Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., No. C01-3015-MWB.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
Writing for the CourtBennett
Citation273 F.Supp.2d 961
PartiesTimothy J. KNUTSON, Plaintiff, v. AG PROCESSING, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. C01-3015-MWB.
Decision Date28 July 2003
273 F.Supp.2d 961
Timothy J. KNUTSON, Plaintiff,
v.
AG PROCESSING, INC., Defendant.
No. C01-3015-MWB.
United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division.
July 28, 2003.

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Blake Parker, Blake, Parker Law Office, Fort Dodge, IA, Michael J. Carroll, Coppola, Sandre, McConville & Carroll, PC, West Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Becky S. Knutson, Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Roberts, Des Moines, IA, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW, OR, ALTERNATIVELY, FOR NEW TRIAL; PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PROHIBITORY INJUNCTION, FOR REINSTATEMENT; PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS

BENNETT, Chief Judge.


 TABLE OF CONTENTS
                I. INTRODUCTION ......................................................................973
                 A. Procedural History .............................................................973
                 B. Factual Background .............................................................975
                 1. AGP and Mr. Knutson's position ..............................................975
                 2. Mr. Knutson's injuries and resulting work restrictions ......................976
                 3. AGP's response to Mr. Knutson's comments in the log book ....................977
                 4. Mr. Knutson's back surgery, his termination, and the videotape ..............978
                 5. The "safety" rule Mr. Knutson allegedly breached ............................980
                II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ...................................................................981
                 A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law ........................................981
                 1. Applicable standards .......................................................981
                 2. Sufficiency of the evidence—disability discrimination ......................983
                 a. Perceived disability claim: Essential elements ..........................983
                 b. Element 1: Disability ...................................................984
                 i. Substantially limited in major life activity of working,
                 generally ..........................................................986
                

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 ii. Did Mr. Knutson produce sufficient evidence that AGP
                 regarded him as disabled? ........................................988
                 c. Element 2: Qualified individual ........................................990
                 i. Defining essential functions, generally ............................990
                 ii. Are pulling bottom ash and rodding the stokers essential
                 functions of the job? .............................................991
                 d. Element 3: Causality ...................................................994
                 3. Sufficiency of the evidence—punitive damages ..............................999
                 a. Applicable standards ...................................................999
                 b. Analytical framework ..................................................1001
                 c. Malice or reckless indifference .......................................1002
                 B. Plaintiff's Motion for Prohibitory Injunction and Reinstatement .............1004
                 1. Prospective equitable relief available under the ADA .....................1004
                 2. Appropriateness of reinstatement .........................................1005
                 3. Prohibitory injunction ...................................................1011
                 4. Front pay ................................................................1011
                 C. Motion for Attorney's Fees ..................................................1012
                 1. Applicable standards .....................................................1012
                 2. Reasonable hourly rate ...................................................1013
                 3. Hours reasonably expended ................................................1016
                 a. Inadequate documentation of time ......................................1016
                 b. Partial success/dismissed claims ......................................1016
                 4. Calculation of attorney fee award ........................................1019
                 5. Is Mr. Knutson's counsel entitled to an enhancement of the
                 lodestar? ...............................................................1019
                 D. Recoverable Costs and Expenses ..............................................1020
                 1. Charges for the investigator .............................................1021
                 2. Other expenses ...........................................................1022
                III. CONCLUSION .....................................................................1022
                

After a two-day jury trial in this perceived disability employment discrimination case, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded the plaintiff backpay and punitive damages, apparently having determined that the plaintiff did not suffer any emotional distress damages resulting from the defendant's unlawful conduct. A flurry of post-trial motions followed the jury's disposition of this case. In these motions, the plaintiff seeks reinstatement, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees, costs, and expenses. The defendant contests each of the plaintiff's requests and, for its part, seeks judgment as a matter of law, claiming that the plaintiff failed to establish a perceived disability claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and its state-law counterpart under the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Furthermore, the defendant asserts that, even if he did establish such a claim, he is not entitled to punitive damages.

I. INTRODUCTION
A. Procedural History

On February 21, 2001, plaintiff Timothy J. Knutson filed a complaint against his former employer, defendant Ag Processing, Inc. ("AGP"), seeking damages resulting from his termination on March 13, 2000. In his complaint, Knutson alleged three causes of action: (1) a claim of disability discrimination pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; (2) a similar claim under the Iowa Civil Rights Act ("ICRA"), Iowa Code Chapter 216 et seq.; and (3) a state common law claim for retaliatory discharge in violation of public policy. On his disability discrimination claims, Mr. Knutson alleged that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA because he

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was actually disabled, perceived as disabled, and had a record of disability. With respect to his state common law claim, Mr. Knutson asserted that he was fired in retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits.

