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Powrzanas v. Jones Utility and Contracting Co., Inc.

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

September 11, 2019




         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. This matter is before the court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Jones Utility and Contracting Company, Incorporated (“Jones Utility”) on August 31, 2018 (Doc. 88), as supplemented on October 26, 2018. Doc. 100. Jones Utility seeks summary judgment on all of Plaintiff Mandy Powrzanas' claims arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, stemming from her employment with Jones Utility. The court heard oral argument on December 11, 2018, and with briefing complete, the summary judgment motion is ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the applicable law, and the record as a whole, the court finds that Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 88 & 100) is due to be granted.


         Under 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.” The party seeking 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 [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 47 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). The movant meets this burden by presenting evidence showing that there is no dispute of material fact or 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. Id. at 322-23. There is no requirement “that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Id. at 323.

         Once 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 on 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, but she may not merely rest on her pleadings. Id. 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.

         After the nonmovant has responded to a 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 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. “[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 246. His guide is the same standard for directing 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 Rests., 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 Insurance Company, 651 F.2d 379 (5th Cir. 1981), and 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 v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1249-50 (11th Cir. 2004). If the nonmovant's evidence is so thoroughly discredited by the rest of the record evidence that no reasonable jury could accept it, the “court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling a motion for summary judgment.” See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81 (2007) (“Respondent's version of events is so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him. The Court of Appeals should not have relied on such visible fiction . . . .”); Lewis v. City of West Palm Beach, Fla., 561 F.3d 1288, 1290 n.3 (11th Cir. 2009). 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 nonmovant. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. The nonmovant 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 Cir. 1988).


         The following facts construed in favor of Powrzanas, the nonmovant, are relevant to the motion for summary judgment.

         A. Family History

         Ricky Jones owns and manages Jones Utility. Doc. 90-3. Ricky Jones is Powrzanas' father. Doc. 66 at 4. By all accounts, the relationship between Powrzanas and her father has been tumultuous. Doc. 90-1 at 113. But Powrzanas' mother, Donna Jones, largely mediated any disputes between them. Doc. 90-1 at 26 & 113. Donna Jones passed away in April 2015 (Doc. 90-1 at 45), and without her as a buffer between Powrzanas and Ricky Jones, the relationship deteriorated. Doc. 90-1 at 48. Powrzanas testified that Ricky Jones was never a supportive father and that he “cussed [her] every day of [her] life.” Doc. 90-1 at 27.

         Powrzanas was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in January 2015. Doc. 90-1 at 36. On November 25, 2015, Ricky Jones introduced Powrzanas and the rest of his family to his new girlfriend, Pat Jones. Doc. 90-1 at 47. Ricky and Pat Jones married on January 7, 2016. Doc. 90-1 at 45. Pat and Powrzanas did not get along and were in conflict almost immediately-so much so that Powrzanas believed Pat was on a mission to “shut [her] down.” Doc. 90-1 at 42 & 45. The tension between Powrzanas and Pat Jones increased the friction between Powrzanas and Ricky Jones.

         B. Employment at Jones Utility

         Powrzanas began her employment at Jones Utility in 2007 as a secretary and administrative assistant. Docs. 104-2 at 2 & 90-1 at 18. Essentially, Powrzanas was in charge of running the office of the company. Doc. 104-1 at 7. Powrzanas worked in this capacity off and on until she resigned for the final time on March 3, 2016. Doc. 90-1. It is undisputed that Ricky Jones has a temper, and that Jones' temper sometimes resulted in disagreements with Powrzanas at work. Doc. 90-1. At times, the arguments between Powrzanas and Ricky Jones occurred almost daily. Doc. 90-1 at 47. In some instances, the arguments escalated into shouting matches where both parties used profane language. Doc. 90-1 at 48. During one argument, Ricky Jones punched a flowerpot and a desk and fractured bones in his hand. Docs. 66 at 63 & 117-2 at 10. On another occasion, Jones waved a gun around and placed it in his mouth threatening to kill himself. Doc. 117-2 at 17. At times, Ricky Jones has threatened violence against Powrzanas and others. Doc. 66 at 7-8.

         Powrzanas resigned from Jones Utility on February 12, 2016. Doc. 90-1 at 47. However, after speaking with her father, she agreed to return to work. Doc. 90-1 at 52. The long-running dispute came to a volatile crescendo on March 2, 2016, when Powrzanas, Shawna Stewart (Powrzanas' sister), Pat Jones, Ricky Jones, and others went to a work lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings. Doc. 90-1 at 53 & 55. A dispute ensued because Ricky Jones believed that Powrzanas and Stewart were treating Pat Jones poorly. Doc. 90-1 at 53-55. The argument spilled out into the parking lot where Ricky Jones threw a box of leftover food at a car and sped away. Doc. 90-1 at 54. Powrzanas testified that she told Stewart and others present that she was quitting her job because she was not going to be humiliated in public. Doc. 90-1 at 54.

         Powrzanas testified, and Ricky Jones agreed, that they had conversations about her fibromyalgia while she worked at Jones Utility. Docs. 90-1 at 40 & 117-2 at 11. During fibromyalgia flare-ups, Jones permitted Powrzanas to lie down on a couch in the office and to take breaks during the day as needed. Docs. 88 at 11 & 90-1 at 37. Powrzanas told Ricky Jones that their arguments were exacerbating her fibromyalgia symptoms. Doc. 90-1 at 47. On March 3, 2016, she resigned from her employment with Jones Utility. Doc. 90-1 at 40.

         C. Social Security Disability Application

         In July 2016, Powrzanas filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Doc. 90-1 at 15. In the application, she alleged that she became disabled on March 3, 2016 due to fibromyalgia and other health problems. Doc. 101-1. She further stated that she was in constant pain, was unable to perform household cleaning tasks, struggled with personal hygiene tasks, was unable to independently manage finances, and was unable to do most things that she used to enjoy. Doc. 101-2. She alleged that she stopped working due to her health conditions. Doc. 101-1. In this lawsuit, she claims that the working conditions at Jones Utility were the reason that she became disabled. Doc. 117.


         On these facts, Powrzanas brings claims for ADA discrimination and ADA retaliation. Doc. 1 at 4-5. Jones Utility asserts that summary judgment is due to be granted on Powrzanas' disability discrimination claim because (1) Powrzanas' Social Security Disability application proves that she is not a “qualified individual” under the ADA, (2) she was not denied a “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA, and (3) she was not ...

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