
Decision Date06 October 1998
Docket NumberNo. 97-2716-V.,97-2716-V.
PartiesRandy L. JOHNSON, Sr., Plaintiff, v. STATE TECHNOLOGY CENTER AT MEMPHIS also known as Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis, Board of Regents, and the State of Tennessee, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Tennessee

James V. Ball, Memphis, TN, for Plaintiff.

S. Elizabeth Martin, Office of the Attorney General, Nashville, TN, for Defendant.


VESCOVO, United States Magistrate Judge.

Randy L. Johnson, Sr., a paraplegic, claims that the defendants, State Technology Center at Memphis, Board of Regents, and the State of Tennessee, (collectively "the State"), have discriminated against him in violation of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)1, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 19732, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before the court3 is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the State. The State asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment for two reasons. First, it claims that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Congress did not validly abrogate the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity when it enacted the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Second, it claims that Johnson is not a qualified individual with a disability under either the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act because he had not obtained the required federal medical certification or a waiver of the certification requirement which is necessary to operate a commercial motor vehicle.4 For the reasons set forth below, these motions are hereby DENIED.


On October 21, 1996, Johnson, a paraplegic, enrolled in a commercial truck driving course at Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis. Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis, also known as State Tech, is one in a statewide system of area vocational schools which are a part of the State University and Community College System governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents. All students participating in the commercial truck driving course are required to have a physical examination. Johnson was permitted to take the classroom portion of the course, but was prevented from participating in the driving portion of the class. At some point in time Johnson was informed by Tennessee Technology Center officials and the Tennessee Board of Regents General Counsel's office that in order to be allowed to participate in the driving segment of the course he would be required to comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations governing the driving of commercial vehicles in interstate commerce. Included in those regulations is the following provision:

A person shall not drive a commercial motor vehicle unless he/she is physically qualified to do so and ... has on his/her person the original, or a photographic copy, of a medical examiner's certificate that he/she is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

49 C.F.R. § 391.41(a) (1998). The federal regulations also provide an alternate means of becoming qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle for those individuals who are not physically qualified to do so:

A person who is not physically qualified to drive under § 391.41(b)(1) or (2) and who is otherwise qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle, may drive a commercial motor vehicle, if the Regional Director of Motor Carriers has granted a waiver to that person.

49 C.F.R. § 391.49(a).

Johnson's medical certificate states that he is not medically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle unless his certificate is accompanied by a waiver. During the period he was enrolled in the course, Johnson did not apply for the requisite waiver from the Federal Highway Administration. Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis did not allow Johnson to drive a truck as part of the class and did not provide a retrofitted truck in order to accommodate his disability. Nevertheless, Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis does assert in its course catalog and student handbook that it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Primarily, the State argues that it is entitled to summary judgment regardless of whether Johnson is a qualified individual because Congress's enactment of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act did not constitute an effective abrogation of the Eleventh Amendment. In addition, the State contends that its failure to provide a retrofitted truck was not a violation of the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act because Johnson's failure to comply with Federal Highway Administration regulations by obtaining a medical certificate or waiver prevented him from becoming a qualified individual, and therefore the State did not have to make any reasonable accommodation for Johnson. Further, the State contends that Johnson could have obtained a limited training waiver from the Tennessee Department of Transportation without having to take and pass a road test.

Johnson admits that he did not seek a waiver during his enrollment in the truck driving course or prior to being denied the opportunity to participate in the driving portion of the course. However, he asserts that he has since applied for the requisite waiver by mailing an application for a waiver on September 16, 1998. Further, Johnson contends that he only became aware of the waiver application process when the Department of Transportation doctor had a waiver packet mailed to Johnson subsequent to the performance of a medical evaluation. Regardless of when he applied for the waiver, Johnson asserts that he would have been required to pass a road test in order to receive a waiver. Consequently, Johnson believes that even if he had applied for the waiver prior to, or during, his enrollment in the course he would not have been granted a waiver because he did not have the skills training necessary to pass the road test without first completing the driving portion of the course. Johnson summed up his predicament as follows:

Plaintiff submits that in order to get a waiver in compliance with the Federal Highway Administration, he would need a road test, but that before he could take the road test, he would need the skills training which Tennessee Technology Center provided. Yet, as previously stated, Tennessee Technology Center required a Federal waiver before Plaintiff could drive a truck with an instructor.

(Pl.'s Resp. to Mot. for Summ. Judg. of Defs. at 5.) Johnson therefore points to the lack of a retrofitted truck on which he, or any other qualified individual with a disability, could use to complete the offered truck driving course as the obstacle preventing him from being granted a waiver.

Johnson further contends that because the United States Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether Congress had the power to abrogate the Eleventh Amendment when enacting the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act a grant of summary judgment on that question would be inappropriate.


Generally, federal courts should avoid addressing constitutional questions if a decision can be reached on nonconstitutional grounds. See Jean v. Nelson, 472 U.S. 846, 854, 105 S.Ct. 2992, 86 L.Ed.2d 664 (1985). An assertion of Eleventh Amendment immunity, however, challenges the court's jurisdiction. See Seaborn v. State of Florida, Department of Corrections, 143 F.3d 1405, 1406 (11th Cir.1998). A challenge to jurisdiction must be resolved before a court can determine the merits of the underlying claim. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 1012-16, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). Accordingly, this court must first confront the constitutional issue raised by this summary judgment motion: whether Congress effectively abrogated the Eleventh Amendment when it enacted the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.5

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See LaPointe v. United Autoworkers Local 600, 8 F.3d 376, 378 (6th Cir.1993); Osborn v. Ashland County Bd. of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Servs., 979 F.2d 1131, 1133 (6th Cir.1992) (per curiam). The party that moves for summary judgment has the burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact at issue in the case. LaPointe, 8 F.3d at 378. This may be accomplished by pointing out to the court that the nonmoving party lacks evidence to support an essential element of its case. See Barnhart v. Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling Co., 12 F.3d 1382, 1389 (6th Cir.1993).

In response, the nonmoving party must present "significant probative evidence" to demonstrate that "there is [more than] some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Moore v. Philip Morris Co., 8 F.3d 335, 339-40 (6th Cir.1993). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "this court must determine whether `the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Patton v. Bearden, 8 F.3d 343, 346 (6th Cir.1993) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-53, 106 S.Ct. 2505). The evidence, all facts, and any inferences that may permissibly be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). However, "[t]he mere existence of...

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  • Schall v. Wichita State University
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2000
    ...offers no protection to states from the ADA and noting that a "strong majority" has held likewise); Johnson v. State Technology Center at Memphis, 24 F. Supp.2d 833, 842 (W.D. Tenn. 1998) (noting that the "great weight of authority" has rejected states' claims of immunity under the Eleventh......

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