Howard v. INOVA Health Care
UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
WINFRED HOWARD, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. INOVA HEALTH CARE SERVICES, d/b/a INOVA Health System, Defendant - Appellee.
WINFRED HOWARD, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. INOVA HEALTH CARE SERVICES, d/b/a INOVA Health System, Defendant - Appellee.
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. Claude M. Hilton, Senior District Judge; Gerald Bruce Lee, District Judge. (1:06-cv00976-CMH; 1:07-cv-00647-GBL)
October 28, 2008
December 5, 2008
Before MOTZ, GREGORY, and DUNCAN, Circuit Judges.
Affirmed by unpublished per curiam opinion.
Nils George Peterson, Jr., Arlington, Virginia, for Appellant. William Boyle Porter, BLANKINGSHIP & KEITH, P.C., Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellee. _______________ Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit.
PER CURIAM: On August 24, 2006, Winfred Howard sued his employer, Inova Health claims Care under Services, the asserting and interference Leave and Act retaliation ("FMLA"), 29
U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.
After Inova moved for summary judgment,
Howard moved to dismiss his complaint without prejudice or, in the alternative, to amend his petition to add a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The district court denied Howard's motion and granted
summary judgment in favor of Inova, finding that Inova had not violated the FMLA in disciplining Howard, transferring him to an alternate position, or terminating his employment. The court
also found that Howard had failed to make a prima facie showing of retaliation. On July 3, 2007, Howard filed a second suit
against Inova, asserting an ADA claim based on the same events that formed the basis for his FMLA claims. The district court
in that case granted Inova's 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss Howard's complaint on the basis of res judicata. judgments of the district courts. we affirm. Howard now appeals the
For the reasons that follow,
I. Howard first began working for Inova as an operating room ("OR") technician in 1993. Inova that he had been In the fall of 1996, Howard informed diagnosed by with posttraumatic to blood or stress bodily
fluids or the smell of burning flesh. from his position for fear of
He asked to be removed patients. Howard
began using full-time and intermittent leave under the FMLA to address his PTSD and eventually was transferred to a supply and resource coordinator position that did not involve OR work. Howard years. In left 2000, Inova he in 1997 and was unemployed an ADA for four
While the lawsuit was pending, Inova rehired Howard in 2001 as a patient Upon service coordinator, and the lawsuit was dismissed. to Inova's
employee booklet and FMLA policies. On February 14, 2002, Howard was involved in a car accident and injured his back. of FMLA leave. He He requested and was approved for 28 days provided Inova with physicians' notes
certifying that he was unable to attend work from February 14 to 19, 2002; February 27 to March 14, 2002; April 9 to 16, 2002; and April 19 to 26, 2002. a second car accident on J.A. 597602. November 4 26, Howard was involved in 2002. He submitted
physicians' notes certifying that he should work reduced hours with certain restrictions on physical activity from December 7 to 21, 2002; December 18, 2002 to January 10, 2003; and January 11, 2003 to February 22, 2003. J.A. 60609. He also submitted
a physician certification in May 2003 stating that he needed to work reduced hours for an unknown period. J.A. 61012. Inova
approved a reduced work schedule for Howard, but he eventually returned to a full-time schedule in 2003 or 2004. See J.A. 301.
In 2005, Howard was verbally disciplined by his supervisor, Julie Quick, for "absenteeism and tardiness," and written J.A.
documentation of the discipline was placed in his file. 104, 621.
Quick explained that Howard had failed to report for
work on February 2 to 7, 2005 and March 1 to 2, 2005; that he had left work early on February 9, 23, and 25, 2005; and that he was late on February 11, 14, and 18, 2005. Id. Howard asserted
that he missed these days of work due to his back problems. J.A. 33338. Quick provided Howard with FMLA forms for his
doctors to certify that these absences were related to medical issues. If Howard could submit proper physician certification
of these absences, Quick would withdraw documentation of the verbal warning from Howard's file. On April 15, 2005, Howard called in sick. On April 18,
2005, Quick gave Howard a written warning, noting that his April 5
Again, Quick provided Howard with FMLA forms and said
she would withdraw both the verbal and written warnings if he could provide physician certification for his absences. Howard met with Quick and Tom Williams, an Inova HR
representative, on April 28, 2005.
Howard had not yet provided Quick and Williams
FMLA documentation to excuse his absences.
explained the forms to Howard and informed him that his failure to return them could be grounds for termination. J.A. 38586.
On May 4, 2005, Howard submitted a "Certification of Health Care Provider" that a physician had signed on March 29, 2005. J.A. 62325. Because the certification did not provide See the
physician's name or contact information and was evidently filled out by two different people, Williams met with Howard and told him that the certification was insufficient to excuse Howard's absences. 1 On May 6, 2005, Williams wrote Howard, explaining
that Inova had no FMLA paperwork for Howard for the last two
The physician's signature and the written response stating the "medical facts which support [the physician's] certification" were in one person's handwriting. J.A. 623. The rest of the form, which stated that Howard needed to work a reduced schedule for an unknown duration of time, was written in another person's handwriting. Howard admitted that he filled out most of the form and asserted in his deposition that his physician, Dr. Rodney Dade, authorized him to do so. In a deposition, Dr. Dade testified that he had not authorized Howard to fill out the form. J.A. 162329. 6
Williams's letter set a May 13, 2005 deadline for Howard Howard did
to provide physician certification for his absences.
