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Dennard v. Twiggs County Board of Assessors

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

June 4, 2019

EARL DENNARD, Plaintiff,
v.
TWIGGS COUNTY BOARD OF ASSESSORS, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE.

         In this 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.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In his 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].

         Although 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].

         Plaintiff 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.

         As 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 injunctive relief.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Pursuant 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).

         When 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, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusations.” 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.

         When 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).

         B. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         Defendant 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) ...


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