Maxwell v. Verde Valley Ambulance Co.

Decision Date10 September 2014
Docket NumberNo. CV-13-08044-PCT-BSB,CV-13-08044-PCT-BSB
PartiesMatthew Maxwell, Plaintiff, v. Verde Valley Ambulance Company Incorporated, Defendant.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona

Matthew Maxwell, Plaintiff,
Verde Valley Ambulance Company Incorporated, Defendant.

No. CV-13-08044-PCT-BSB


September 10, 2014


In this employment case,1 Plaintiff Matthew Maxwell (Plaintiff or Maxwell) alleges that Defendant Verde Valley Ambulance Company (Defendant or VVAC) discriminated against him based on disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, by terminating his employment and by failing to provide reasonable accommodations. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff also alleges that VVAC retaliated against him for engaging in protected activity. (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff alleges that VVAC violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) by acquiring genetic information in an employment medical examination. (Id.)

Defendant VVAC has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims (Counts 1 - 6). (Doc. 40.) Defendant asserts that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act because he is

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not disabled as defined in those Acts and, therefore, Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Id.) Defendant also asserts that even if Plaintiff established disability, his claims would nonetheless fail as a matter of law because his employment was not terminated because of any disability and, therefore, he cannot establish causation for his discrimination and retaliation claims. Defendant also moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's GINA claim (Count 7), arguing that it did not improperly acquire any genetic information. Finally, Defendant moves for summary judgment because it argues that there is no evidence to support an award of punitive damages. (Docs. 37, 38.)

Plaintiff has also moved for summary judgment. He asserts that he is disabled as a matter of law under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act and, therefore, the Court should enter partial summary judgment in his favor on the issue of his disability under the statutes. (Doc. 37.) Plaintiff also moves for summary judgment on his GINA claim because he argues that VVAC acquired genetic information. (Id.) For the reasons below, the Court denies Defendant's motion in part, and grants it in part, and denies Plaintiff's motion.

I. Factual Background

In 2000, several years before Plaintiff worked for VVAC, he was in a motorcycle accident and suffered injuries to several ligaments, tendons, nerves, and bones in his left leg (leg injury). (PSOF ¶¶ 3-4.)2 Plaintiff currently takes over-the-counter medications (Motrin) on a regular basis and does a weekly home exercise program. (PSOF ¶ 12.) Plaintiff asserts that he has drop foot, a limp, and regularly "trips over his toes." (PSOF ¶¶ 9, 17.) He also uses a knee brace whenever he "expects that there is above average danger that he could injure himself, step wrong, twist wrong, or do anything else that concerns him." (PSOF ¶ 11.) Plaintiff complains of "pain, inflammation, crepitus, drop foot, lack of range of motion, [muscle atrophy], [numbness] in his lower extremity, phantom nerve pains, and [hammertoe]." (PSOF ¶ 13.) Plaintiff states that he can only participate in activities that require the use of his legs for a limited amount of time due to

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restricted blood flow, swelling, and pain. (PSOF ¶ 14.) He also states that he is at risk of injuring himself if he does not pay attention to how he steps. (Id.)

In 2005, Plaintiff started working at VVAC as a reserve paramedic. (PSOF ¶ 2; DSOF ¶ 3.)3 He was later promoted to the position of captain paramedic (Captain). (Doc. 1 at 2.) In January 2011, VVAC EMS Chief Kim Moore discovered that Plaintiff had used a VVAC computer assigned to the three captain paramedics (Captains' computer) to create a business plan for a medical marijuana business, Verde Valley Medicinal Supply (VVMS). (DSOF ¶ 5-6.) On January 6, 2011, Moore met with Plaintiff and advised him that his activities violated VVAC's policies prohibiting personal use of company property. (DSOF ¶ 7.) Moore directed Plaintiff to remove the VVMS documents from the VVAC computer. (DSOF ¶¶ 9-10.) Moore prepared a memorandum confirming her meeting with Plaintiff. (DSOF ¶ 8.)

