Wheeler v. State of Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING plaintiff's 40 MOTION to Dismiss; GRANTING defendants' 32 MOTION for Summary Judgment; further ORDERING that plaintiff's request for court ordered mediation is DENIED as moot. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 2/17/12. (djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
STATE OF ALABAMA
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, )
RICHARD F. ALLEN, FRANK
ALBRIGHT, LEOPOSEY DANIELS, )
PHYLLIS BILLUPS, LARRY FLOYD, )
and DONALD DIETZ,
CASE NO. 2:10-CV-565-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 32),
which is accompanied by a supporting brief and evidentiary submissions (Docs. # 32,
33). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (Doc. # 40), which the court construes
as containing a motion to dismiss without prejudice, to which Defendants replied
(Doc. # 43). After careful consideration of the arguments of counsel, the applicable
law and the record as a whole, the court finds that Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss
Without Prejudice is due to be denied and Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment is due to be denied in part and granted in part.
II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The court properly exercises subject matter jurisdiction over this action,
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1343, and 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Personal
jurisdiction and venue are adequately pleaded and not contested.
Plaintiff is currently employed as a drug treatment counselor with the Alabama
Department of Corrections at Elmore Correctional Facility. While Plaintiff originally
alleged claims arising during her employment at other prisons, her sole claim under
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101–17, now
involves Plaintiff’s employment at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.2 Plaintiff began
working at Tutwiler Prison in November 2007 and ended her employment there in
September 2009, when she was transferred to her current station.3
The facts are largely taken from Defendants’ statement of facts in their Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. # 32), which relies on Plaintiff’s deposition testimony. In her
response brief, Plaintiff has neither offered her own statement of facts nor offered evidence to
dispute the material facts provided by Defendants, as discussed infra. Thus, the actual facts may
be different than those stated here. See Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1190 (11th Cir. 2002).
Plaintiff’s Complaint (Doc. # 1) originally alleged violations of the ADA, Title VII, the
Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Alabama state law.
Plaintiff was involved in an incident in June 2009, in which she was sitting in a chair
that gave way and caused her to fall. This fall resulted in Plaintiff taking about three months off
and receiving worker’s compensation. After the incident, Plaintiff requested to be reassigned to
Elmore Correctional Facility, which is closer to Plaintiff’s home. Plaintiff was granted this
reassignment, and she did not return to Tutwiler Prison.
Plaintiff has been involved in several car accidents and has sustained injuries
resulting in her being unable to walk long distances or stand for prolonged periods
of time. Plaintiff has a handicapped place card for her car to verify that she is a
handicapped individual. When she began working at Tutwiler Prison, she parked in
the handicapped parking spaces at the front of the institution.4
In late September 2008, Plaintiff was unable to park in a handicapped parking
space because of an unauthorized car parked in one of the spaces. She parked in an
unauthorized parking area to be close to the institution. Defendant Warden Frank
Albright asked Plaintiff to move her car from the unauthorized parking area. Plaintiff
complained to her supervisor and requested a reserved parking sign with her name on
it to prevent further parking issues.5 (Ex. 3 to Pl.’s Resp. Br. (Doc. # 40).)
In early October 2008, Plaintiff met with an Alabama Department of
Corrections Grievance Officer and explained that an unauthorized car was parked in
one of the handicapped spaces, forcing her to park in an unauthorized area. Plaintiff
Plaintiff was told she could no longer use the handicapped parking at the front of the
institution because those parking spots were reserved for visitors. However, it is unclear from
the record when she was told she could not park in those spaces.
Some employees at Tutwiler Prison were given designated parking spaces in the
manner requested by Plaintiff. (Pl.’s Dep. 51 (Ex. 1 to Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J.).) It is unclear
which employees are qualified to receive a reserved parking space.
requested a parking space near the entrance to accommodate her disability. (Ex. 3 to
Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J. (Doc. # 32); Ex. 4 to Pl.’s Resp. Br.)
