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Boykin v. Home Choice of Alabama, Inc.

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

October 26, 2018

QUEEN BOYKIN, Plaintiff,
v.
HOME CHOICE OF ALABAMA, INC., d/b/a SPRINGHILL HOME HEALTH AND HOSPICE, Defendant.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM H. STEELE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on defendant Home Choice of Alabama, Inc.'s Partial Motion to Dismiss (doc. 7). The Motion has been briefed and is now ripe.

         I. Relevant Background.

         Plaintiff, Queen Boykin, brought this action against her former employer, Home Choice of Alabama, Inc., alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq. (the “FMLA”). As presently framed, Boykin's Amended Complaint sets forth four causes of action against Home Choice, three of which arise under the FMLA. Those FMLA claims, which are the subject of defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion, consist of the following: a claim of FMLA interference, asserting that Home Choice interfered with Boykin's rights by failing to provide her with FMLA paperwork, failing to advise her of FMLA rights, and denying her FMLA leave to which she was entitled (Count II); a claim of FMLA interference, asserting that Home Choice interfered with Boykin's rights by terminating her employment (Count III); and a claim of FMLA discrimination/retaliation, asserting that Home Choice retaliated against Boykin by terminating her employment for attempting to exercise her FMLA rights (Count IV). Home Choice now seeks dismissal of Counts II through IV, by challenging the sufficiency of the Amended Complaint to plead that Boykin was qualified to avail herself of FMLA leave, to plead prejudice for purposes of Count II, and to plead distinct causes of action for Counts III and IV.

         According to the well-pleaded factual allegations of the Amended Complaint, [1] Boykin “is the principal caretaker and is needed to care for her dependent adult son, who suffers from permanent brain injury as a result of a car accident.” (Doc. 5, ¶ 17.) The Amended Complaint further alleges that Boykin's “son's medical condition/disability requires specific care and renders him incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” (Id.) Plaintiff's pleading also states that Boykin's “son required rehabilitation which he received twice a week with Easter Seals, ” and that Boykin needed “to take her son to/from his rehabilitation appointments due to the Plaintiff's need to care for her son due to his incapability of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” (Id.)

         II. Analysis.

         A. Governing Legal Standard.

         To withstand Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny and satisfy the minimum pleading requirements prescribed by Rule 8(a), a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” so as to “nudge[] [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 2d 929 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citation omitted). “This necessarily requires that a plaintiff include factual allegations for each essential element of his or her claim.” GeorgiaCarry.Org, Inc. v. Georgia, 687 F.3d 1244, 1254 (11th Cir. 2012). Thus, minimum pleading standards “require[] more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. As the Eleventh Circuit has explained, Twombly / Iqbal principles demand that a complaint's allegations be “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1380 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, … but must give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The allegations “must … state a claim for relief that is plausible - and not merely possible - on its face.” Almanza v. United Airlines, Inc., 851 F.3d 1060, 1066 (11th Cir. 2017).

         B. Whether Plaintiff Was Qualified to take FMLA Leave.

         Boykin's FMLA claims are rooted in allegations that she required time off from work in order to care for her adult son, who has a serious health condition. On its face, the statute provides for FMLA leave entitlement for an eligible employee “[i]n order to care for the spouse, or a son, daughter, or parent, of the employee, if such spouse, son, daughter, or parent has a serious health condition.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(C). Under the FMLA, the term “son” is defined, in relevant part, to mean the employee's child who is “18 years of age or older and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(12)(B). Accompanying regulations expound on this definition as follows:

“Incapable of self-care means that the individual requires active assistance or supervision to provide daily self-care in three or more of the activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). Activities of daily living include adaptive activities such as caring appropriately for one's grooming and hygiene, bathing, dressing and eating. Instrumental activities of daily living include cooking, cleaning, shopping, taking public transportation, paying bills, maintaining a residence, using telephones and directories, using a post office, etc.”

29 C.F.R. § 825.122(d)(1).

         In its Motion to Dismiss, Home Choice maintains that Boykin's Amended Complaint does not plead any viable FMLA claims because it “is devoid of any of the facts necessary to demonstrate that her son is incapable of performing daily self-care without active assistance or supervision.” (Doc. 8, at 7.) Defendant would place a higher pleading burden on plaintiff than the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require. Even in the wake of Twombly and Iqbal, “[t]o survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint need not provide detailed factual allegations.” Patel v. Specialized Loan Servicing, LLC, ___F.3d ___, 2018 WL 4559091, *5 (11th Cir. Sept. 24, 2018). Rather, all that is necessary is that the complaint “include enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Checker Cab Operators, Inc. v. Miami-Dade County, 899 F.3d 908, 915 (11th Cir. 2018). Boykin's Amended Complaint includes enough facts to state a plausible claim that she qualified for leave under the FMLA (i.e., that she requires FMLA leave in order to care for an adult son who is incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability). Boykin's pleading achieves that objective by specifically alleging the following facts, among others: (i) Boykin's adult son suffers from a permanent brain injury as a result of a car accident; (ii) he requires specific care, ongoing medical attention and treatment, including rehabilitation on a twice-weekly basis; (iii) Boykin is his principal caretaker; and (iv) Boykin must transport him to his rehabilitation appointments. From such factual allegations, it is certainly plausible that Boykin has an adult son within the definition of the FMLA who is incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability. No. further detailed factual allegations as to whether plaintiff qualified for FMLA leave are necessary in Boykin's Amended Complaint to assert plausible FMLA claims.

         Home Choice's arguments to the contrary are not persuasive. As an initial matter, defendant suggests that Boykin's Complaint must plead with specificity facts confirming that the requirements of § 825.122(d)(1) are satisfied; however, such a notion is contrary to the well-settled principle that detailed factual allegations are unnecessary to overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. A plaintiff is not required to allege in her pleading every single detail she would need to prevail on her claims at trial. Nor has Home Choice identified any decisional authorities holding that a pleading falls short of Twombly / Iqbal minimum requirements where it fails to plead with specificity the three ADLs or IADLs identified in § 825.122(d)(1) as prerequisites for an adult child to be considered “incapable of self-care.”[2] As pleaded, Boykin has set forth sufficient facts to raise a plausible inference that her son is incapable of self-care, thereby rendering her “qualified” for purposes of unlocking FMLA leave rights. Defendant's objection that somehow it is deprived of “fair notice” of plaintiff's claims “[w]ithout facts of the manner in which Plaintiff's son is incapable of daily self-care” (doc. 8, at 8) is not convincing, and runs contrary to the applicable pleading standard as outlined above. The Court expressly finds that the Amended Complaint, as pleaded, furnishes Home Choice with fair notice of the grounds on which Boykin's claims rest, ...


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