Whittaker v. America's Car-Mart, Inc.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 16 MOTION to Strike Motion of Defendant to Strike Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint or, in the Alternative, to Dismiss Count I of Plaintiffs First Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted filed by Defendant America's Car-Mart, Inc. motion is DENIED. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 4/24/14. (MRS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
AMERICA’S CAR-MART, INC.,
Case No. 1:13CV108 SNLJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This is an employment discrimination case alleging discrimination on the basis of
disability and retaliation. Plaintiff Joseph Whittaker claims that defendant America’s
Car-Mart, Inc. terminated his employment because of his disability and, in retaliation for
the charge of discrimination, threatened to terminate business with other entities if those
entities employ plaintiff. This matter is before the Court on the defendant’s motion to
strike plaintiff’s first amended complaint, or in the alternative, motion to dismiss count I
of the first amended complaint. Plaintiff has not filed a response and the time for doing
so has expired. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will deny the motions.
Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint
Plaintiff filed his complaint on July 19, 2013 stating a single claim of employment
discrimination alleging he was terminated because of his severe obesity. On October 21,
2013, this Court entered a Case Management Order that stated, in pertinent part, “[a]ll
motions for joinder of additional parties or amendment of pleadings shall be filed no later
than December 9, 2013.” On December 9, 2013, plaintiff filed a motion for extension of
time requesting an extension to January 9, 2014 “to file plaintiff’s amended complaint.”
Plaintiff’s motion stated that defendant’s attorney had no objection to the requested
extension. The Court granted the motion. On January 9, 2014, plaintiff filed his first
Defendant argues that plaintiff’s amended complaint was filed without defendant’s
consent and without leave of court and requests that it be stricken. Defendant asserts that
it consented only to an extension of the deadline in the case management order with
regard to filing motions for joinder of additional parties or amendment of pleadings. The
motion filed by plaintiff, however, did not merely seek an extension of that deadline.
Instead, plaintiff’s motion clearly requested leave to file an amended complaint by
January 9, 2014.
Further, plaintiff’s motion pled grounds for leave to file an amended complaint.
Specifically, in his motion, plaintiff alleged that he had filed a joint charge of retaliation
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Missouri Commission on
Human Rights and that he had received the right to sue notice from MCHR but had not
yet received the right to sue notice from the EEOC. It is clear that plaintiff’s motion
sought leave to file an amended complaint adding a charge of discrimination based on
retaliation. This Court granted the motion, thereby granting plaintiff leave to file an
amended complaint. Defendant’s motion to strike the amended complaint is denied.
Motion to Dismiss
The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is to
test the legal sufficiency of a complaint so as to eliminate those actions “which are fatally
flawed in their legal premises and deigned to fail, thereby sparing litigants the burden of
unnecessary pretrial and trial activity.” Young v. City of St. Charles, 244 F.3d 623, 627
(8th Cir. 2001) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989)). “To survive a
motion to dismiss, a claim must be facially plausible, meaning that the ‘factual content . .
. allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.’” Cole v. Homier Dist. Co., Inc., 599 F.3d 856, 861 (8th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). The Court must “accept the
allegations contained in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor
of the nonmoving party.” Id. (quoting Coons v. Mineta, 410 F.3d 1036, 1039 (8th Cir.
In his complaint, plaintiff alleges he has a disability within the meaning of the
Americans with Disabilities Act in that he suffers from severe obesity, which he alleges
is a physical impairment under the ADA. Further, plaintiff alleges that defendant
regarded him as having such impairment and as being substantially limited in a major life
activity, walking, as a result of his obesity. Plaintiff was able to perform the essential
functions of his position with or without accommodation. Plaintiff began working for
defendant in August 2005 and was discharged from his position as General Manager on
November 1, 2012. Plaintiff alleges that he was discharged because of his disability.
Defendant seeks dismissal of count I of plaintiff’s amended complaint stating a
claim for employment discrimination based on disability. Defendant contends that
plaintiff’s alleged disability, severe obesity, is not an actual disability under the ADA
unless it is related to an underlying physiological disorder or condition and that plaintiff
fails to allege that his obesity is related to an underlying physiological disorder or
condition.1 As a result, defendant argues that count I fails to state a claim. For this
motion, this Court determines whether plaintiff’s claim is facially plausible. The Court
notes that defendant relies on case law construing disability based on the more restrictive
approach that was applied before Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities
Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which became effective on January 1, 2009.
Pub.L. No. 110–325, § 8, 122 Stat. 3553, 3559 (2008). Further, defendant’s reliance on
the statement in the EEOC’s Interpretive Guidance, 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(j)
(2008), that “except in rare circumstances, obesity is not considered a disabling
impairment” is misplaced as that language has been omitted following the ADAAA.
Contrary to plaintiff’s position, the EEOC has taken the position that severe obesity is a
disability under the ADA and does not require proof of a physiological basis and at least
one district court has agreed. See E.E.O.C. v. Resources for Human Development, Inc.,
827 F.Supp.2d 688, 693-94 (E.D. La. 2011). In E.E.O.C. v. Resources for Human
Development, Inc., the EEOC cited to the ADA compliance manual, which stated:
“Being overweight, in and of itself, is not generally an impairment . . . . On the other
hand, severe obesity, which has been defined as body weight more than 100% over the
norm, is clearly an impairment.” Id. (citing EEOC Compliance Guidelines §
In the ADAAA, Congress rejected the unduly restrictive approach established by
the Supreme Court in Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 198
(2002), for analyzing whether a plaintiff suffers from a disability for purposes of the
ADA. See Pub.L. No. 110–325, § 2(b)(5), 122 Stat. 3553, 3554. As a result, Congress
mandated in the ADAAA that the definition of disability be construed “in favor of broad
coverage of individuals . . . to the maximum extent permitted” by the law. 42 U.S.C.
Under the ADA, as amended by the ADAAA, a disability is defined as “(A) a
physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; (C) being regarded as having
such as impairment . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(g). This Court finds
that plaintiff’s pleading is sufficient to give rise to an inference that he is disabled within
the meaning of the ADA. Specifically, plaintiff pleads that he has severe obesity, which
he alleges is a physical impairment within the meaning of the ADA. Further, he pleads
defendant regarded him as having such impairment and regarded him as being
substantially limited in one or more major life activities, including, but not limited to,
walking, as a result of his obesity. “Based on the substantial expansion of the ADA by
the ADAAA, defendant’s assertion that plaintiff’s weight cannot be considered a
disability is misplaced.” Lowe v. American Eurocopter, LLC., 1:10CV24-A-D, 2010 WL
5232523, at *8 (N.D. Miss. Dec. 16, 2010). “Whether or not plaintiff can in fact prove
that [his] weight rises to the level of a disability under the ADA is not at issue here, as a
motion to dismiss is not the proper method for evaluating the merits of plaintiff’s specific
assertions.” Id. (emphasis in original).
Plaintiff sufficiently alleges a factual basis from which inferences supporting the
legal conclusion that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA may be drawn.
Therefore, defendants’ motion to dismiss will be denied.
In sum, on defendant’s motion to strike plaintiff’s first amended complaint, this
Court finds that plaintiff sought and was granted leave to file his amended complaint. As
to defendant’s motion to dismiss count I for failure to plead a disability under the ADA,
this Court finds that plaintiff has sufficiently pled a claim that he is disabled within the
meaning of the ADA.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant’s motion to strike plaintiff’s first
amended complaint, or in the alternative, motion to dismiss count I of the first amended
complaint (ECF # 16) is DENIED.
Dated this 24th day of April, 2014.
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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