Riggs v. Bennett Cnty. Hosp. & Nursing Home

Decision Date31 March 2019
Docket NumberCIV. 16-5077-JLV
CourtU.S. District Court — District of South Dakota

Plaintiffs Joyce Riggs and Alfred Riggs filed a multi-count complaint against the defendant, Bennett County Hospital and Nursing Home, their former employer. (Docket 1). They allege unlawful discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12201 ("ADA"), the South Dakota anti-discrimination act, S.D.C.L. Chap. 20-13, and South Dakota common law. Id. at pp. 1-2. Defendant denies plaintiffs' claims. (Docket 6).

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, a statement of undisputed material facts with supporting exhibits and a supporting brief. (Dockets 20-22 & 23-1 through 23-37). Plaintiffs filed a brief in resistance to defendant's motion, together with a response to defendant's statement of undisputed facts and plaintiffs' statement of undisputed material facts with a supporting exhibit. (Dockets 27-28 & 29-1). Defendant filed a reply brief in support of its motion, together with defendant's response to plaintiffs' statement of undisputed material facts with a supporting exhibit. (Dockets 30-31 & 32-1). For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.


Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), a movant is entitled to summary judgment if the movant can "show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Once the moving party meets its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in the pleadings, but rather must produce affirmative evidence setting forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law will properly preclude summary judgment. Id. at p. 248. "[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." Id. at 247-48 (emphasis in original).

If a dispute about a material fact is genuine, that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. However, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party failed to "make asufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In such a case, "there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at p. 323.

In determining whether summary judgment should issue, the facts and inferences from those facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). The key inquiry is "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." Anderson, 477 U.S. at pp. 251-52.


The following recitation consists of the material facts developed from the complaint (Docket 1 at pp. 2-13), defendant's answer (Docket 6), the parties' statements of undisputed material facts (Dockets 22 & 28 at pp. 12-14), the parties' responses to the opposing party's statements of undisputed material facts (Dockets 28 & 31) and other evidence where indicated.1 Where a statement of fact is admitted by the opposing party, the court will onlyreference the initiating document. These facts are "viewed in the light most favorable to the [party] opposing the motion." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. The facts material to defendant's motion for summary judgment are as follows.

Joyce Riggs began working at the Bennett County Hospital and Nursing Home ("Bennett County") in 2006. (Docket 22 ¶ 1). Joyce's husband, Alfred Riggs, was also employed by Bennett County as the ambulance director. Id. ¶ 2. Joyce worked as a dietary aide, purchasing-central supply-accounts payable clerk, medication aide-certified nursing assistant, and an emergency medical technician ("EMT") during her tenure at Bennett County. Id. ¶ 3. During her employment, Joyce received reprimands for poor work performance, including: acting outside her scope of practice, unacceptable conduct, inappropriate communication with others, engaging in inappropriate behavior with a male nurse, and criticizing other staff members. Id. ¶ 4. During the time period immediately preceding Joyce's termination, she worked in central supply, Monday through Friday, and served as an on-call EMT for the Bennett County ambulance service. Id. ¶ 5. Some of Joyce's primary responsibilities in central supply included receiving goods, stocking shelves, recording delivery of supplies, sterilizing all sterile supplies and medical waste disposal. Id. ¶ 7.The central supply room is where all sterile patient supplies were maintained.2 Id. ¶ 6. Joyce was responsible for maintaining her work area in a clean manner, using the sterilizer machine, preparing invoices and maintaining inventory. Id. ¶ 8.