In response to the grievance and to eliminate unauthorized vehicles from using
handicapped spaces, handicapped employee parking was designated at the back
entrance of the institution “[b]ecause parking spaces [were] limited at Tutwiler
Prison.” (Ex. 3 to Defs.’ Mot. for Summ. J.) Plaintiff was dissatisfied and sent a
letter to the ADA representative, complaining about this arrangement. Plaintiff stated
that she needed a parking place near the institution’s front entrance to accommodate
her disability.6 Employees of Tutwiler Prison are required to clock in at the front of
the institution and leave their ID cards and keys. At the end of the day, employees
return to the front to clock out and gather their ID cards and keys. Plaintiff contends
that walking the distances between the back gate and the front of the institution to
clock in and out exacerbated her condition. (Ex. 5 to Pl.’s Resp. Br.)
Plaintiff did not request an accommodation to leave her workstation early in
order to rest during her walk to the front of the institution. Plaintiff admitted that
when she had taken breaks, no one had reprimanded her for doing so. (Pl.’s Dep. 58.)
Plaintiff also admitted that her doctors recommended that she use a wheelchair,
There were non-handicapped employee parking spaces near the front of the institution.
(Pl.’s Dep. 52–53.)
walker, scooter, or cane, but that “she chose not to” so as “not to draw attention” to
herself.7 (Pl.’s Dep. 30.)
Voluntary Dismissal Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2)
In her response, Plaintiff requests that the court dismiss her Complaint without
prejudice and order mediation. (Pl.’s Resp. Br. 3, 5.) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
41(a)(2) allows for “an action [to] be dismissed at the plaintiff’s request . . . by court
order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Unless stated otherwise, voluntary
dismissals under this section are “without prejudice.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2).
The Eleventh Circuit has explained that
[a] voluntary dismissal without prejudice is not a matter of right.
Although we have said that in most cases a voluntary dismissal should
be allowed unless the defendant will suffer some plain prejudice other
than the mere prospect of a second lawsuit, the decision whether or not
to grant such a dismissal is within the sound discretion of the district
court and reviewable only for abuse of discretion. And, when exercising
its discretion in considering a dismissal without prejudice, the court
should keep in mind the interests of the defendant, for Rule 41(a)(2)
exists chiefly for protection of defendants.
Fisher v. P.R. Marine Mgmt., Inc., 940 F.2d 1502, 1502–03 (11th Cir. 1991)
(citations omitted); see also Potenberg v. Bos. Scientific Corp., 252 F.3d 1253, 1255
(11th Cir. 2001) (“[I]n most cases, a voluntary dismissal should be granted unless the
Plaintiff uses a motorized cart while grocery shopping. (Pl.’s Dep. 80.)
defendant will suffer clear legal prejudice, other than the mere prospect of a
subsequent lawsuit, as a result.” (quotation omitted)).
Defendants object to a dismissal without prejudice because they have spent
time and money defending the present suit. (Defs.’ Reply Br. (Doc. # 43) 1–2.)
Defendants argue that there is “no legal . . . justification for giving the Plaintiff [and
her new attorney] a proverbial ‘second bite at the apple.’” (Defs.’ Reply Br. 2.)
Plaintiff filed her Complaint on June 30, 2010, and did not make her request
for voluntary dismissal until October 7, 2011. This request came more than three
months after the discovery cut-off date and while a motion for summary judgment
was pending. While the mere presence of a pending summary judgment motion does
not qualify as legal prejudice, see Potenberg, 252 F.3d at 1258, a court may take this
factor into account when determining whether to grant a motion for voluntary
dismissal without prejudice. See Stephens v. Ga. Dep’t of Transp., 134 F. App’x 320,
323 (11th Cir. 2005) (holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when
it denied a plaintiff’s voluntary motion to dismiss without prejudice filed two years
after the complaint, where “numerous motions had been filed, extensive discovery
had been produced, and motions for summary judgment were pending”); McBride v.