Defendant AGP answered Mr. Knutson's complaint on May 11, 2001, denying Mr. Knutson's claims and asserting various defenses. On September 4, 2002, AGP filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on each of Mr. Knutson's claims with the exception of his "perceived disability" claim. First, in its motion, defendant AGP claimed that Mr. Knutson was not "disabled" within the meaning of either the ADA or the ICRA because he was not actually disabled nor did he have a record of disability. Second, AGP claimed that Mr. Knutson's failure-to-accommodate claim was irrelevant because it did not discharge him because of any physical limitation but instead discharged him for violating AGP company policy when he made an unauthorized videotape inside AGP's energy plant, where he worked. Third, AGP asserted that Mr. Knutson could not establish the necessary elements for his claim of retaliatory discharge because he failed to demonstrate a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. AGP also asserted that Mr. Knutson could not show that its stated reason for terminating Mr. Knutson's employment, i.e., the videotaping, was pretextual.

After reviewing the parties' briefings and holding telephonic oral argument on the defendant's summary judgment motion, in an Order dated October 29, 2002, the court granted AGP's motion insofar as it argued Mr. Knutson did not have a record of disability and did not generate a genuine issue of material fact regarding his discharge in violation of public policy claim. The court, however, concluded that Mr. Knutson generated triable issues as to whether he had an actual disability and, therefore, denied AGP's summary judgment motion on that claims. Prior to trial, Mr. Knutson abandoned his claim that he was actually disabled. Thus, the sole claim that remained to be tried to the jury after the court's ruling on the defendant's summary judgment motion was Mr. Knutson's perceived disability discrimination claim.

The parties proceeded to trial beginning February 24, 2003 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. On February 26, 2003, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Knutson and awarded him $55,345.72 in backpay and $90,000.00 in punitive damages. The jury did not award him any past or future emotional distress damages and, furthermore, found that AGP failed to prove by the greater weight of the evidence that it would have terminated Mr. Knutson even if it had not considered his perceived limitations.

At trial and in these post-trial motions, Mr. Knutson was represented by Blake Parker of Blake Parker Law Office, Fort Dodge Iowa. On his request for attorney's fees, Mr. Knutson was also represented by Michael Carroll of Coppola, Sandre, McConville & Carroll, P.C., West Des Moines, Iowa. AGP was represented by Becky Knutson of Davis, Brown, Koehn, Shors & Robert, P.C., Des Moines, Iowa. Presently before the court are the defendant's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or, Alternatively, New Trial (Doc. No. 64); plaintiff's Motion for Prohibitory Injunction and Reinstatement (Doc. No. 62); and plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. No. 68).

The basis of AGP's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or, Alternatively, New Trial, which was brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50,1 centers

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6 practice notes
  • Richardson v. Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc., No. 02-60117-CV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • 24 Agosto 2004
    ...comply with Title VII. See, e.g., Lampley v. Onyx Acceptance Corp., 340 F.3d 478, 482 (7th Cir.2003); Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961, 1001 (N.D.Iowa General knowledge of anti-discrimination law and policy is sufficient to ascribe awareness that particular discriminatory a......
  • Dunbar v. Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers of Iowa, No. C02-3038-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • 7 Octubre 2003
    ...characteristic was a motivating factor for adverse employment action. Similarly, in a recent decision, Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961 (N.D.Iowa 2003), this court read Desert Palace to confirm the holdings of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that a protected characteris......
  • Zeigler v. Fisher-Price, Inc., No. C01-3089-PAZ.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • 8 Enero 2004
    ...of law recently were summarized by the Chief Judge of this district, the Honorable Mark W. Bennett, in Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961 (N.D.Iowa 2003), as The standards for a motion for judgment as a matter of law are outlined in Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Proce......
  • Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., No. C01-3015-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • 13 Febrero 2004
    ...jury's award of backpay and punitive damages in the amounts of $55,345.72 and $90,000, respectively. Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961, 1022-23 (N.D.Iowa 2003). On August 27, 2003, AGP filed a timely Notice of Appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on a number of issu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Richardson v. Tricom Pictures & Productions, Inc., No. 02-60117-CV.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
    • 24 Agosto 2004
    ...comply with Title VII. See, e.g., Lampley v. Onyx Acceptance Corp., 340 F.3d 478, 482 (7th Cir.2003); Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961, 1001 (N.D.Iowa General knowledge of anti-discrimination law and policy is sufficient to ascribe awareness that particular discriminatory a......
  • Dunbar v. Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers of Iowa, No. C02-3038-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • 7 Octubre 2003
    ...characteristic was a motivating factor for adverse employment action. Similarly, in a recent decision, Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961 (N.D.Iowa 2003), this court read Desert Palace to confirm the holdings of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that a protected characteris......
  • Zeigler v. Fisher-Price, Inc., No. C01-3089-PAZ.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • 8 Enero 2004
    ...of law recently were summarized by the Chief Judge of this district, the Honorable Mark W. Bennett, in Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961 (N.D.Iowa 2003), as The standards for a motion for judgment as a matter of law are outlined in Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Proce......
  • Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., No. C01-3015-MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • 13 Febrero 2004
    ...jury's award of backpay and punitive damages in the amounts of $55,345.72 and $90,000, respectively. Knutson v. Ag Processing, Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 961, 1022-23 (N.D.Iowa 2003). On August 27, 2003, AGP filed a timely Notice of Appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on a number of issu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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