United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
the Court is Defendant, Tuscaloosa County Commission (the
“County's”), motion for summary judgment.
(Doc. 24.) The Motion has been briefed and is ripe for
review. For the reasons stated below, the County's motion
(doc. 24) for summary judgment is due to be granted.
Jerimiah Van Horn (“Van Horn”) was hired as a
Detention Officer at the Tuscaloosa County Jail in September
2014. At the time he was hired, Van Horn had coronary heart
disease and two stents in his heart, but had no physical
restrictions due to this condition.
Detention Officer position at the Tuscaloosa County Jail has
the following duties: supervising and keeping order among
prisoners; taking periodic counts; maintaining constant watch
for and reporting unusual conditions or disturbances; taking
required action in emergencies to prevent escapes or suppress
disorder; and checking prisoners in the jail. (Van Horn Depo.
at Ex. 3.) Due to the nature of these tasks, Detention
Officers are required to have the “[a]bility to control
inmates individually and in groups. . . [and] [f]reedom from
physical defects, particularly in hearing, vision or members
to enable quick action and movement in the custody of
of his job as a Detention Officer, Van Horn had to interact
with the inmates he was guarding. For example, in February
2015, Van Horn suffered a shoulder injury when he had to
perform a takedown of an inmate. On October 11, 2015, Van
Horn experienced chest pains after he was forced to perform a
takedown of a combative inmate. Due to these chest pains, Van
Horn went to see his doctor. Van Horn's doctor advised
him not to work the following two days. On October 16, 2015,
Van Horn went to see a cardiologist about his chest pains.
Three days later Van Horn underwent a cardiac catheterization
with a stenting procedure. Van Horn's doctor released him
to return to “light duty” starting on October 26,
2015. The exact terms of Van Horn's “light
duty” release is unclear from the record. Van
Horn's doctor's note does indicate that side effects
from the catheterization procedure included limitations in
Van Horn's ability to stand for long periods of time.
(Van Horn Depo. at Ex. 4.)Van Horn also testified at his
deposition that as part of this “light duty”
release he was instructed not to do any lifting, or prolonged
walking or standing. (Id. at 77-79.) Van Horn
testified that his “light duty” restrictions
required him to be put into a position that limited
involvement with inmates.
he was cleared for “light duty, ” Van Horn was
told by the Sheriff's Office and County Administrator
that there was no “light duty” position for a
Detention Officer. Van Horn was told that he would need to be
released for full duty before he could return to work.
According to Van Horn, the County told him that “pretty
much the females . . . get the no contact positions.”
(Id. at 81-82.) Van Horn asserts that female
Detention Officers at the Tuscaloosa County Jail were
assigned to duties where there was less likelihood of inmate
contact as they switched places with Detention Officers in
the control room during inmate counts, and did not have to
push laundry carts.
to Van Horn an officer in the control room has limited inmate
interaction. However, the record does not contain any
evidence indicating whether a posting in the control room was
a permanent assignment, an assignment that Detention Officers
rotated through, or a stand-alone position. According to Van
Horn, Detention Officers in the control room do not have to
walk for prolonged periods, stand for prolonged periods, or
do heavy lifting. During emergencies, Detention Officers who
are inside the control room are instructed to remain in the
control room. At one time, Chief Deputy Eric Bailey
(“Chief Bailey”), who oversees operations at the
Tuscaloosa County Jail, acted on his own initiative to place
a female Detention Officer in her third trimester of
pregnancy in the control room because there was less chance
of involvement with inmates in the control room. (Bailey
Depo. at 37-38.)
Van Horn's inability to return to full duty, the County
Administrator applied FMLA leave to Van Horn's absences
through the remainder of 2015. The County then restarted Van
Horn's 12 weeks of FMLA leave on January 1, 2016 because
Van Horn was still not cleared to return to full duty. Van
Horn had not been cleared to return to full duty when his
FMLA leave expired at the end of March 2016. Pursuant to
County policy, Van Horn was given an additional three days of
leave. When Van Horn was still unable to return to work, he
was terminated effective April 4, 2016. On April 18, 2016,
the County sent a letter to Van Horn explaining that he had
been terminated for exhausting his leave.
to his termination, Van Horn inquired about other possible
positions within the County jail, including a clerk position
and process server position. Van Horn was informed that he
would have to apply for these positions and sit for a certain
tests pursuant to Civil Service Board policies. These Civil
Service Board policies prevented the County from unilaterally
reassigning Van Horn to the clerk or process server
positions. To date, Van Horn has not been released for full
judgment is appropriate “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). A dispute is genuine if “the record
taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find
for the nonmoving party.” Hickson Corp. v. N.
Crossarm Co., Inc., 357 F.3d 1256, 1260 (11th Cir.
2004). A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists
“if the nonmoving party has produced evidence such that
a reasonable factfinder could return a verdict in its
favor.” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms.,
Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting
Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d
1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001)). The trial judge should not
weigh the evidence, but determine whether there are any
genuine issues of fact that should be resolved at trial.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249
considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must
give deference to the non-moving party by “view[ing]
the materials presented and all factual inferences in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party.”
Animal Legal Def. Fund v. U.S. Dep't of Agric.,
789 F.3d 1206, 1213-14 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Adickes
v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)).
However, “unsubstantiated assertions alone are not
enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment.”
Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529
(11th Cir. 1987). Conclusory allegations and “mere
scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party will
not suffice to overcome a motion for summary judgment.”
Melton v. Abston, 841 F.3d 1207, 1219 (11th Cir.
2016) (per curiam) (quoting Young v. City of Palm Bay,
Fla., 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004)). In making a
motion for summary judgment, “the moving party has the
burden of either negating an essential element of the
nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no
evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving
party's case.” McGee v. Sentinel Offender
Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013).
Although the trial courts must use caution when granting
motions for summary judgment, “[s]ummary judgment
procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural
shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules
as a whole.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 327 (1986).
only claims pending before this Court are Van Horn's
disability discrimination claims. Van Horn alleges that the
County violated both the ADA and Rehabilitation Act by (1)
failing to accommodate him, and (2) terminating him. The
County asserts that summary judgment should be granted in its
favor because Van Horn is not a qualified individual with a
disability. Because the Court agrees that Van Horn is
not a qualified individual with a disability, summary
judgment is due to be granted.
Eleventh Circuit applies “the burden-shifting analysis
of Title VII employment discrimination claims” to ADA
discrimination claims as well as Rehabilitation Act claims.
Holly v. Clairson Indus., L.L.C.,492 F.3d 1247,
1255 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Earl v. Mervyns,
Inc., 207 F.3d 1361, 1365 (11th Cir. 2000)); Durley
v. APAC, Inc., 236 F.3d 651, 657 (11th Cir.
2000) (ADA); Sutton v. Lader, 185 F.3d 1203, 1208
n.5 (11th Cir. 1999) (Rehabilitation Act). Under
McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff carries the initial
burden of producing circumstantial evidence sufficient to
prove a prima facie case of discrimination.
McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802
(1973); see also Schoenfeld v. Babbitt, 168 F.3d
1257, 1267 (11th Cir. 1999). If the plaintiff meets his
initial burden of establishing a prima facie case,
the burden of production shifts to the defendant to
articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the
adverse employment action. Trask v. Sec'y, Dep't
of Veterans Affairs, 822 F.3d 1179, 1191 (11th Cir.