JLG Indus., No. 7:03 CV 118 HL, 2005 WL 2293566, at *3–4 (M.D. Ga. Sept. 20,
2005) (denying a voluntary motion to dismiss without prejudice filed three years after
the complaint, and where discovery had been conducted, numerous motions had been
filed, a summary judgment motion was pending, and plaintiff’s motion was an attempt
to avoid an adverse ruling on the summary judgment motion); but see Potenberg, 252
F.3d at 1256 (holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting a
plaintiff’s voluntary motion to dismiss without prejudice filed after the discovery cutoff date and where there was a pending summary judgment motion).
Defendants will suffer legal prejudice should Plaintiff’s motion for voluntary
dismissal without prejudice be granted. At each step of the litigation process,
Defendants proceeded in a manner directed toward a timely resolution of the case.
Defendants have spent time and money engaging in discovery and defending this suit,
including filing their pending summary judgment motion.
Defendants also have accommodated Plaintiff throughout the case. Plaintiff’s
former counsel withdrew in April 2011, representing to the court that Plaintiff did not
contact her for more than three months, and that Plaintiff breached the contract with
her. (See Doc. # 28.) Plaintiff represented herself pro se until August 26, 2011, when
her current counsel filed his notice of appearance. Plaintiff’s deposition was taken
while she was without counsel, and Defendants ensured that Plaintiff understood she
no longer had an attorney and that she wanted to proceed with the deposition while
representing herself. Plaintiff agreed that she did want to proceed. (Pl.’s Dep. 5.)
After Plaintiff obtained new counsel, Defendants did not oppose a thirty-day
extension for Plaintiff’s new counsel to familiarize himself with the case and to
respond to the motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 38.)
Instead of adequately responding to Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment, Plaintiff abandoned all but one claim, requested a voluntary dismissal
without prejudice, and made generalized arguments that summary judgment should
not be granted. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss her Complaint without
prejudice will be denied.
Standard of Review
On summary judgment, the evidence and the inferences from that evidence
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. See Jean-Baptiste v.
Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010). Hence, “‘facts, as accepted at the
summary judgment stage of the proceedings, may not be the actual facts of the case.’”
Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1190 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Priester v. City of
Riviera Beach, 208 F.3d 919, 925 n.3 (11th Cir. 2000)).
“Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d
1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (“The court shall grant summary judgment 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 moving for summary judgment “always bears the initial
responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and
identifying those portions of [the record, including pleadings, discovery materials and
affidavits], which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this
burden by presenting evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by
showing 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 322–24.
If the movant meets its evidentiary burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving
party to establish, with evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine issue material
to each of its claims for relief exists. Shiver v. Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th
Cir. 2008); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). When the nonmovant fails to set forth specific facts
supported by appropriate evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to its case and on which the nonmovant will bear the burden of proof at trial,
summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex Corp.,
477 U.S. at 323 (“[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the
nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.”).
In her response, Plaintiff admits that she only maintains that “violations of the
Americans with Disabilities Act . . . willfully [occurred] while [she was] employed
with [the Alabama Department of Corrections], specifically during her employment
at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women.” (Pl.’s Resp. Br. 3.) Thus, Plaintiff’s other
federal statutory and constitutional claims, as well as her state law claims, have been
abandoned. See Resolution Trust Co. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587, 599 (11th Cir.
1995) (“[G]rounds alleged in the complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment
are deemed abandoned.”) The court will address only Plaintiff’s Title I ADA claim
relating to her former assignment at Tutwiler Prison. Furthermore, because Plaintiff’s
claims against Defendants Leoposey Daniels, Phyllis Billups, Larry Floyd, and
Donald Dietz do not arise out of her employment at Tutwiler Prison, summary
judgment is due to be granted on all claims against these Defendants.
Plaintiff’s ADA Failure to Reasonably Accommodate Claim
The remaining Defendants include Warden Albright (the only named
Defendant who was employed at Tutwiler Prison), former Commissioner Richard F.
