Wobschall v. Ross

Citation488 F.Supp.3d 737
Decision Date22 September 2020
Docket NumberCase No. 19-CV-1796-JPS
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin
Parties ESTATE OF Mary J. WOBSCHALL, BY Special Administrator Ronald I. WOBSCHALL, Plaintiff, v. Dave ROSS, Craig Thompson, Kristina Boardman, State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and State of Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles, Defendants.

Todd R. Korb, Hupy and Abraham SC, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiff.

Jeffery A. Simcox, Rachel L. Bachhuber, Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General, Madison, WI, for Defendants.


J.P. Stadtmueller, U.S. District Judge

On January 9, 2019, Plaintiff, the Estate of Mary Wobschall, filed an amended complaint seeking declaratory relief and damages arising from an incident at the West Bend, Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") in which Mary Wobschall ("Wobschall") was forced to walk without the assistance of her mobility device in order to renew her driver's license. (Docket #4). As a result, Wobschall fell and sustained injuries, one of which required surgery. On January 23, 2020, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, (Docket #10), as well as a motion to stay discovery pending resolution of the motion to dismiss, (Docket #12). The motion to dismiss was fully briefed on February 27, 2020. Then, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint. (Docket #20). That motion, too, is fully briefed. For the reasons explained below, the motion to amend will be granted to the extent provided herein, the motion to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to stay will be denied. Additionally, the partiesjoint motion to amend the trial scheduling order (Docket #33) will be denied, and all dates embodied in the trial scheduling order (Docket #15) will be vacated pending resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to amend a complaint "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). Courts favor granting leave to amend, but they act within their discretion to deny such leave when there is a substantial reason to do so. Select Creations, Inc. v. Paliafito Am., Inc. , 830 F. Supp. 1213, 1216 (E.D. Wis. 1993). Such reasons include undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, or futility of the amendment. Foman v. Davis , 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962) ; Campania Mgmt. Co. v. Rooks, Pitts & Poust , 290 F.3d 843, 849 (7th Cir. 2002).

An amendment is futile when "the proposed amendment fails to cure the deficiencies in the original pleading, or could not survive a second motion to dismiss." Crestview Vill. Apartments v. U.S. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev. , 383 F.3d 552, 558 (7th Cir. 2004). In this way, the "standard is the same standard of legal sufficiency that applies under Rule 12(b)(6)." Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp. , 128 F.3d 1074, 1085 (7th Cir. 1997). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) provides for dismissal of complaints which, among other things, fail to state a viable claim for relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim, a complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In other words, the complaint must give "fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

In their briefs on the motion to amend, the parties each make significant reference to their earlier briefs on the motion to dismiss, often relying on arguments that were made at the motion to dismiss stage. In light of the posture of this case—wherein a motion to dismiss has been fully briefed, and a related motion to amend has also been fully briefed—the Court will evaluate the motion to amend with reference to the motion to dismiss briefing. This aligns with how the parties have drafted their own briefing on the motion to amend, and will assist in determining whether the proffered second amended complaint is futile.

2. Relevant Facts

2.1 Factual Background

The second amended complaint brings suit against David Ross ("Ross"), in his official capacity as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation; Craig Thompson ("Thompson"), in his official capacity as Secretary-Designee of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation; Kristina Boardman ("Boardman"), in her official capacity as Administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Motor Vehicles; and Debbie Hurst ("Hurst") in both her individual and official capacities; as well as the State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation ("WisDOT") and the DMV.

On June 11, 2018, Wobschall, a 78-year-old woman, and her husband, Ronald, went to the West Bend DMV to renew Wobschall's driver's license. At the time of renewal, Wobschall had been driving for sixty years and had a spotless driving record. Wobschall prepared for the license renewal process by undergoing an eye examination, which confirmed that Wobschall's eyesight was fit for driving and that she did not require any restrictions—not even corrective lenses.