not submit a complete certification from Dr. Rodney Dade until May 31, 2005. The certification stated that Howard had lower
back pain that required a reduced work schedule for a period of six to eight months. Inova approved a reduced work schedule for
Howard based on this certification on June 1, 2005. On June 13, 2005, Quick met with Howard and informed him that he would be transferred from the Surgical Business office to the Unit Management office to work in a supply distribution tech their position. meeting A letter from the Quick new to Howard memorializing would better
accommodate his intermittent schedule and that Howard would work in the Unit Management office, "reorganizing and labeling;
entering data for scrub users; [and] placing supplies . . . in proper locations," for the duration of his approved reduced work schedule. J.A. 116, 642, 1485. The letter asked Howard to Id.
start in his new position on June 15, 2005.
Howard testified in his deposition that during the meeting he told Quick that he should not work near the OR because he needed to avoid exposure to blood. in the new supply distribution He did not report for work position until June 23,
When he appeared for work, he presented a note from Dr. 7
George H. Lawrence, a psychologist, stating that Howard "has been suffering from debilitating stress and therefore unable to work from Wednesday, June 15th." J.A. 126; see also J.A. 420.
The note stated that Howard was "fit to return to duty" on June 23, 2005 and should "avoid unnecessary stress." On June 27, 2005, Howard filed an Id. at 126 EEOC charge of
discrimination against Inova, alleging an ADA claim.
same day, Quick and Williams met with Howard and requested FMLA paperwork to certify the "debilitating stress" condition that Dr. Lawrence had identified. See J.A. 436. They provided
Howard with the necessary forms and asked him to return them by July 13, 2005, which he did not. In the meantime he worked as a
supply distribution tech, performing duties in and around the OR. He testified that while he worked in this position, he had
four or five dissociative episodes related to his PTSD, only one of which he told Quick about. See J.A. 43234. On July 12,
2005, Roxanne Kavros, one of Howard's old supervisors from his previous tenure with Inova, met with Williams to express her concern that she had seen Howard in and around the OR. mentioned that she had supervised him in 1998 when She he
transferred from an OR tech position into a supply tech position
because of his PTSD. 2
She was worried that "because of changes
in the design of the OR department he may currently be passing by OR rooms and seeing patients or blood products." J.A. 1492. During
Howard met with Williams again on July 20, 2005.
this meeting, Williams gave Howard another week to submit FMLA certification for the "debilitating stress" that Dr. Lawrence had diagnosed. same day, Howard did not submit the paperwork. met with Quick, Williams, and On the other HR
employees to discuss his concern that his current position was exposing him to blood. After the meeting, he was assigned to
another position in the Unit Management office to perform data entry and began work in this position on July 21, 2005. 3
The record contains some discrepancies as to when Howard first left Inova. Howard testified that he left Inova in July of 1997. J.A. 209. The record contains conflicting evidence as to what duties Howard performed in his new position. Williams's personal notes reflect that on August 4, 2005, Julie Quick asked Howard to "clean out a break room of supplies," but that Howard refused to do so unless the request was put in writing. J.A. 1493. Despite further negotiations between Quick and Howard, Williams's notes state that Howard continued to refuse to perform any duties in response to verbal requests. Howard's brief states that he was "required to clean out a storage room that had not been cleaned in years" and that this room "contained materials that exacerbated his PTSD." Petitioner's Br. at 1314. In his deposition, Howard testified that Inova "moved [him] to a warehouse position where [he] worked by [him]self . . . to clean out a warehouse which [he] was told by a personnel that worked in perioperative service no one had been in from anywhere from five to six years." J.A. 448. The tasks 9
requesting full-time leave from August 11 to 26, 2005. 653.
Accompanying the form was a "Certification of Health Care
Provider" from Dr. Lawrence stating that Howard was "suffering from seizure disorder and PTSD." J.A. 128, 654. The form
further stated that Howard "is at risk for seizure or possible self harm" and "needs fulltime leave." Id. at 12829, 65455.
Williams approved Howard's leave on August 15, 2005. On August 17, 2005, Williams sent Howard a letter
confirming that Howard would return to work on August 29, 2005, the first business day after his approved leave would end. 13233, 659-60. J.A.
The letter also asked Howard to contact the
health care providers who had completed Howard's most recent FMLA paperwork. job Williams wanted of the the physicians that to review a
description returning provide to
position The about
require a reduced work schedule; whether Howard would experience episodes of incapacity due to his health; and whether Howard would be able to perform the proposed job duties. Id.
of cleaning the "break room," "storage room," and "warehouse" appear to be the same. The record is unclear whether Howard actually performed this task. 10
On August 23, 2005, Howard sent a letter to the Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division to file an FMLA complaint against Inova for "discriminat[ing] a position that and retaliat[ing] against me me for by my
On August 26, 2005, an Inova HR Coordinator sent Howard another letter confirming approval for his leave from August 11 to 26, 2005. J.A. 15253. The letter also stated that Howard
was "required to present a `fitness-for-duty' certificate from [his] health care provider, prior to [his] return to work." at 152. Id.