Throughout her employment, Joyce regularly brought her dogs to work, namely: "Katie," a Catahoula, "Peabody," a miniature Dachshund, and "Cheikah," a Dalmatian-Bluetick Coonhound.3 Id. ¶ 9. Joyce's dogs were rarely restrained and often urinated throughout Bennett County's facilities.4 Id. ¶ 10. Lynn Ward, a registered nurse, documented the following:

As a floor nurse on the hospital side prior to my present position, I had many encounters with Joyce Riggs and her dogs in the facility. I had requested to Joyce that she keep her dogs out of the hospital side of the facility while I was working as I had numerous timescleaned up dog urine from the floor, and didn't feel it was appropriate in an acute care setting. The dogs were often found running in the hallway or down the passage to the nursing home. The dogs were seldom on a leash.5

Id. ¶ 11. Registered nurse Jennifer Risse, the director of nursing in the nursing home side of Bennett County, noted "there were a number of times where I witnessed Joyce Riggs bringing her dogs to work with her. The dogs were never restrained and would run freely throughout the hospital."6 Id. ¶ 12; see also Docket 23-30 at pp. 3:7-8:7 In a 2012 memorandum, RN Risse wrote:

[Cheikah] was friendly enough and some of the residents did enjoy her. The issue became that [Joyce] would not follow the policy and keep her dog restrained or out of the dining area. The dog would wander freely in and out of resident rooms and at times had an issue of getting excited and urinating on the floor. This was not only an Infection Control issue, but also a safety issue for our residents.8

Id. ¶ 13. Joyce's supervisor, Katie Dillon, cleaned up urine from all three dogsas well as Peabody's bowel movements.9 Id. ¶ 14. Ms. Dillon reported "[o]ne incident happened with the Catahoula [Katie] where she was afraid and voided on an upholstered chair down by the emergency/x-ray area. Joyce spent quite awhile [sic] shampooing upholstery that day."10 Id. ¶ 15.

Alfred admitted Joyce's dogs were not always restrained, "there were some times I did not see a leash, but they were always with Joyce or they were-you know, may not necessarily be right beside her . . . ." Id. ¶ 16. Joyce acknowledged an occasion where one of her dogs ate food off a plate on the floor in the TV room. (Docket 23-28 at pp. 19:7-11 & 20:10-20). Maintenance manager Lenny Allison was upset about the dog eating food off a resident's plate. (Docket 22 ¶ 18). He yelled and kicked at Joyce's dog. Id. Mr. Allison and Joyce screamed and swore at each other in the presence of the residents. Id. This incident prompted RN Risse to request the implementation of a pet policy. Id. In June 2012, Bennett County implemented a "Pet Policy." Id. ¶ 19; see also Docket 23-9.

In August 2012, Ethel Martin became the CEO of Bennett County.11 (Docket 22 ¶ 22). Ms. Martin, formerly Ethel Frein, had been an employee of Bennett County since 1999. (Docket 1 ¶ 7). In September 2012, CEO Martin implemented a "Pet Visitation Policy." (Docket 22 ¶ 24; see also Docket 23-100. The Pet Visitation Policy allowed pets to be in Bennett County's facilities only for visitation purposes and restricted pets from the dining area, food preparation areas, laundry, supply storage areas, medication preparation areas and isolation areas. (Docket 22 ¶ 25). The policy required that at all times the animals must be supervised and restrained on a leash. Id. ¶ 26.

On November 29, 2012, Joyce was suspended for the afternoon and the next day as the result of a conflict with another employee.12 Id. ¶ 33. Later that day, Joyce attempted suicide. Id. ¶ 35. She was transported to the Rapid City Regional Hospital ("RCRH"). Id. ¶ 36. Her RCRH medical recordscharted an assessment of "[m]ajor depressive disorder, recurrent, severe without psychotic features" and "[r]ule out posttraumatic stress disorder" ("PTSD"). Id.; see also Docket 23-16 at p. 4. The discharge summary on December 2, 2012, contained the same two assessments. (Docket 22 ¶ 37; see also Docket 23-17 at p. 1).

When Joyce returned to work, CEO Martin and Ms. Dillon met with Joyce to follow-up on her suspension and to ensure she was able to return to work.13 Id. ¶ 38. CEO Martin instructed Joyce to let Ms. Dillon know if Joyce was having a bad day and she would be allowed to go home.14 Id. ¶ 39.

Joyce had no write-ups or outbursts for...

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