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Ruggieri v. City of Hoover

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 24, 2018



          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Pro se Plaintiff Christopher Todd Ruggieri alleges a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”). (See Doc. 1 at 3).

         Before the Court are two motions. Defendant City of Hoover (the “City”) filed a Motion To Dismiss on May 1, 2018. (Doc. 6). Defendants Melinda James Lopez and Mesha Dacus filed a Motion To Dismiss on the same day. (Doc 7). Plaintiff Ruggieri responded on May 8. (Doc. 14). Defendants filed a joint reply on that same day. (Doc. 15). Mr. Ruggieri then filed a sur-reply three days later. (Doc. 16). Accordingly, this Motion is ripe for review. For the reasons stated in today's opinion, the motions are due to be GRANTED in part and otherwise DENIED.

         II. Factual Allegations

         Consistent with the standard at the motion to dismiss stage, the Court accepts all the alleged facts in Mr. Ruggieri's Complaint to be true for the purpose of these motions. For the reader's benefit, the Court summarizes what Mr. Ruggieri alleges occurred.

         Mr. Ruggieri worked for the City in Information Technology. (See Doc. 1 at 8). Ms. Lopez and Ms. Dacus also worked for the City. (See Id. at 2, 8). In July 2017, Ms. Lopez and Ms. Dacus ordered Mr. Ruggieri to “undergo psychiatric counseling.” (See Id. at 8). Mr. Ruggieri recorded this conversation and believes the counseling was unrelated to job performance. (See id.).

         Mr. Ruggieri attended counseling with Dr. Lita Clark. (See id.). Dr. Clark told Mr. Ruggieri “that the City of Hoover, through Mesha Dacus, was requiring [him] to waive [his] HIPPA [sic] rights.” (See id.). “Dr. Clark instructed [Mr. Ruggieri] that if [he] refused then the sessions would terminate and the City would terminate [his] employment.” (See id.). Mr. Ruggieri recorded his therapy sessions. (See id.).

         “After the third session, [Mr. Ruggieri] was released from counseling with Dr. Clark stating there was nothing wrong.” (Id.). “[Mr. Ruggieri] brought [his] concerns over why [he] was sent to counseling . . . to Mesha Dacus, the City of Hoover Assistant [Human Resources] Director the same day of [his] release.” (Id.). “Less than a week later, [Mr. Ruggieri was] called into [Ms. Lopez's] office again, told [his] fears were unfounded, but that [he was] now forbidden from recording any further communications.” (Id.).

         Mr. Ruggieri filed an EEOC charge on December 21, 2017. (See Doc. 6-1).[1]The EEOC issued a right to sue notice on January 3, 2018. (See Doc. 1 at 9). Mr. Ruggieri filed this federal lawsuit on March 26, 2018. (See generally id.).[2]

         III. Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (“[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion: (6) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957) (footnote omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (setting forth general pleading requirements for a complaint including providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”).

         While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8 does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. at 103). However, at the same time, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, 127 S.Ct. at 1969.

         “[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (emphasis added). “Under Twombly's construction of Rule 8 . . . [a plaintiff's] complaint [must] ‘nudge[] [any] claims' . . . ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.' Ibid.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, 129 S.Ct. at 1950-51.

         A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

         IV. Analysis

         A. The City's Motion Is Due To Be Granted in Part and Otherwise Denied

         1. ADA

         The City argues that the ADA claim “is due to be dismissed because [Mr. Ruggieri] failed to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging discrimination based on disability.” (See Doc. 6 at 1). Indeed, Mr. Ruggieri's EEOC charge does not check the box indicating that he was alleging “discrimination based on” “disability.” (See Doc. 6-1 at 2) (capitalization omitted). He checked the box for “discrimination based on” “other.” (See id.) (capitalization omitted). Mr. Ruggieri wrote the following:

I was hired by the above-named employer on July 6, 2015, as a Network Systems Analyst. My immediate supervisor was Melinda James Lopez, CIO. I reported that my organization was not PCI compliant of which Ms. Lopez was aware. On July 6, 2017, I was forced into anger management counseling. I was the only one in my department required to do so, thereby showing it was inconsistent with job requirements and business necessity. Thereafter I was consistently being subjected to verbal disciplines, and I did not receive my annual review or step increase. On October 11, 2017, I was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. On November 16, 2017, I was informed that internal documents were found on my computer and that I was using my computer for personal gain. I was accused of unethical behavior and it was at that point I resigned my position on November 16, 2017.
I believe that I was discriminated against and singled out however, I cannot identify a basis for my filing my charge.


         The City relies on the McWhorter decision to support dismissal. (See Doc. 6 at 2-5) (citing McWhorter v. Nucor Steel Birmingham Inc., 304 F.Supp.3d 1185 (N.D. Ala. 2018)). In that case, “the EEOC charge as drafted gave no notice whatsoever to [d]efendant that [p]laintiff was claiming age or disability discrimination, or retaliation because of opposition to age or disability discrimination or participation in any age or disability proceeding.” See McWhorter, 304 F.Supp.3d at 1192-93. This was because the plaintiff did not check the box corresponding to “age” and “disability” and his intent to bring those claims could not be gleaned from his written description. See Id. at 1191. Here, the Defendants argue that this case is factually analogous. (See Doc. 6 at 2-5).[3]

         However, this case is distinguishable in a significant way. Here, unlike in McWhorter, Mr. Ruggieri is pro se. See McWhorter, 304 F.Supp.3d at 1192; (see Doc. 16 at 1) (implying that Mr. Ruggieri prepared the EEOC charge without the benefit of an attorney). The court in McWhorter noted that “[c]ourts have broadly interpreted the scope of administrative charges filed by unrepresented parties.” Id. at 1192 (citing Gregory v. Ga. Dep't of Human Res., 355 F.3d 1277, 1280 (11th Cir. 2004)). The Eleventh Circuit in Gregory noted that “[c]ourts are nonetheless ‘extremely reluctant to allow procedural technicalities to bar claims brought under [Title VII].'” Gregory, 355 F.3d at 1280 (citing another source).[4] “As such, [the Eleventh Circuit] has noted that ‘‘the scope of an EEOC complaint should not be strictly interpreted.''” Id. (citing another source); see also Jerome v. ...

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