Howard testified that he understood this letter to
request a "fitness for duty certification from [his] doctor that provided support that [he was] ready to come back to work
By September 8, 2005, however, Howard
had not submitted a fitness-for-duty certification and had not reported for work. Howard to remind Id. at 484. him that On that day, Williams wrote had not received the
information requested in his August 17, 2005 letter. Williams also informed Howard that because Howard
J.A. 154. had not
returned to work as expected, Inova required "updated Family
The DOL ultimately concluded that Inova had violated the FMLA when it transferred Howard to the supply distribution tech position and eventually terminated his employment. See J.A. 115468, 119596. 11
Medical Leave paperwork from both of your Health Care Providers by Monday, September 19, 2005." Id. Williams warned Howard
that "[f]ailure to clarify [Howard's] employment status with us . . . will be considered Id. J.A. 486. request, Dr. Lawrence wrote to Williams on Howard job did abandonment not and grounds for
termination." information. At
September 15, 2005. to experience
His letter explained that Howard "continues stress-induced seizures and
dissociative episodes" and "needs evaluation and treatment by a neurologist," for which "reasonable time away from his work" was required. J.A. 158. Dr. Lawrence stated that Howard "can soon
begin to function effectively again as a Patient Coordinator or in some similar position. . . . [I]f he is treated with respect and consideration and allowed to return to appropriate work
around the end of this month, part time at first, he will be a productive and above average . . . employee." On September 28, 2005, Howard faxed Id. Quick a letter
informing her that he intended to return to work on October 3, 2005. J.A. 159. Williams contacted Howard that same day and
confirmed receipt of Dr. Lawrence's September 15, 2005 letter, but reminded Howard that he still needed to provide FMLA
paperwork from Dr. Lawrence and any other physician currently 12
treating him for his medical conditions "before [he] return[s] to work." J.A. 161. Williams requested the paperwork by
October 7, 2005. Howard did not return to work on October 3, 2005 as he had indicated to Quick. He faxed a letter to Williams on October 7,
2005, asking for more time to complete the FMLA certifications. J.A. 165. On October 17, 2005, Howard had neither returned to On
work nor submitted any of the requested FMLA certifications.
that day, Inova's Assistant Director for Human Resources wrote to Howard and informed him that "due to the fact that we have not received any requested documentation to support your leave, your employment has been terminated effective immediately."
J.A. 166. Howard sued Inova Health Care Services on August 24, 2006, asserting interference and retaliation claims under the FMLA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Inova and denied Howard's motion to dismiss his complaint without
prejudice or, in the alternative, to amend his petition to add an ADA claim. against Inova, On July 3, 2007, Howard filed a second suit alleging that Inova had violated the ADA by
discriminating and retaliating against him based on his PTSD. The district court granted Inova's 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
Howard's second complaint on the basis of res judicata. now appeals the judgments of the district courts.
II. Howard appeals the district court's opinion granting
summary judgment on both his interference and retaliation claims under the FMLA. Our review of the district court's grant of Jennings v. Univ. of N.C., 482
summary judgment is de novo.
F.3d 686, 694 (4th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (citing Hill v. Lockheed Martin Logistics Mgmt., Inc., 354 F.3d 277, 283 (4th Cir. 2004) (en banc)). A. In his interference claim, Howard asserts on appeal that Inova violated the FMLA by him transferring for him to an alternate and
separately below. 1. Howard argues that his transfer from a billing position in the Surgical Posting office into a supply distribution tech
position in the Unit Management office violated the FMLA because it worked a hardship Under 29 on him in § 14 violation 825.204(a), of an 29 C.F.R. §
the an is of
intermittent available qualified
alternative and which
leave than does the employee's regular position." may not transfer the employee to an alternative
The "employer position in
order to discourage the employee from taking leave or otherwise work a hardship on the employee." 29 C.F.R. § 825.204(d).
Howard contends that the district court ignored the DOL's investigative finding that Inova had violated the FMLA when it transferred Howard. from the billing Howard further argues that his transfer into the supply distribution tech
position was unnecessary because "Inova filled Howard's billing office position with hours from existing employees who were
asked to work overtime."
Petitioner's Br. at 11.
Howard asserts that Inova "ignored the limitations noted in its own health file that id. Howard at 13, was and restricted that the to work in the
distribution tech position "was designed to work a hardship" on him by moving him from a "sedentary white collar job" to a position where he was exposed to "blood and the smell of burning flesh," id. at 15.
