Pappas v. Dist. of Columbia

Decision Date12 January 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 19-2800 (RC)
Citation513 F.Supp.3d 64
Parties Steve PAPPAS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Andrew David Levy, Eve L. Hill, Brown, Goldstein & Levy, L.L.P., Baltimore, MD, Cyrus Mehri, Lauren M. Nussbaum, Ellen L. Eardley, Mehri & Skalet, PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Micah Ian Bluming, Michael A. Tilghman, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Steve Pappas, Tawana Lindsay, Nichole Mathies, and Malachi Malik, former employees of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD"), brought this class action against MPD, the District of Columbia, and Peter Newsham in his official capacity as Chief of Police of the MPD (collectively, the "Defendants"), challenging the MPD's practice of requiring employees who spend 172 cumulative days within any 24-month period at less than full-duty status to take disability retirement, without offering reasonable accommodations through reassignment, job restructuring, or extended leave. They argue this policy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (" Section 504"), 29 U.S.C §§ 794, et. seq. Mr. Pappas also alleges that the MPD made improper medical inquiries and subjected him to improper medical examinations, in violation of the same statutes. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, arguing that (1) Ms. Lindsay, Ms. Mathies, and Mr. Malik have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as to their ADA claims, (2) that Ms. Lindsay, Ms. Mathies, and Mr. Malik's Section 504 claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, (3) that all Plaintiffs have failed to plead a failure to accommodate claim under the ADA or Section 504, and (4) that Mr. Pappas has failed to state a claim for improper medical inquiries. The Court finds that due to the doctrine of vicarious exhaustion, only Mr. Malik has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies regarding his ADA claims, but that Ms. Lindsay, Ms. Mathies, and Mr. Malik's Section 504 claims are all barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The remaining failure to accommodate claims—Mr. Pappas's claims under both the ADA and Section 504 and Ms. Lindsay and Ms. Mathies's claims under the ADA—survive this motion to dismiss, when given (as required) all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs’ favor. But because Mr. Pappas has not alleged sufficient facts to plausibly infer that he was subjected to improper medical inquiries given that the inquiries in question were job-related, the Court will also grant the motion to dismiss his improper medical inquiries claims under the ADA and Section 504.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND1
A. Plaintiffs’ Background and Employment at MPD

Plaintiffs Mr. Pappas, Ms. Lindsay, Ms. Mathies, and Mr. Malik are all former MPD officers who developed medical conditions that caused them to go on leave or be moved to limited duty roles. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21–23, 30–32, 37–41, 45–49, ECF No. 8. They allege that pursuant to MPD General Order 100.11.L, they were required to take involuntary disability retirement after accruing 172 days on sick leave or limited-duty status within a 24-month period for "any disability that occurs outside the performance of duty."2 Id. ¶ 54. Under this policy ("Forced Retirement Policy"), MPD does not allow any possibility of reassignment, job restructuring or extended leave. Id. Disability retirement is mandatory "regardless of whether the medical prognosis is that a member will be able to perform in a full duty status after reaching maximum medical improvement." Id. Plaintiffs assert that this policy violates both the ADA and Section 504. Id. ¶ 4.

While employed as an MPD officer in 2013, Mr. Pappas developed congestive heart failure and was subsequently assigned to a limited-duty position. Id. ¶¶ 21, 23. During his limited duty assignment, Mr. Pappas was periodically required to provide medical records of his ongoing treatment, and MPD also communicated directly with his treating physicians. Id. ¶ 24. Per MPD policy, on March 6, 2015, he was required to take disability retirement after he accrued 172 work days within a two-year period at limited-duty status. Id. ¶¶ 26–27. This occurred even though Mr. Pappas had a doctor's report from October 17, 2014 that stated "he was hopeful" that Mr. Pappas would fully recover by April 17, 2015. Id. ¶ 27. MPD refused to accommodate Mr. Pappas by either "restructuring his position, authorizing additional leave, or permitting him to continue in a limited duty position." Id. While on limited duty, Mr. Pappas applied for an open civilian position at MPD, but despite being qualified for the position, he did not receive an interview. Id. ¶ 25. MPD also did not attempt to engage in efforts to determine if Mr. Pappas was qualified for any vacant positions in the MPD, despite vacant positions for which he was qualified. Id. ¶ 28–29.

