United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL PUTNAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
matter is before the court on the Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. 8). The defendant, Northwest Alabama
Treatment Center, Inc. (“NWATC”), filed its
motion on September 22, 2017, seeking to dismiss the
plaintiff's complaint in its entirety. Under the
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1984
(“COBRA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1161-1169
(2017), the defendant argues that the small employer
exception bars the plaintiff's claim because NWATC does
not employ more than twenty full-time employees. 19 U.S.C.
§ 1161(b). The motion has been fully briefed, and the
parties have consented to dispositive jurisdiction by a
United States Magistrate Judge in accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). (Doc. 16).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is
proper “if the movant shows 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). The
party asking for summary judgment “always bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of
‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any' which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)
(quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The movant can meet this
burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of
material fact or by showing that the nonmoving party has
failed to present evidence in support of some element of its
case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. There is no
requirement, however, “that the moving party support
its motion with affidavits or other similar materials
negating the opponent's claim.”
Id. at 323.
the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56 “requires
the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own
affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions of file,' designate
‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.'” Id. at 324 (quoting former
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The nonmoving party need not present
evidence in a form necessary for admission at trial; however,
he may not merely rest on his pleadings. Celotex,
477 U.S. at 324. “[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c)
mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an
element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial.”
Id. at 322.
the plaintiff has properly responded to a proper motion for
summary judgment, the court “shall” grant the
motion if there is no genuine issue of material fact, and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The substantive law will identify which
facts are material and which are irrelevant.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine
“if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.
at 248. “[T]he judge's function is not himself to
weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but
to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Id. at 249. His guide is the same
standard necessary to direct a verdict: “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.” Id. at
251-52; see also Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v.
N.L.R.B., 461 U.S. 731, 745 n. 11 (1983).
the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that
there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material
facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The evidence
supporting a claim must be “substantial, ”
Marcus v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Ins. Co., 651
F.2d 379 (5th Cir., Unit B, 1981); a mere scintilla of
evidence is not enough to create a genuine issue of fact.
Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th
Cir. 2004); Kesinger ex rel. Estate of Kesinger v.
Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1249-50 (11th Cir. 2004). If
the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly
probative, summary judgment may be granted.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted);
accord Spence v. Zimmerman, 873 F.2d 256 (11th Cir.
1989). Furthermore, the court must “view the evidence
presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary
burden, ” so there must be sufficient evidence on which
the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; Cottle v. Storer
Communications, Inc., 849 F.2d 570, 575 (11th Cir.
1988). Nevertheless, credibility determinations, the weighing
of evidence, and the drawing of inferences from the facts are
the function of the jury, and therefore the evidence of the
non-movant is to be believed and all justifiable inferences
are to be drawn in his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at
255. The non-movant need not be given the benefit of every
inference but only of every reasonable inference. Brown
v. City of Clewiston, 848 F.2d 1534, 1540 n. 12 (11th
the facts favorably to the non-moving plaintiff, the
following appear be undisputed. The plaintiff, Robert White,
opened NWATC in 1993 and, at the time of his termination,
served as the President and Program Sponsor. Part of his
duties included the power to employ, manage, and terminate
personnel. On February 18, 2017, NWATC terminated White's
employment, but White “was not terminated for gross
misconduct.” (Doc. 1, ¶ 19). NWATC maintained a
group health plan that insured both White and his wife.
However, NWATC did not notify White or his wife of their
rights to continue coverage under COBRA following his
to White, NWATC employed both full-time and part-time
employees. He states by affidavit that:
The position or job classification of the employee often
determined whether the employee was considered full-time or
part-time. Most full-time employees were salaried while
part-time employees were paid hourly. . . . A 40-hour work
week has never been used to determine whether an employee was
full-time or part-time.
(Doc. 23-1 at 3, ¶ 6). Under the Personal Time Off
(“PTO”) policy, NWATC treats full-time employees
differently than part-time employees. Part-time employees who
work between “at least 20 hours but less than 32 hours
per week” qualify for PTO if certain requirements are
met. (Doc. 23-1 at 8). Furthermore, on the PTO policy
provided by the defendant to White, a handwritten notation
states that an employee by the name of “David [wa]s
working full-time” at some point in 2016. (Doc. 23-1 at
Additionally, White identifies at least twenty employees who
were employed full-time during at least part of the 2016
COBRA, employers that sponsor a group health plan must allow
“each qualified beneficiary who would lose coverage
under the plan as a result of a qualifying event . . . to
elect, within the election period, continuation coverage
under the plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1161(a). After a
qualifying event occurs, the plan's administrator must
notify the qualified beneficiary of the beneficiary's
right to elect continuation coverage. § 1166(a)(4).
However, § 1161(a) does not “apply to any group
health plan for any calendar year if all employers
maintaining such plan normally employed fewer than 20
employees on a typical business day during the preceding
calendar year.” § 1161(b).
the Eleventh Circuit has not authoritatively adopted a test
to determine when an employer employs more than 20 employees
on “a typical business day, ” the Northern
District of Georgia has adopted the Department of
Treasury's regulation to make that determination.
See, e.g., Giddens v. University Yacht Club,
Inc., No. Civ.A. 2:05-cv-19-WC, 2006 WL 508056, at *3-7