Inova responds that "[r]egardless of when Inova was able to replace [Howard] with another full-time employee, [Howard's old billing position] required a full-time employee, and both his first and second alternative positions did not." Br. at 34. Respondent's
Inova also points out that the new position offered
the same salary and benefits as the old position and involved "job duties that were a rough equivalent of his tasks in the billing office." that Respondent's contrary to Br. at 35. Inova his further medical
record contained no restrictions as to the kind of work he could perform. Howard's reliance on the DOL's investigative findings is unavailing. Courts have routinely declined to rely on agency
findings, in part because such a finding does not result from an adjudicatory effect. proceeding and consequently has no preclusive
See Phipps v. County of McLean, No. 07-cv-1160, 2008 WL
4534066, at *4 n.3 (C.D. Ill. Oct. 7, 2008) (citation omitted); cf. Brantley v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., No. RDB-07-1322, 2008 WL 2900953, at *35 (D. Md. July 22, 2008); Roberts v. The Health Ass'n, No. 04-CV-6637T, 2007 WL 2287875, at *47
(W.D.N.Y. Aug. 8, 2007); Hamilton v. Niagara Frontier Transp. Auth., Nos. 00-CV-300SR, 00-CV-863SR, 2007 WL 2241794, at *1315 (W.D.N.Y. July 31, 2007). But cf. Ammons-Lewis v. Metro. Water 16
Reclamation Dist. Of Greater Chicago, No. 03 C 0885, 2004 WL 2453835, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 1, 2004) (finding that the DOL report "may create first an leave issue of fact was as to whether denied," [the but
granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant because the plaintiff could not show damages (citation omitted)). The
district court did not err in declining to rely on the DOL's findings, and we do not rely on them now in our de novo review. Howard stresses that his duties in his billing position were absorbed by current employees working overtime, but this argument fails to raise a fact issue as to whether his old position required a full-time employee, as Inova contends. does it address the more critical issue of whether his Nor new
supply distribution tech position better accommodated a reduced work schedule. job Although duties than Howard's his old new position an required
position intended to accommodate a reduced work schedule "does not have to have equivalent duties," just "equivalent pay and benefits." appeal that 29 C.F.R. § 825.204(c). the transfer to the Howard does not contend on supply distribution tech
position resulted in a cut in his pay or benefits. Howard's argument that Inova transferred him to work a
hardship on him is similarly unpersuasive. 17
The record does not
support his contention that Inova transferred him in bad faith with knowledge that exposure to blood in and around the OR would exacerbate his PTSD. The record shows that the most recent
documentation that Inova possessed relating to his PTSD dated back to 2001. Howard testified in his deposition that he
verbally told Quick he could not be exposed to blood and bodily fluids when she informed him of the transfer in 2005, but he had submitted years. no FMLA documentation of his PTSD for almost four
All the FMLA documentation that he had provided in the
preceding three years dealt solely with back problems from his car accidents in 2002. excuse his six-day He submitted a note from Dr. Lawrence to before beginning the new supply
distribution tech position, but this letter did not notify Inova that Howard's PTSD had recurred. Rather, it stated only that
Howard "has been suffering from debilitating stress" but was now "fit to return to duty." J.A. 644. Howard has not shown that a
fact issue exists as to whether Inova transferred him to "work a hardship" on him under 28 C.F.R. § 825.204. 2. Howard argues that Inova violated the FMLA by disciplining him for unexcused absences in the spring of 2005. that the district court ignored evidence in the He contends record that
"Howard had provided to Inova a FMLA form for intermittent leave 18
that Br. at
intermittent leave once it has been approved," Howard contends that Inova "violated the FMLA regulations by failing to keep FMLA forms submitted by Howard for the required three years
pursuant to 29 C.F.R. [§] 825.500." Howard argues to that this his 2003
Petitioner's Br. at 14. form in provided the spring sufficient of 2005.
Inova responds that contrary to Howard's contention, it does have the 2003 form that Howard submitted. Inova also points out
that its policy, consistent with 29 C.F.R. § 825.308, entitles it to request recertification of an FMLA-qualifying chronic
condition every 30 days. Howard's argument is not persuasive. Regardless of whether
Inova failed to retain Howard's 2003 FMLA form for three years as required by 29 C.F.R. § 825.500(b), that regulation does not require an employer to consider FMLA documentation as effective for three years. employer may To the contrary, as Inova points out, an recertification of a chronic or
"permanent/long-term condition under continuing supervision of a health care provider" at least every 30 days, "in connection with an absence by the employee." 19 29 C.F.R. § 825.308(a); see
also Rhoads v. F.D.I.C., 257 F.3d 373, 383 (4th Cir. 2001) ("An employer has discretion to require that an employee's leave
request `be supported by a certification issued by the health care provider of the employee.'" (citing 29 U.S.C. § 2613(a)) (punctuation omitted)). Although Howard ultimately submitted a
Certification of Health Care Provider form from Dr. Dade on May 31, 2005 and received approval for leave on a going-forward
basis from March 29, 2005 to March 28, 2006, he points to no evidence in the record showing that he submitted such a form or the necessary leave requests to excuse his nine absences in the spring of 2005. in 2005 is The lack of FMLA documentation for his absences apparent in light of the extensive
documentation he provided in 2002 and 2003 to excuse numerous absences due to his car accidents. See J.A. 597602, 604013.
The record does not support a fact issue as to whether Inova improperly disciplined Howard for his absences in the spring of 2005. 3. Howard argues that Inova wrongfully terminated his
employment for failure to provide fitness-for-duty certificates because Inova improperly required certificates from two doctors. He also contends that Inova improperly sought more than "a
simple statement" as required by 29 C.F.R. § 825.310(c). 20
notes that Inova required Howard to ask his doctors to review a job description and to provide additional information about his condition. September He points out that the DOL found Dr. Lawrence's 15, 2005 letter, which stated that Howard could
"return to appropriate work around the end of this month," J.A. 158, to be an adequate fitness-for-duty certification. See
generally J.A. 115468, 119596.
