Williamson v. Georgia Dept. of Human Resources

Decision Date13 July 2001
Docket NumberNo. CV 100-069.,CV 100-069.
Citation150 F.Supp.2d 1375
PartiesWynetha WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff, v. GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES and Georgia Regional Hospital, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia

E. Brian Watkins, Augusta, GA, for plaintiff.

Annette M. Cowart, Christopher Andrew McGraw, Susan L. Rutherford, Gray, Hedrick & Edenfield, LLP, Atlanta, GA, for defendants.


BOWEN, Chief Judge.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff seeks damages for employment discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. ("ADA"), and for alleged violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-54 ("FMLA"). A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court affects the outcome of this matter. The Order of April 30, 2001 (Doc. No. 28) gave notice to the United States that the Court was considering the constitutionality of a congressional act. This Order also gave the government sixty days to intervene or present argument. The United States never responded. The motion for summary judgment is now ready for consideration. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's suit is DISMISSED for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Background

Georgia Regional Hospital is not a legal entity capable of being sued, but it is an institution of the Georgia Department of Human Resources. The Georgia Department of Human Resources is an agency of the State of Georgia. In effect, Plaintiff brings her ADA and FMLA claims against the State of Georgia.

For nearly 30 years, Plaintiff worked as a licensed practical nurse at Georgia Regional Hospital in Augusta. A licensed practical nurse administers medication to hospital patients. Typically, Plaintiff would pop, punch, or tear pills out of medicine packets before giving the pills to patients.

Plaintiff developed carpal tunnel syndrome later in her career. This condition interfered with Plaintiff's ability to administer medicine. Although Defendant assigned Plaintiff to clerical work for some time, Plaintiff also took a leave of absence. Eventually, however, she returned to her duties of dispensing medication. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant forced her to take leave in violation of the FMLA and failed to offer a reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA.

Plaintiff claims the State is liable for damages under the ADA and the FMLA. Defendant contends the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution immunizes it from Plaintiff's lawsuit. A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court and case law of the Eleventh Circuit provide guidance for resolving these issues.

II. Requirements for Summary Judgment

The Court should grant summary judgment only if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and ... the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Facts are "material" if they could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986), and must draw "all justifiable inferences in [its] favor," United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir.1991) (en banc) (internal punctuation and citations omitted).

The moving party has the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, the basis for the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). How to carry this burden depends on who bears the burden of proof at trial. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir.1993). If the movant bears the burden of proof at trial, that party "must show that, on all the essential elements of its case, ... no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." Four Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1438. On the other hand, if the non-movant has the burden of proof at trial, the movant may carry the initial burden in one of two ways — by negating an essential element of the non-movant's case or by showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the non-movant's case. See Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 606-08 (11th Cir.1991) (explaining Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970) and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)). Before the Court can evaluate the non-movant's response in opposition, it must first consider whether the movant has met its initial burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Jones v. City of Columbus, 120 F.3d 248, 254 (11th Cir.1997) (per curiam). A mere conclusory statement that the non-movant cannot meet the burden at trial is insufficient. Clark, 929 F.2d at 608.

If — and only if — the movant carries its initial burden, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment only by "demonstrat[ing] that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment." Id. Again, how to carry this burden depends on who bears the burden of proof at trial. If the movant has the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant may avoid summary judgment only by coming forward with evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505. If the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the non-movant must tailor its response to the method by which the movant carries its initial burden. If the movant presents evidence affirmatively negating a material fact, the non-movant "must respond with evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial on the material fact sought to be negated." Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1116. If the movant shows an absence of evidence on a material fact, the non-movant must either show that the record contains evidence that was "overlooked or ignored" by the movant or "come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency." Id. at 1116-17. The non-movant cannot carry its burden by relying on the pleadings or by repeating conclusory allegations contained in the complaint. See Morris v. Ross, 663 F.2d 1032, 1033-34 (11th Cir.1981). Rather, the non-movant must respond by affidavits or as otherwise provided by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.

The Clerk has given the non-moving party notice of the summary judgment motion and the summary judgment rules, of the right to file affidavits or other materials in opposition, and of the consequences of default. (Doc. No. 12.) Therefore, the notice requirements of Griffith v. Wainwright, 772 F.2d 822, 825 (11th Cir.1985) (per curiam), are satisfied. The time for filing materials in opposition has expired, and the motion is ripe for consideration.

III. Analysis

The Eleventh Amendment declares:

The Judicial power of the United Sates shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

U.S. Const. amend. XI. Interpretations of this Amendment have extended its application to "suits by citizens against their own states." Board of Trustees of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 121 S.Ct. 955, 962, 148 L.Ed.2d 866 (2001). Congress may abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity, but it must clearly express an intent to do so and must "act pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority." Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73, 120 S.Ct. 631, 145 L.Ed.2d 522 (2000). Courts have recently addressed the issue of whether Congress properly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity when it passed the ADA and the FMLA.

A. The ADA

In Garrett, the Supreme Court ruled that the Eleventh Amendment bars individuals from suing a State for money damages under Title I of the ADA. Garrett, 121 S.Ct. at 960; see also 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111-17 ("Title I") (prohibiting employment discrimination against disabled people). Congress made no findings of pervasive or recurring employment discrimination by the States. Garrett, 121 S.Ct. at 966. Consequently, the Court held that Congress went beyond its Fourteenth Amendment remedial authority when it applied Title I to the States. Id. at 960. Garrett did not extend this holding beyond Title I, and States' immunity from Title II suits remains an open question. Garrett, 121 S.Ct. at 960 n. 1; see 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-65 ("Title II") (banning public entities from discriminating against disabled people in provision of public services).

Garrett's limitation to Title I is pertinent to this case. Title II provides that:

no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

42 U.S.C. § 12132. A public entity includes divisions, departments, and agencies of state governments. § 12131(1)(A)(B). Although Title I specifically addresses employment discrimination by State governments, the Eleventh Circuit has interpreted the broad language of Title II also to include claims of employment discrimination. Bledsoe v. Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation Dist., 133 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir.1998); see 42 U.S.C. § 12132 (prohibiting States from "subject[ing] [disabled persons] to discrimination"). Given this interpretation, Plaintiff's allegations could fall under Title II. The Eleventh Circuit, however, has not addressed whether Title II still applies to the States in light of Garrett. The answer to this question depends on whether Congress properly exercised its power under the Fourteenth Amendment when it abrogated...

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