A few years earlier, Wobschall had had both of her knees replaced. The surgery left her with some residual pain, and she used a cane to help her stand and walk. Thus, when she arrived at the DMV to renew her license, she used a cane to move around.

At some point during the appointment, Hurst, a DMV employee who was involved with Wobschall's license renewal application, told Wobschall that she needed to prove that she could walk from the examiner's station to a chair in the waiting area without the use of her cane in order to renew. Wobschall protested, and inquired how her ability to walk a certain distance was relevant to her license renewal. Hurst did not answer Wobschall's questions, but doubled down on the request. She took Wobschall's cane and instructed, "Have her walk without her cane."

Wobschall attempted to comply, and began to walk, unassisted, towards the chair that Hurst had arbitrarily designated as the end point. But without the assistance of her cane, Wobschall fell. When Wobschall fell, no DMV employee did anything to help her up. Ronald went to his wife's aid, and helped her into a nearby chair. Wobschall was shaken and humiliated.

As a result of this incident, Hurst denied Wobschall's license renewal request and gave her an MV3466 form, which instructed Wobschall to undergo a "general medical" examination "due to a fall at DMV + confusion" before she could renew her license. Hurst omitted her own name and badge number from the MV3466 form, and denied Wobschall a temporary license, as well. Hurst told Wobschall that she had until June 31, 2018 (Wobschall's birthday) to renew her license. This left Wobschall with only 20 days to get a medical examination before her driving privileges would be suspended. Because of her fall, Wobschall suffered several injuries and had to have surgery on her fractured

left wrist. The surgery and recovery period prevented Wobschall from timely renewing her license.

2.2 Wisconsin Law

Under Wis. Stat. § 343.16(3), which sets forth the criteria for examining license renewal applicants, the DMV must administer an eye examination once every eight years for a driver's license renewal, unless the person seeking renewal has medical documentation showing that she recently passed an eye examination. Wis. Stat. § 343.16(3). The provision does not allow DMV staff to perform any other kind of physical examination on a person seeking to renew her license. Thus, when Wobschall arrived at the DMV with her eye examination documents, she had fulfilled the basic statutory criteria to renew her license.

In some instances, if "the secretary has good cause to believe that a licensed operator is incompetent or otherwise not qualified to be licensed, the secretary may, upon written notice of at least 5 days to the licensee, require the licensee to submit to an examination" as required for first-time applicants; i.e., "a knowledge test and an actual demonstration in the form of a driving skills test." Id. § 343.16(6)(a), (1)(a). If the department "requires an examination for renewal of an operator's license," they must issue a receipt requesting such an examination, which constitutes a 60-day temporary license. Id. § 343.16(6)(b).

Relatedly, the secretary may ask "any licensed operator to submit to a special examination by such persons or agencies as the secretary may direct to determine incompetency , physical or mental disability

, disease, or any other condition that might prevent such ... licensed person from exercising reasonable and ordinary control over a motor vehicle." Id. § 343.16(5)(a) (emphasis added). In other words, the statute authorizes the DMV to tell the person seeking renewal whom she should receive a medical examination from, but the statute does not authorize the DMV to actually conduct the examination. Additionally, if the DMV receives the examination results and determines that the license should not be renewed, it must provide "[n]otice of denial or cancellation ... in writing and contain specific reasons," along with instructions of how to seek review of the decision. Id.

3. Analysis

3.1 WisDOT and DMV as Proper Defendants

As a preliminary matter, it appears that the DMV and WisDOT are duplicative defendants, since the DMV is part of WisDOT. See State of WisconsinDepartment of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) , https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/online-srvcs/external/dmv.aspx (last accessed August 31, 2020). Plaintiff has drawn the Court's attention to several cases in which a plaintiff sued a state's DMV. Duprey v. State of Conn., Dep't of Motor Vehicles , 28 F. Supp. 2d 702 (D. Conn. 1998) (suing "State of...

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