In addition, Howard argues
that "[w]hen an employee is terminated prior to the conclusion of his 12 weeks of FMLA leave, the termination violates the FMLA." still Petitioner's Reply Br. at 4. eligible 19, for FMLA such leave that that He asserts that he was would have lasted of until his
employment on October 17, 2005 violated the FMLA. In response, Inova argues that Howard failed to submit any fitness-for-duty certification, despite written requests on
August 26, September 8, and September 28, 2005.
Citing Bloom v.
Metro Heart Group of St. Louis, Inc., 440 F.3d 1025, 1030 (8th Cir. 2006), Inova argues that Dr. Lawrence's letter was "too vague and conditional" to serve as a fitness-for-duty
certification. Bloom considered is a
Respondent's Br. at 23. inapposite diagnostic to this from case. a The Bloom court
that the employer had paid to examine the employee during her 21
absence from work. When she wished to resume work, the employee had asked her two treating physicians to complete a fitness-forduty certificate, but neither returned the form to her. As a
result, she relied on the diagnosing physician's earlier report as "equivalent to a fitness-for-duty certificate." F.3d at 1030. vague and Bloom, 440
The Eighth Circuit found this report to be "too to constitute Id. a statement that [the
employee] was fit-for-duty." 5 in Bloom, Dr. Lawrence's
Unlike the diagnostic report in this case was clearly
intended to convey information to Inova about Howard's ability to return to work. The Sixth Circuit has held that a "fitness-
for-duty certification need only state that the employee can return to work." Brumbalough v. Camelot Care Ctrs., Inc., 427 The Brumbalough court noted:
F.3d 996, 1003 (6th Cir. 2005).
While the employer may require more information, the regulation clearly states that the employer cannot delay reinstating the employee simply because the employer is obtaining further information or
The report stated as follows:
Whatever direction or energies her previous treating physicians think best for her, it should be carried on by them in her behalf. If she were working, I would not be able to determine any medical basis to restrict work activities as a sonographer/electrocardiographer/ultrasound technician. Bloom, 440 F.3d at 1029. 22
clarification from provider. . . .
This view is bolstered by the fact that the FMLA and accompanying regulations lay out in specific detail what must be included in an initial medical certification, whereas the regulations expressly state that only a simple statement is needed in a fitnessfor-duty certification. . . . Accordingly, we hold that once an employee submits a statement from her health care provider which indicates that she may return to work, the employer's duty to reinstate her has been triggered under the FMLA. 427 F.3d at 100304 (citations omitted). This circuit has not yet addressed what constitutes an
adequate fitness-for-duty certification under the FMLA, but we need not reach this issue because Inova properly terminated
Howard's employment under 29 C.F.R. § 825.311. states:
When requested by the employer pursuant to a uniformly applied policy for similarly-situated employees, the employee must provide medical certification at the time the employee seeks reinstatement at the end of FMLA leave taken for the employee's serious health condition, that the employee is fit for duty and able to return to work if the employer has provided the required notice . . . . In this situation, unless the employee provides either a fitness-for-duty certification or a new medical certification for a serious health condition at the time FMLA leave is concluded, the employee may be terminated. 29 C.F.R. § 825.311(c) (emphases added) (citations omitted).
Under this section, Inova was entitled to terminate Howard's 23
certification or a new medical certification when his August 2005 FMLA leave expired. 6 Howard's request "for The record shows that Inova approved leave," which "began on
August 11, 2005 and will end on August 26, 2005." (emphasis omitted). August needed 29, to 2005, see
Inova expected Howard to resume work on J.A. a 659, and informed Howard that he
returning to work, see J.A. 679.
However, Howard did not return
Howard argues that he still had additional FMLA leave at the time Inova terminated his employment and that this termination "violates the FMLA" because it occurred "prior to the conclusion of his 12 weeks of FMLA leave." Petitioner's Reply Br. at 4. Howard cites no regulation or statute to support this contention, which appears to rely on an untenable interpretation of 29 C.F.R. § 825.311(c). In requiring the employee to provide "either a fitness-for-duty certification or a new medical certification for a serious health condition at the time FMLA leave is concluded," section 825.311(c) does not refer to all FMLA leave to which the employee is then entitled, as Howard seems to suggest. If it did, its requirement of a "new medical certification for a serious health condition" is nugatory, because an employee who has reached the end of all the FMLA leave to which he is entitled in a 12-month period has exhausted that leave and may not qualify for more, regardless of whether he submits a new medical certification. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.200(a) (stating that an "eligible employee's FMLA leave entitlement is limited to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period" (emphasis added)). To give meaning to the entire regulation, section 825.311(c) must be interpreted to require an employee to provide a fitness-for-duty certification or a new medical certification at the time the employee's scheduled, approved FMLA leave--for which the employee has provided the necessary notice and certification--expires. 24
to work on August 29, 2005, and in fact did not attempt to return to work until October 3, 2005. sent a September 15, 2005 letter Although Dr. Lawrence that Howard could
return to work "around the end of this month," J.A. 158, nothing in the record shows that Howard submitted at proper end medical of his
approved FMLA leave. entitled to terminate
Under 29 C.F.R. § 825.311(c), Inova was Howard's employment because Howard had
provided neither "a fitness-for-duty certification" nor a "new medical certification for a serious health condition at the time [his approved] FMLA leave [was] concluded." 7 Howard has not
shown that a fact issue exists as to whether Inova's termination of his employment violated the FMLA. B. In his retaliation claim, Howard asserts that Inova
retaliated against him for exercising his rights under the FMLA by disciplining him for unexcused absences, transferring him to an alternative position that exacerbated his PTSD, and
terminating his employment "before his 12 weeks of medical leave was concluded." Petitioner's Reply Br. at 79. His briefs
The parties do not dispute on appeal whether Inova requested a fitness-for-duty certification from Howard "pursuant to a uniformly applied policy for similarly-situated employees." 29 C.F.R. § 825.311(c); see also 29 C.F.R. § 825.310(a). 25
transferred him to a position near the OR knowing that his PTSD could be triggered. He further contends that Williams and
Quick, in conjunction with other Inova HR personnel, decided to leave Howard in the alternative position after learning of his EEOC complaint, even after both Howard and an old supervisor, Kavros, told them he should not be working around the OR. In response, Inova points out that Quick informed Howard of his transfer to the supply distribution tech position on June 15, 2005, and that Howard reported for work on June 23, 2005 with a note stating that Howard was "fit to return to duty" as long as he could "avoid unnecessary stress" if possible. J.A. 126. See
Inova highlights that Howard returned to work "with
full knowledge of his working environment," but the note failed to advise Inova of any problem Howard might have with his
proximity to the OR.
