United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS
E. SELF, III, JUDGE.
employment discrimination lawsuit, Defendant moves for
judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that it is entitled
to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity, that Plaintiff is
not entitled to prospective injunctive relief, and that it is
not a covered employer under the Americans with Disabilities
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.
(“ADA”). For the following reasons,
Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc.
13] is GRANTED IN PART, and the parties are
NOTIFIED pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(d) and 56(f) that the Court intends to convert
the remainder of the motion into one for summary judgment.
Complaint, Plaintiff Earl Dennard alleges that he was jointly
employed by Twiggs County, Georgia and the Defendant Twiggs
County Board of Assessors from September 1995 until his
termination on October 2, 2014. [Doc. 1, ¶ 5]. In 2013,
while he was acting as a Chief Appraiser, Plaintiff underwent
vertebrae fusion surgery. [Id. at ¶ 17]. During
or around the time of the surgery, Plaintiff also discovered
that he had herniated discs in his neck, which worsened
through 2014. [Id.]. These conditions, which
Plaintiff claims substantially limited his ability to work,
stand, and sit, led him to request to perform prescribed
“cervical traction” at home. [Id. at
¶¶ 17, 18].
Defendant's executives met to discuss Plaintiff's
request for accommodation, they ultimately terminated him and
“annulled” his Level 3 Appraiser position.
[Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20]. Defendant also decided
to hire a Level 4 Appraiser and refused to consider Plaintiff
for the position, even though he needed to complete only two
more courses and pass an examination to qualify.
[Id. at ¶ 22].
claims that Defendant terminated him and retaliated against
him in violation of the ADA and seeks back pay, front pay
and/or reinstatement, other compensatory damages, and
attorney's fees and costs. Defendant, on the other hand,
moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims on three grounds.
First, Defendant argues that it is an arm of the State of
Georgia entitled to Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity on
Plaintiff's claims for compensatory relief. Second,
Defendant contends that Plaintiff's requests for
prospective injunctive relief are barred because there is no
threat of ongoing harm. Finally, Defendant claims it lacks
the number of employees necessary to qualify as a covered
employer subject to suit under the ADA and that Plaintiff
cannot aggregate Defendant's number of employees with
those of the entirety of Twiggs County because Defendant and
the County are not joint employers with respect to
appraisers. Although Plaintiff requested and received an
extension of time to respond to Defendant's motion,
see [Docs. 17, 18], Plaintiff has filed no response
as of the date of this Order.
explained below, the Court agrees that Defendant is entitled
to Eleventh Amendment immunity on Plaintiff's claims for
damages. Nevertheless, the Court cannot resolve the question
of whether Defendant is a covered employer without
considering evidence outside the pleadings, and this
determination will impact the availability of prospective
Standard of Review
to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[a]fter the
pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a
party may move for judgment on the pleadings.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “Judgment on the pleadings is
appropriate when there are no material facts in dispute and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Douglas Asphalt Co. v. Qore, Inc., 541
F.3d 1269, 1273 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Cannon v. City
of W. Palm Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001)).
“A motion for judgment on the pleadings is subject to
the same standard as is a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss.” Provident Mut. Life Ins. Co. of Phila. v.
City of Atlanta, 864 F.Supp. 1274, 1278 (N.D.Ga. 1994).
ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept the facts
set forth in the complaint as true. Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007). A complaint survives
a motion to dismiss only if the plaintiff alleges sufficient
factual matter to state a claim for relief that is plausible
on its face, and he must state more than “unadorned,
McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1333 (11th Cir.
2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678-79 (2009)). He must also “plead more than labels
and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of
a cause of action, ” id., such that the
factual allegations contained in the complaint are
“enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,
the Court employs a two-step framework. McCullough,
907 F.3d at 1333. First, the Court identifies and disregards
allegations that are “no more than mere conclusions,
” since “[c]onclusory allegations are not
entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id.
(quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Second, the Court
“assume[s] any remaining factual allegations are true
and determine[s] whether those factual allegations
‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679).
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
first claims that it is entitled to immunity from suit for
damages under the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Amendment
bars claims brought in federal court against a state itself
and entities that are considered “arms of the
State.” Manders v. Lee, 338 F.3d 1304, 1308
(11th Cir. 2003). “Whether a defendant is an ‘arm
of the State' must be assessed in light of the particular
function in which the defendant was engaged when taking the
actions out of which liability is asserted to arise.”
Id. Such a determination turns on the outcome of a
four-factor test outlined in Manders. The Court
considers “(1) how state law defines the entity; (2)