Lassiter v. Reno

Decision Date15 May 1995
Docket NumberNo. 3:94CV626.,3:94CV626.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesAlbert LASSITER, Plaintiff, v. Janet RENO, et al., Defendants.


Jay Joseph Levit, John B. Mann, Levit & Mann, Richmond, VA, for plaintiff.

Nicholas Stephan Altimari, U.S. Attorney's Office, Richmond, VA, for defendant.


RICHARD L. WILLIAMS, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the defendants' Motion to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

I. Background

From January 12, 1970 until his discharge on May 1, 1992, plaintiff Albert Lassiter worked as a Deputy United States Marshal for the United States Marshal Service ("USMS") in the Richmond Division of the Eastern District of Virginia. In November 1990, plaintiff began to suspect that his elderly next-door neighbor was conspiring with several unidentified individuals to burglarize his home in Midlothian, Virginia. Plaintiff noticed, for instance, that his neighbor's daughter followed him to work one day, and that several vehicles drove slowly through his neighborhood on a daily basis. Plaintiff reported his observations to the Chesterfield County Police Department, which conducted an investigation and concluded that no burglary conspiracy existed. Defs.' Ex. 2 at 8.

During the next month, however, plaintiff pretended to be away from home in the hopes of apprehending the burglars when they broke into his residence. Plaintiff refused to answer his telephone, turn on his lights, and flush his toilets for fear that such actions would alert someone that he was home. In particular, plaintiff armed himself with Government-issued and privately-owned weapons in order to defend himself against the burglars. Id. at 3.

On December 24, 1990, the Chesterfield County police responded to a telephone call from plaintiff to find him armed with an automatic weapon, two magazine rounds, a night-vision scope, and a bulletproof vest. The police obtained a Temporary Detention Order directing that plaintiff be committed to Charter Westbrook Hospital in Richmond, Virginia for psychiatric evaluation. After an initial court-ordered detention, plaintiff voluntarily admitted himself to the hospital, where he remained until January 17, 1991. The record indicates that during and after plaintiff's hospitalization, plaintiff continued to believe that individuals around him were conspiring against him. Id. at 10-14.

On January 30, 1991, a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Thomas Mathews examined plaintiff and diagnosed him as suffering from a delusional paranoid personality disorder. Dr. Mathews further stated that while plaintiff was not precluded from general employment with USMS, he should be relieved of his weapon and of any duties that would necessitate his carrying a weapon. Defs.' Ex. 4 at 3. When USMS officials explained that one of the essential duties of plaintiff's position was to carry a firearm, Dr. Mathews responded that plaintiff's inability to carry a weapon rendered him medically unfit for duty as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Defs.' Exs. 5-6. Accordingly, on May 1, 1992, USMS terminated plaintiff on the grounds that he was medically unfit to perform the functions of a Deputy U.S. Marshal.

On May 12, 1992, plaintiff appealed USMS' decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board ("MSPB"). Following a hearing conducted on August 6 and 19, 1992, an MSPB Administrative Judge issued an initial decision that affirmed plaintiff's removal and found that USMS did not discriminate against plaintiff in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended 29 U.S.C. § 791, et seq. Defs.' Ex. 2. In particular, the Administrative Judge accorded more weight to Dr. Mathews' testimony than that of plaintiff's expert witnesses, who maintained that plaintiff suffered from a paranoid personality disorder but was not delusional. The Administrative Judge asserted that plaintiff's experts had examined plaintiff months after his hospitalization and at any rate were "results oriented." Id. at 22-24. On December 21, 1993, the MSPB affirmed its initial ruling, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later concurred with the MSPB's findings. Defs.' Exs. 3 and 8.

Plaintiff subsequently commenced this action against USMS, Attorney General Janet Reno, Helen Fahey, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Eduardo Gonzalez, the Director of USMS. Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Virginia Human Rights Act, Virginia Code § 2.1-715, by discharging plaintiff and failing to make reasonable accommodations for his disability. Plaintiff seeks the following relief: a declaratory judgment that defendants violated the above statutes and engaged in a conspiracy prohibited under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); reinstatement; lost wages and benefits; nominal, general, and compensatory damages; and attorneys' fees and costs.