Respondent's Br. at 3839.
asserts that it did not receive "notice that Howard may have been in proximity to blood or other PTSD-triggering stimuli in his alternate position until July 12, 2005 at the earliest, and there was doubt as to whether this was true or not." Id. at 39.
Inova argues that "as soon as Inova had confirmation that Howard
had concerns about being exposed to blood, he was transferred to another position." We have held Id. that "FMLA claims arising under the
retaliation theory are analogous to those derived under Title VII and so are analyzed under the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green [441 U.S. 792, 80006 (1973)]." Yashenko v. Harrah's N.C. Casino Co., LLC, 446 F.3d 541, 55051 (4th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). A plaintiff "must make a
prima facie showing that he `engaged in protected activity, that the employer took adverse action against him, to and that the
protected activity.'" Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d
Id. at 551 (quoting Cline v. Wal-Mart 294, 301 (4th Cir. 1998)). If the
plaintiff "establishes a prima facie case of retaliation" and the employer "offers `a nondiscriminatory explanation' for his termination," the plaintiff "bears the burden of establishing that the employer's proffered explanation is pretext for FMLA retaliation." Id. (quoting Nichols v. Ashland Hosp. Corp., 51
F.3d 496, 502 (4th Cir. 2001)). Applying this analysis, the district court found that
Howard had failed to establish a prima facie retaliation claim because his transfer to the supply distribution tech position "was consistent with both FMLA regulations and Inova's Family 27
and Medical Leave policy" and did not constitute an "adverse employment action." 8 J.A. 77. The court held that even if the
transfer did qualify as an adverse employment action, "Inova has met its burden of establishing a non-discriminatory reason for the transfer" Id. has not shown a prima facie retaliation claim. and Howard failed to offer "any evidence of
Although he argues that Inova transferred him to and retained him in the supply distribution tech position in bad faith, he has not identified evidence in the record to create a fact issue on this point. As noted above, the most recent documentation in All
Inova's files relating to Howard's PTSD dated from 2001.
the FMLA documentation that Howard had submitted in the three years preceding the recurrence of his PTSD related to his back problems. Although Howard missed a week of work due to
"debilitating stress," when he returned the note from his health care provider did not state that Howard's PTSD had recurred or that he needed to avoid exposure to blood. Howard admitted in
his deposition that he did not inform anyone at Inova about most of the dissociative episodes he experienced while working in the
The district court also noted that insofar as Howard argued that Inova wrongly disciplined him for absenteeism and tardiness, Inova properly considered Howard's absences unexcused because of his failure to provide FMLA certification. 28
The record also shows that he did not submit Howard
FMLA certification of his PTSD until August 10, 2005.
has not shown that a fact issue exists as to whether Inova's decision to transfer him was retaliatory. C. Howard has failed to establish a fact issue as to either his interference or retaliation claims. We therefore affirm the
district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Inova.
III. Howard leave to also appeals his the district without court's denial or, of in his the
alternative, to amend his complaint.
The denial of a motion to
dismiss without prejudice is reviewed for abuse of discretion. See Andes v. Versant Corp., 788 F.2d 1033, 1035 (4th Cir. 1986). Under Federal Rule of "at Civil the Procedure 41(a)(2), request a court by may
order, on terms that the court considers proper."
The denial of
a motion for leave to amend a complaint is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Franks v. Ross, 313 F.3d 184, 192 (4th Cir. 2002)
(citing HCMF Corp. v. Allen, 238 F.3d 273, 27677 (4th Cir. 2001)). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), "a
requires." A. Howard argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss his complaint without prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). The purpose of Rule 41(a)(2)
is "to allow voluntary dismissals unless the parties will be unfairly prejudiced." Davis v. USX Corp., 819 F.2d 1270, 1273 In deciding a motion to
(4th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted).
dismiss without prejudice under Rule 41(a), "a district court should consider factors such as `the opposing party's effort and expense in diligence preparing on the for part trial, of excessive movant, delay and and lack of
explanation of the need for a voluntary dismissal,' as well as the present stage of litigation." Miller v. Terramite Corp.,
114 F. App'x 536, 540 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Phillips USA, Inc., v. Allflex USA, Inc., 77 F.3d 354, 358 (10th Cir. 1996)). Howard argues on appeal that granting his motion to dismiss without prejudice would not have prejudiced Inova. He asserts
that Inova's efforts "in this litigation need not be repeated in any future case" because he has "stipulated that any discovery shall be admissible in a future proceeding." at 22. Petitioner's Br.
