Wolsky v. Eastern Virginia Medical Authority

Decision Date29 July 1992
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 2:92cv319.
Citation795 F. Supp. 171
PartiesChristopher WOLSKY, Plaintiff, v. EASTERN VIRGINIA MEDICAL AUTHORITY, formerly Norfolk Area Medical Center Authority and now Medical College of Hampton Roads, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Gary Clarence Byler, Virginia Beach, Va., for plaintiff.

David Kegebein Sutelan, Norfolk, Va., for defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

MORGAN, District Judge.

Procedural History

On April 23, 1992, Christopher Wolsky (hereafter "PLAINTIFF" or "WOLSKY") filed a complaint in this court demanding trial by jury on his allegations in Count I that the Eastern Virginia Medical Authority (a/k/a Medical College of Hampton Roads) (hereafter "DEFENDANT" or "MEDICAL SCHOOL") discriminated against him in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. Section 794) (hereafter "REHABILITATION ACT") and in Count II that the Medical School breached its contract with him. In response, on June 11, 1992, defendant moved this court to dismiss Count I of plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) as a matter of law or, in the alternative, to strike plaintiff's claim for compensatory and punitive damages, as well as his jury demand, under Count I. Defendant further moved this court for a more specific pleading and to strike plaintiff's claim for punitive damages and compensatory damages arising from plaintiff's alleged emotional distress under Count II. The parties have fully briefed the issues presented by defendant's motion and the motion is now ripe for decision.

Facts

In considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, every allegation of the complaint must be taken as admitted by the defendant. Tahir Erk v. Glenn L. Martin Co., 116 F.2d 865, 867 (4th Cir.1941). An examination of plaintiff's complaint in this case reveals the following facts:

1) The Medical School receives financial assistance from the United States Department of Education, making it subject to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; plaintiff is a qualified handicapped person under the Act with respect to postsecondary education.

2) Plaintiff, at the age of 20, was diagnosed as having a hereditary neuroendocrine condition known as "Panic Disorder." Following his diagnosis, plaintiff completed his pre-medical studies and scored well enough on an entrance examination to qualify for admission to the Medical School. Plaintiff successfully completed his first year at the Medical School.

3) In January of 1987, plaintiff opted to receive treatment for his condition from a resident in training at the Medical School. The resident determined that plaintiff was addicted to Benodiazepine, the medication he took to control his condition. In response to a threat from the resident that she would tell the administration of the Medical School that plaintiff was a "Benodiazepine addict," plaintiff withdrew from the use of Benodiazepine and began taking an alternate medication prescribed by the resident.

4) After the change in medication, plaintiff developed severe insomnia, ataxia, slurred speech, daytime drowsiness and double vision, among other symptoms.

5) Plaintiff's second year grades declined substantially from those of his first year. After failing a ten (10) day course in January of 1988, plaintiff was told that he would have to repeat his second year. At some point, plaintiff related the resident's threats and the change in his medication to the Medical School's Progress Committee; he was subsequently given a Fellowship in the Pharmacology Department and able to successfully complete his second year.

6) During his third year, plaintiff continued to suffer from insomnia related to the resident's treatment of him. Plaintiff passed all but one of his third-year classes. Plaintiff was not allowed to repeat this class and was, subsequently, dismissed from the Medical School.

7) In both August of 1990 and February of 1991, plaintiff requested but was denied readmittance to the Medical School. At the times of his dismissal and requests for reinstatement, plaintiff met the academic and technical standards for readmission to the Medical School.

Discussion
A. Count I

In weighing the validity of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the duty of the court is to consider whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint is sufficient to state a valid claim for relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Tahir Erk, 116 F.2d at 869. In the present case, defendant argues that Count I of plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed as a matter of law because it is time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

The Rehabilitation Act does not contain a provision specifying a controlling statute of limitations. Neither the Supreme Court, the Fourth Circuit, or a court of this District has addressed the question of what specific statute of limitations controls a claim under the Act. The Supreme Court has held, however, that where a federal civil rights statute does not contain a statute of limitations, "federal courts should select the most appropriate or analogous state statute of limitations." Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 482 U.S. 656, 660, 107 S.Ct. 2617, 2620, 96 L.Ed.2d 572 (1987). In both Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985) and Goodman, the Supreme Court held, respectively, that simple, broad characterizations of all § 1983 and § 1981 claims, rather than case by case analyses of the particular facts and form of action presented in each case, best fit the remedial purposes of those statutes. In rejecting the case by case approach, the Court sought to prevent counsel from arguing that two (2) or more periods of limitations should apply to each federal claim, to prevent the application of different statutes of limitation within a single state for the same federal claim and to prevent multiple periods of limitations from applying to the same case. To that end, then, the Court went on to hold in both cases that the respective state statutes of limitation applicable to personal injury actions should apply to all claims brought under § 1983 and § 1981 (rather than potentially more analogous, more specific statutes of limitation available in a particular case.)