Allen, and the Alabama Department of Corrections.8 Plaintiff claims that Defendants
violated the ADA by failing to reasonably accommodate her disability after receiving
notification that the employee handicapped parking in the back of the institution was
burdensome and “caused Plaintiff extreme physical discomfort due to the increased
distance she was required to walk[.]” (Pl.’s Resp. Br. 3.) For the reasons that follow,
summary judgment is due to be granted on all Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants.
First, summary judgment is due to be granted on all Plaintiff’s claims against
the Alabama Department of Corrections because it is entitled to immunity under the
“Unless a State has waived its Eleventh Amendment
immunity or Congress has overridden it, . . . a State cannot be sued directly in its own
name regardless of the relief sought.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167, n.14
(1985). “[T]he Eleventh Amendment constitutes an ‘absolute bar’ to a state’s being
sued by its own citizens, among others.” DeKalb Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. Schrenko, 109
F.3d 680, 687 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted). The Alabama Department of Corrections, as a state agency, is the
equivalent of the state of Alabama. See Reeves v. Thigpen, 879 F. Supp. 1153, 1178
(M.D. Ala. 1995). It, thus, is entitled to the same Eleventh Amendment protection as
Plaintiff’s Complaint names Warden Albright and Commissioner Allen in their
individual and official capacities. (Compl. 3.)
the state of Alabama. See Taylor v. Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 142 F. App’x 373, 374
(11th Cir. 2005).
In Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356
(2001), the Supreme Court held that Congress did not validly abrogate the States’
Eleventh Amendment immunity under Title I of the ADA. 531 U.S. at 374; see also
Rizo v. Ala. Dep’t of Human Res., 228 F. App’x 832, 835 (11th Cir. 2007) (per
curiam) (“Although Congress may abrogate the states’ immunity in certain situations,
it has not done so with regard to suits for monetary damages by private individuals
pursuant to Title I of the ADA . . . .”). Because there has not been a waiver by the
Alabama Department of Corrections or an abrogation of Eleventh Amendment
immunity, the Alabama Department of Corrections may not be sued in federal court
for monetary damages or equitable relief for violation of the ADA. See Alabama v.
Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (per curiam).
Second, summary judgment is due to be granted on Plaintiff’s individual
capacity claims against Warden Albright and Commissioner Allen. “[I]ndividual
liability is precluded for violations of the ADA’s employment discrimination
provision.” Albra v. Advan, Inc., 490 F.3d 826, 830 (11th Cir. 2007); see also
Udoinyion v. Guardian Sec., 440 F. App’x 731, 734–35 (11th Cir. 2011) (per curiam)
(citing Albra to affirm the dismissal of ADA individual capacity claims).
Third, summary judgment is due to be granted on Plaintiff’s monetary claims
against Warden Albright and Commissioner Allen in their official capacities. “Under
the Eleventh Amendment, state officials sued for damages in their official capacity
are immune from suit in federal court.” Jackson v. Ga. Dep’t of Transp., 16 F.3d
1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994); see also Kentucky, 473 U.S. at 166 (stating that “an
official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against
Finally, to the extent that Plaintiff is seeking prospective relief on her claims
against Warden Albright and Commissioner Allen in their official capacities,
summary judgment is due to be granted. The Eleventh Amendment does not protect
state officials from being sued for prospective declaratory and injunctive relief to
remedy ongoing violations of federal law. See Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 159–60
(1908) (holding that Eleventh Amendment does not bar suits against state officers to
enjoin violations of federal law). However, it is undisputed that Plaintiff is no longer
working at Tutwiler Prison. No evidence can be presented to show an ongoing
violation of Plaintiff’s rights under the ADA at Tutwiler Prison, and thus, any claim
for prospective relief is moot.
For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss
Without Prejudice (Doc. # 40) is DENIED and that Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. # 32) is GRANTED. It is further ORDERED that Plaintiff’s request
for court-ordered mediation (Doc. # 40) is DENIED as moot. A separate final
judgment will be issued.
DONE this 17th day of February, 2012.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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