He also contends that there was no excessive delay on 30
his part and points out that Inova "delayed producing important discovery until the last week of discovery and even beyond the discovery period." Id. at 2122.
In response, Inova notes that Howard filed his motion to dismiss two weeks before trial and asserts that it incurred
substantial expense in preparing for trial.
Citing Andes, 788
F.2d at 103637, and related cases, Inova points out that "the expenses of discovery and preparation of a motion for summary judgment may constitute prejudice sufficient to support denial of a voluntary argues dismissal." that Howard Respondent's was not Br. at in 47. Inova his
claims in this case and notes that in the initial discovery period, Howard's discovery efforts consisted of one set of
interrogatories and document requests issued at the beginning of the period. April 6, Inova moved to extend the discovery deadline until because of alleged deficiencies in Howard's
Howard only attempted to depose Inova's
corporate representative on April 3, 2007, four days before the close of extended discovery. made additional document During this deposition, Howard based on the deponent's
responses, and Inova complied.
Inova stresses that it never
withheld any nonprivileged responsive information from Howard at any time. In addition, Inova highlights that Howard did not 31
file his motion to dismiss until more than three weeks after discovery closed, and after Inova had filed its summary judgment motion. Our sufficient jurisprudence prejudice to on a the issue to of what constitutes denial of a
motion for voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) is not free from ambiguity. In Davis, we noted that "[i]t is well
established that, for purposes of Rule 41(a)(2), prejudice to the defendant does not result from the prospect of a second lawsuit" tactical or "the possibility over the that the plaintiff in future will gain a
819 F.2d at 127475.
Similarly, in Fidelity Bank PLC v. N. Fox
Shipping N.V., we held that "the mere filing of a motion for summary judgment is not, without more, a basis for refusing to dismiss without prejudice." 242 F. App'x 84, 89 (4th Cir. 2007)
(quoting Andes, 788 F.2d 1033, 1036 n.4 (internal quotations and alterations omitted)). However, we have also found on multiple
occasions that a district court does not abuse its discretion in denying advanced a to motion the for summary voluntary judgment dismissal stage and if the the case has have
incurred substantial costs in discovery. F. App'x at 540 (affirming for district
See, e.g., Miller, 114 court's was decision "untimely that and
would waste judicial resources" because the motion was filed well after discovery had closed and a dispositive order was
imminent); Francis v. Ingles, 1 F. App'x 152, 154 (4th Cir. 2001) (affirming district court's denial of motion to dismiss without prejudice because the "plaintiff's motion came after a lengthy discovery period and merely one week before the
scheduled trial date" and because "the motivation for the motion appeared to be to circumvent" a discovery ruling, which counsel could have avoided "by deposing the witness within the discovery period"); Skinner v. First Am. Bank of Va., 64 F.3d 659, at *23 (4th Cir. 1995) (stating that "[t]he expenses of discovery and preparation of a motion for summary judgment may constitute
prejudice sufficient to support denial of a voluntary dismissal" and noting that granting a motion to dismiss is not required to allow a party to "avoid an adverse ruling in federal court"); Sullivan v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 848 F.2d 186, at *2 (4th Cir. 1988) ("Given the advanced stage of the proceedings, the district court's denial of [the plaintiff's] motion was not an abuse of discretion."). We conclude that Howard has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to dismiss without prejudice on these facts. The posture of this case is
similar to that in Andes, in which the court noted that the case 33
nevertheless was "more advanced than a number of cases . . . in which voluntary dismissal was held proper." (collecting cases). had incurred 788 F.2d at 1036
The defendants in Andes asserted that they expenses engaging in discovery and
filing motions for summary judgment. under the circumstances, plaintiff's] the "there Rule was
The Andes court found that a sufficient motion its basis thus for we in
refusing to dismiss without prejudice." In this case, the record
Id. at 103637. to support Howard's
explanation of the need for voluntary dismissal.
that Inova's document production late in the discovery period revealed that Inova's reasons for transferring Howard were
He argues that "[t]his showing of pretext warrants
Plaintiff being allowed to join his FMLA claim with his ADA claim that he requested a right to sue letter from the EEOC on." Petitioner's Br. at 23. As Howard's brief and the record show,
however, Howard was well aware of the possibility of an ADA claim before he filed his complaint in this case. He filed an He
EEOC charge alleging an ADA violation on June 27, 2005.
filed his complaint alleging only his FMLA claims on August 24, 2006. 34
In addition, the record shows that Howard was not diligent in conducting the discovery that he asserts led to the new
information that supports his motion for voluntary dismissal. Howard emphasizes that Inova was producing documents even after the close of discovery, but Inova due points to out that it only
requests at the end of the discovery period.