On January 26, 2011, VVAC Board Chair, Allen Muma, sent Plaintiff a letter regarding his business activities. (DSOF ¶ 12.) Muma advised Plaintiff that the VVAC Board of Directors was opposed to any VVAC employee being involved in a medical marijuana business. (DSOF ¶ 13) Muma stated that Plaintiff would be "terminated immediately" if VVAC obtained additional information that Plaintiff was still involved in a medical marijuana business. (DSOF ¶ 14.)

In April 2011, Plaintiff failed to provide a required report for two months. (DSOF ¶ 15.) Moore issued Plaintiff a letter of reprimand stating that he had failed to complete his responsibilities as a Captain and that she was reassigning the task of preparing the report for "pre-hospital" to another Captain. (DSOF ¶ 17.)

In May 2011, VVAC moved into a new building. (DSOF ¶ 20.) VVAC asserts that shortly after moving into the new building, Moore found computer files related to VVMS on the Captains' computer and that these files were not the same files she found in January 2011. (DSOF ¶ 23; Doc. 41, Ex. 1 at 45, 84-85.) VVAC asserts that Moore

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decided to terminate Plaintiff's employment upon that discovery. (DSOF ¶ 24.) During that same time, Moore learned that Plaintiff had been telling co-workers that he was going to sue VVAC if he fell down the stairs due to an alleged disability. (DSOF ¶ 25) Moore discussed this issue with Plaintiff on May 16, 2011 and he advised her that he was disabled as a result of his leg injury and that he needed a first-floor bedroom. (DSOF ¶ 26.)

Moore consulted with Muma about Plaintiff's employment. (DSOF ¶ 28.) Moore told Muma that Plaintiff claimed to have a disability. (Muma depo. at 15.)4 Muma advised Moore that they should send Plaintiff to a physician to determine if he was disabled before proceeding with termination proceedings. (Id.) Muma stated that he concluded that Moore had already decided to terminate Plaintiff when she met with Muma in May 2011. (Muma depo. at 45.)

On May 30, 2011, after meeting with Muma, Moore sent Plaintiff to Scott D. Bingham, D.O., at Verde Valley Urgent Care to determine whether Plaintiff was qualified to engage in his work duties. (PSOF ¶ 21; DSOF ¶ 27.) Dr. Bingham noted that Plaintiff had good motor function in both legs, did not display any difficulty or a limp walking, and he had no difficulty stepping onto a stool with either leg. (Bingham depo at 30; DSOF ¶¶ 33-34.)5 Dr. Bingham opined that Plaintiff could perform the functions of his job. (DSOF ¶ 38.) On June 1, 2011, Dr. Bingham sent VVAC a letter reporting his May 30, 2011 examination. (DSOF ¶ 39.) The letter stated that Plaintiff had been in an accident in 2000 but was currently in "good physical condition" and could "perform his current job with no limitations." (DSOF ¶ 40.)

After Moore received Dr. Bingham's letter, she terminated Plaintiff on June 1, 2011. (DSOF ¶ 42.) VVAC asserts that it terminated Plaintiff based on Moore's discovery of VVMS documents on a VVAC computer in May 2011, Plaintiff's past

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disciplinary issues, and dissension caused by Plaintiff's threats to fall down the stairs and sue VVAC. (DSOF ¶ 41.)

II. Summary Judgment Standard

A party seeking summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

III. "Disability" under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act

The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment arguing that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of disability. For his failure to accommodate and discrimination claims under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act (Counts 1, 2, 4 and 5), Plaintiff must establish that he has a disability, as defined in these statutes.6

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To establish a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must show that he: (1) is "disabled" within the meaning of the statute; (2) is a "qualified individual" (he is able to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodations); and (3) suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability. See Samper v. Providence St. Vincent Med. Ctr., 675 F.3d 1233, 1237 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), (b)(5)(A) (requiring reasonable accommodation)).

Defendant acknowledges that Plaintiff was "qualified" and does not dispute that termination is an "adverse employment...

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