II. Discussion

In moving to dismiss and/or for summary judgment, defendants make the following assertions: (1) that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the Virginia Human Rights Act; (2) that defendants USMS, Fahey, and Gonzalez are not proper parties to this action; and (3) that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's remaining claims under the Rehabilitation Act. All of these arguments are valid.

A. Plaintiff's Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the Virginia Human Rights Act

As an initial matter, defendants state that plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the Virginia Human Rights Act should be dismissed because the Rehabilitation Act provides exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act obligates federal agencies to "provide adequate hiring, placement, and advancement opportunities for individuals with disabilities." 29 U.S.C. § 791(b). Similarly, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States ... shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency.

29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The procedural and substantive provisions of Titles VII and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply to claims brought under sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, respectively. 29 U.S.C. § 794a(a). Plaintiff has asserted claims under both sections of the Rehabilitation Act.1

Defendants submit that the Rehabilitation Act provides the exclusive means of redressing claims of handicap discrimination in federal employment. See 29 U.S.C. § 794a(a); see also Brown v. General Servs. Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402 (1976) (Title VII provides exclusive judicial remedy for claims of discrimination in federal employment). Thus, defendants contend that this Court has no subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the Virginia Human Rights Act. In responding to defendants' motion, plaintiff did not address this argument. Since plaintiff apparently does not oppose defendants' motion on these grounds, the Court dismisses plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the Virginia Human Rights Act.

B. Plaintiff's Claims Against Defendants USMS, Fahey, and Gonzalez

Title VII provides that plaintiff may bring his employment discrimination suit under the Rehabilitation Act against "the head of the department, agency, or unit, as appropriate," in his or her official capacity. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16(c); see also Johnson v. Burnley, 887 F.2d 471, 475 (4th Cir.1989); DiPompo v. West Point Military Academy, 708 F.Supp. 540, 544 (S.D.N.Y.1989). Defendants acknowledge that plaintiff may therefore bring this action against defendant Reno, who, in her official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, has overall supervisory authority over USMS. Defendants submit, however, that plaintiff's claims against defendants USMS, Fahey, and Gonzalez should be dismissed because these defendants are not proper parties to this action. Again, plaintiff did not respond to this argument.

Although the language of § 2000e-16(c) would permit plaintiff to assert his Rehabilitation Act claims against defendant Gonzalez, the Court agrees that plaintiff may not sue more than one department or agency head in his or her official capacity. Thus, the Court grants defendants' motion on these grounds and dismisses plaintiff's claims against defendants USMS, Fahey, and Gonzalez.

C. Plaintiff's Rehabilitation Act Claims
1. Standard of Review

Defendants further contend that they are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff's claims under the Rehabilitation Act.2 A moving party is entitled to summary judgment where the record establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir.1994). In considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Shaw, 13 F.3d at 798 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2514, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).

To demonstrate a prima facie case of disability discrimination, plaintiff must establish the following: (1) that he is a "disabled" individual; (2) that he is "otherwise qualified" for the Deputy U.S. Marshal position; and (3) that he was removed from his position as a result of his disability. Walders v. Garrett, 765 F.Supp. 303, 308 (E.D.Va. 1991), aff'd, 956 F.2d 1163 (4th Cir.1992) (citations omitted). If plaintiff makes out a prima facie case, the...

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  • Rivera v. Heyman, 96 Civ. 4489(PKL).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • October 7, 1997
    ...and § 794a provides the exclusive judicial remedy for Rivera's claim. See DiPompo, 708 F.Supp. at 547; see also Lassiter v. Reno, 885 F.Supp. 869, 872-73 (E.D.Va.1995), aff'd, 86 F.3d 1151 (4th Cir.1996), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 766, 136 L.Ed.2d 712 (1997) (dismissing state hu......
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    ... ... employees can seek redress for employment ... discrimination”); Lassiter v. Reno , 885 ... F.Supp. 869, 872 (E.D. Va. 1995) (dismissing disability ... discrimination claim under the Virginia Human Rights Act as ... ...
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    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of North Carolina
    • September 6, 1997
    ...but he may only name the head of the agency, department, or unit for which he works as the defendant. See Lassiter v. Reno, 885 F.Supp. 869 (E.D.Va.1995), aff'd, 86 F.3d 1151 (4th Cir.1996), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 117 S.Ct. 766, 136 L.Ed.2d 712 (1997) (non-agency head defendants motion......
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