In September 2014, Ms. Lindsay began experiencing severe foot and ankle pain such that her podiatrist required her to wear an ambulatory walking boot. Id. ¶¶ 30–31. As a result, MPD placed her on limited duty. Id. ¶ 31. Four months later, Ms. Lindsay had foot and ankle surgery in order to repair her fallen arch. Id. ¶ 32. From the date of her surgery on February 24, 2015 through April 28, 2015, she took sick leave to recover from her surgery. Id. She returned to limited duty on April 28, 2015. Id. On December 7, 2015, MPD required that Ms. Lindsay take disability retirement after she reached the 172-day limit for combined sick leave or being on a limited duty assignment. Id. ¶ 34. She alleges that her retirement was required despite the fact that she had a note from her physician indicating that she would fully recover within six to twelve months after her surgery. Id. ¶ 33. MPD denied Ms. Lindsay's request to postpone her disability retirement hearing for six months, which would have allowed the hearing to occur one-year after her surgery, and by the time that, according to her doctor, she was expected to be able to return to full duty. Id. ¶¶ 33–34. Ms. Lindsay also alleges that despite the availability of vacant positions within MPD for which she was qualified during this period she was on limited duty, "MPD did not ... make a reasonable effort to reassign [her] to any vacant position or provide other reasonable accommodations." Id. ¶¶ 35–36.

Ms. Mathies injured her ankle while on duty as an MPD officer on August 4, 2014. Id. ¶ 37. She was diagnosed as having suffered a "high ankle sprain" by MPD doctors who recommended physical therapy. Id. ¶ 38. In the meantime, Ms. Mathies was placed on sick leave. Id. One month later, an MRI showed that Ms. Mathies would need surgery, which she underwent first on October 18, 2014 and then also completed a follow-up procedure on June 25, 2015. Id. ¶¶ 39–40. After her surgeries, MPD did not offer Ms. Mathies light duty or any other accommodation, such as by restructuring her position, authorizing additional leave, or permitting her to continue in a limited duty position. Id. ¶ 40, 42. She was involuntarily retired on October 23, 2015, after she reached the 172-day limit for combined sick leave and limited duty assignment. See id. ¶ 41. Her disability retirement occurred despite the fact that Ms. Mathies's doctors believed she could return to active duty "six to twelve months after a third surgery." Id. ¶ 41. Ms. Mathies also alleges that despite the availability of vacant positions within MPD for which she was qualified during the period she was on limited duty, "MPD did not ... make a reasonable effort to reassign [her] to any vacant position or provide other reasonable accommodations." Id. ¶¶ 43–44.

Mr. Malik experienced a back injury in June of 2016, while on duty at a community outreach event. Id. ¶ 45. He later underwent back surgery as a result, and remained on sick leave until February or March of 2017, when he returned to work in a limited-duty capacity. Id. ¶ 46. However, this injury aggravated an underlying heart condition, and as a result MPD cardiologists determined he needed a defibrillator. Id. Mr. Malik was informed that "after the defibrillator was installed, he would no longer be eligible to work for MPD." Id. ¶ 47. He had the defibrillator surgery in September 2017, and never returned to work. Id. ¶ 48. Mr. Malik was involuntarily retired on June 25, 2018. Id. ¶ 49. He alleges this action was made expressly on the basis of his disability, despite the fact that his doctors predicted he would fully recover from the heart surgery. Id. He also claims that MPD "made no individualized inquiry into whether [he] could perform the essential functions of his job after the surgery" and that there was "no basis to believe" "[he] could not fully perform the scope of his position as a Police Officer." Id. ¶ 51. He also states that MPD did not involuntarily retire another police officer who had a defibrillator. Id. Like the other Plaintiffs, MPD refused to accommodate Mr. Malik by restructuring his position, authorizing additional leave, or permitting him to continue in a limited duty position, and made no reasonable effort to reassign Mr. Malik to any vacant position—of which there were some available for which Mr. Malik was qualified—or make other reasonable accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 50, 52–53.

Plaintiffs also allege that throughout their employment with MPD they were subject to two other MPD policies and practices, in addition to MPD General Order 100.11.L, "which violated the ADA and Section 504." Id. ¶¶ 54–56. MPD General Order 100.11.V.B. required "law enforcement personnel to report to the Police and Fire Clinic for ‘medical evaluation’ whenever they experience any ‘off-duty...

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