RODGERS v. BAYONNE BOARD OF EDUCATION et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION/ORDER denying 12 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 9/26/16. (DD, ) N/M
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
BAYONNE BOARD OF
EDUCATION and ASSISTANT
SUPER ROBERT CRAIG,
Civ. No. 16-1744 (KM)
MEMORANDUM OPINION and
The plaintiff, Tanya Rodgers, brings this action against the Bayonne
Board of Education and Assistant Superintendent Robert Craig, alleging
discrimination on the basis of her disability, in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112 – 12117. Now before the Court is
the defendants’ motion (ECF no. 12) to dismiss the Complaint for failure to
state a claim, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The motion will be denied.
FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole
or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The
moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated.
Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion
to dismiss, a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S.
490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140
F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d
224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (“reasonable inferences” principle not undermined by
later Supreme Court Twombly case, infra).
R. Civ. P. 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed
factual allegations. Nevertheless, “a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the
‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will
not do.” Bell Ati. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual
allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff’s right to relief above a
speculative level, such that it is “plausible on its face.” See id. at 570; see also
Umland u. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has
“facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a
it asks for more than a sheer possibility.” Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678 (2009).
Where, as here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro
the complaint is “to be
liberally construed,” and, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). Nevertheless, “pro se litigants still must
allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala v. Crown
Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013).
The handwritten complaint (ECF no. 1), submitted on the Court’s
preprinted form, alleges as follows. Ms. Rodgers applied to be hired as a
substitute teacher. Her drug test came back negative, and a fingerprint check
was satisfactory. She had a letter from her doctor clearing her to work. The
school nurse, however, refused to clear her. Based on her [presumably high]
blood pressure, she was not hired.
These spare allegations, say defendants, do not establish that the
plaintiff had, or was perceived as having, a disability at all. As they point out, a
“disability” is defined as “(A) a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of [an] individual; (B)
a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarding as having such an
impairment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). Relevant factors to be considered include
“(i) The nature and severity of the impairment; (ii) The duration or expected
duration of the impairment; and (iii) The permanent or long term impact, or the
expected permanent or long term impact of or resulting from the impairment.”
Id. at §1630.2(j)(2). See also Williams u. Philadelphia Housing Auth. Police
Dept., 380 F.3d 751, 761 (3d Cir. 2004).
Defendants point out that hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a
common and chronic condition that need not be disabling. The complaint, they
say, does not plead the factors outlined above, and so no disability can be
inferred. They attach administrative agency decisions finding conditions to be
non-disabling, but only after the development of a medical and factual record.
They cite cases finding hypertension to be non-disabling, but again, for the
most part in the context of summary judgment.
One, Nowak v. EGWHome Care, Inc., 82 F. Supp. 2d 101, 111 (W.D.N.Y.
2000), so held on a motion to dismiss, but it is an outlier. I agree with the case
law cited in Nowak, which requires factual development so that an individual
determination can be made:
It is recognized that these cases were decided on summary
judgment after discovery, rather than on the pleadings. In fact, in
Oswalt v, Sara Lee Corp., the Fifth Circuit stated: “We do not imply
that high blood pressure in general can never be a ‘disability,’ as
defined by the statute. We hold only that [the plaintiff] failed to
provide any evidence that his high blood pressure substantially
limited a major life activity.” Oswalt v. Sara Lee Corp., supra, 74
F.3d at 92; see also Gonsalves v. IF. Fredericks Tool Co., Inc., 964
F. Supp. 616, 621 (D. Conn. 1997) (genuine issue of fact as to
whether high blood pressure contributed to plaintiffs disabling
condition); Laird v. Chamber of Commerce for New Orleans and the
River Region, 1998 WL 240401, at *1 (E.D. La. May 12, 1998)
(denying motion to dismiss ADA claim based on “extreme high
blood pressure”); Cerrato v. Durham, supra, 941 F. Supp. at 393
(motion to dismiss ADA claim denied where plaintiff alleged facts
from which it might be concluded that she suffered an impairment
that substantially restricted her capacity to engage in work).
Nowak, 82 F. Supp. 2d at 111.
I will not hold this pro se complaint to that standard; a complaint must
allege, not prove, a cause of action. This complaint alleges that Ms. Rodgers
has hypertension, that the condition constitutes a disability, and that she was
denied a position on that basis. Without the development of a factual record, I
cannot find that this condition—in her case—does or does not approach the
level of severity that would constitute a disability
The defendants having filed a motion (ECF no. 12) to dismiss the
Complaint for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); and
the plaintiff having filed a response (ECF no. 13); and the defendant having
filed a reply (ECF no. 15); and the Court having reviewed the papers without
oral argument; for the reasons stated in the foregoing opinion, and good cause
IT IS this 26th day of September, 2016
ORDERED that the defendants’ motion to dismiss (ECF no. 12) is
HON. KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.
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