Howard has not
shown that Inova failed to provide responsive documents in a timely fashion related to any of his discovery requests. Given the stage of the litigation, Howard's insufficient explanation for a voluntary dismissal, and his lack of diligence in pursuing both discovery not and his its substantive discretion in claims, finding the a
"sufficient basis" to deny Howard's motion to dismiss without prejudice. Andes, 788 F.2d at 103637. B. Howard also argues that the district court erred in denying his motion to amend. grant a motion to Under Rule 15, the district court may amend the complaint "when justice so
A district court does not abuse its discretion in
denying leave to amend if there is "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments 35 previously allowed, undue
prejudice to the opposing party. . . , futility of amendment, etc." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).
Howard argues that he should be allowed to add an ADA claim based on the evidence that Inova produced toward the end of discovery, which Howard asserts supports his argument that Inova
Inova's reasons for transferring him were pretextual.
argues in response that Howard unduly delayed in moving to amend his complaint to add his ADA claims, noting that Howard could have requested a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC at any time after December 24, 2005 and that he did not seek to amend his complaint until almost two years after he filed his EEOC charge. Inova Inova also due contends to the that to allow stage amendment of the would prejudice and the
different theories of recovery an ADA claim would involve. We have noted that "[a]mendments near the time of trial may be particularly disruptive, and may therefore be subject to
Deasy v. Hill, 833 F.2d 38, 41 (4th Cir. The Deasy court found that "a motion
1987) (citation omitted).
to amend should be made as soon as the necessity for altering the pleading becomes apparent." Id. (quoting 6 Charles Alan
Wright & Arthur A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1488 (1971)). In this case, Howard has not shown that his proposed
amendment to add an ADA claim resulted from the discovery of new 36
facts that prompted his motion to amend.
To the contrary, the
record shows that Howard was aware of the possibility of an ADA claim almost a year before he filed his complaint. In ruling from the bench on Howard's motion to dismiss
without prejudice or to amend, the district court noted that "[t]his EEOC matter was a matter that had been known about. And
while there was perhaps some information that came late, I don't believe there is any showing that that's a groundbreaking piece of information by any means." J.A. 29. The district court did
not abuse its discretion in so holding. C. We affirm the district court's decision to deny Howard's motion to dismiss without prejudice or, in the alternative, to amend his complaint.
IV. Lastly, Howard appeals the district court's decision to
dismiss his ADA claim as barred by res judicata.
We review de
novo an order granting a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 302 (4th Cir. 2008). Howard argues that Inova now "seeks to benefit from the repose granted by res judicata when the facts demonstrate that 37 Giarrantano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298,
in the FMLA case the facts that would have led to the early joinder of the ADA cause of action were withheld by the actions of [Inova]." Petitioner's Br. at 2526. He asserts that
because Inova withheld critical information, his counsel "could not effectively question Williams" or "assert the ADA claim
early in the previous litigation." Inova argues that the
Id. at 28. for res judicata are
satisfied because the district court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of Inova is a final judgment on the merits; the parties are identical in both actions; and the claims in both actions arise out of the same core of operative facts. Inova points out that Howard does not challenge the district court's res judicata analysis on appeal, but instead relies on his argument that Inova withheld that it critical timely evidence. Inova
responsive did not
withhold information. "For the doctrine of res judicata to be applicable, there must be: (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit; (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier and the later suit; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies in the two suits." Martin v. Am. Bancorporation Retirement Plan,
407 F.3d 643, 650 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Pueschel v. United States, 369 F.3d 345, 35455 (4th Cir. 2004)). The district court did not err in dismissing Howard's ADA claim as barred by res judicata. Quoting Peugeot Motors of
America, Inc. v. Eastern Auto Distributors, Inc., 892 F.2d 355, 359 (4th Cir. 1989), the district court noted that res judicata not only "bar[s] claims that were raised and fully litigated," but also "prevents litigation of all grounds for, or defenses to, recovery that were previously available to the parties,
regardless of whether they were asserted or determined in the prior proceeding." Howard's ADA J.A. 85. "clearly The district court found that rely on the same factual
circumstances on which he relied in his prior FMLA claim, namely Defendant Inova's decision to transfer [Howard] to a post in the hospital flesh." noted that exposed him to blood and the smell of burnt As
J.A. 86. Howard
The record bears out this conclusion. filed an EEOC charge of
asserting an ADA violation well before he filed his original complaint asserting FMLA violations arising out of the same core facts. Howard could have brought his ADA claim in his original "Broadly speaking, a party always of raising fewer than all the
complaint, but chose not to. has the option or election
potential theories of relief that might be available. However, 39
it is the rule that when a party can present all grounds in support of his cause of action, he must do so, if at all, in the proceeding on that cause of action." Ohio-Sealy Mattress Mfg.
Co. v. Kaplan, 90 F.R.D. 11, 15 (D.C. Ill. 1980) (citations omitted), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 745 F.2d 441 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 471 U.S. 1125 (1985), quoted in 18 Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Edward H. Cooper,
Federal Practice and Procedure, Jurisdiction, § 4407 (2d ed. 2002). We affirm the district court's dismissal of Howard's ADA claim as barred by res judicata.
V. For the reasons outlined above, the judgments of the
district courts are AFFIRMED.
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