The Medical School argues that the most "appropriate or analogous" state statute of limitation in the present case is that contained in the Virginia Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act, Va.Code Ann. Sections 51.5-40 et seq., as amended (hereafter "VIRGINIA ACT").1 In support of this position, defendant relies on Eastman v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 732 F.Supp. 665 (W.D.Va.1990) affirmed on other grounds, 939 F.2d 204 (4th Cir.1991).

In Eastman, Chief Judge Turk of the Western District of Virginia held that since the Virginia Act is patterned to be consistent with the Rehabilitation Act, the Virginia Act is the most analogous state statute and, accordingly, must be applied to actions under the Rehabilitation Act in Virginia. Defendant gives great weight to the fact that Eastman is the only decision by a court in the Fourth Circuit to address the limitations issue as applied to the Rehabilitation Act and that it is, therefore, uncontradicted.2

Plaintiff argues that the decision is not legally supportable because the District Court overlooked the Supreme Court's mandate in Wilson, supra, and Goodman, supra, to the effect that federal law rather than state law governs the characterization of a federal claim for statute of limitations purposes. Had the District Court properly characterized the Rehabilitation Act claim in Eastman according to federal law, plaintiff's argument continues, it would not have even had the Virginia Act among its choices for selecting a limitations period. With the Virginia Act outside the range of potential choices, plaintiff concludes that Rehabilitation Act claims are, on the whole, more analogous to personal injury actions than to any other types of actions and that the proper period of limitation is Virginia's two year personal injury limitation. Va. Code Ann. Section 8.01-243(A).

The defendant urges this Court to reject plaintiff's argument for a number of reasons. First, defendant falls back on the District Court opinion in Eastman and the fact that it is the sole application of a limitations period in a Rehabilitation Act case in Virginia. The defendant next argues that the concern over multiple periods of limitations which underscored the Supreme Court's decisions in Wilson and Goodman are inapplicable to claims arising under the Rehabilitation Act because it, in contrast to § 1981 and § 1983, is a relatively recent statute, narrowly and specifically drawn to limit its scope to claims of discrimination on the basis of handicap against recipients of federal funding. Finally, defendant argues that in the absence of controlling authority concerning the appropriate characterization of a Rehabilitation Act claim, the fact that the Virginia Act is almost identical to the Rehabilitation Act in both its requirements and its remedies makes it the "most appropriate" limitations period provided by state law.

In Johnson v. Davis, 582 F.2d 1316 (4th Cir.1978), the Fourth Circuit, in the context of a § 1983 action, was faced with a situation quite similar to that presented in the present case. In that case, in response to the Fourth Circuit decision in Almond v. Kent, 459 F.2d 200 (4th Cir.1972) (Holding that all § 1983 actions were to be grouped and valued with actions to redress personal injuries and that, therefore, Virginia's two (2) year personal injury statute of limitations was applicable), the Virginia General Assembly enacted an amendment to Virginia's personal injury statute of limitations specifically designed to shorten the period of...

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2 cases
  • Henrickson v. Sammons
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • September 13, 1993
    ...to § 1983 and § 1981 actions, the state statute of limitation for personal injury actions should apply. Wolsky v. Eastern Virginia Medical Authority, 795 F.Supp. 171 (E.D.Va.1992); Doe v. Southeastern University, 732 F.Supp. 7, 9 Thus, while the Court of Appeals correctly characterized peti......
  • Wolsky v. Medical College of Hampton Roads
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • July 28, 1993
    ...Medical College of Hampton Roads ("Medical College") appeals from an order entered by the district court denying its motion to dismiss, 795 F.Supp. 171. This is an interlocutory appeal, permission to appeal was granted under 28 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1292(b), in which the Medical College raises one ......

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