Woods v. Moore et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by District Judge Aleta A. Trauger on 9/7/2017. (xc:Pro se party by regular mail. ) (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(jw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
RONALD J. WOODS,
LANCE MOORE, JULIE TUCKER, and )
Case No. 3:17-cv-01207
Judge Aleta A. Trauger
Plaintiff Ronald J. Woods, proceeding pro se, filed a civil Complaint against defendants
Lance Moore, Julie Tucker, and Walden Security based on the termination of the plaintiff’s
employment. (Doc. No. 1.) Because the plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis, the court must
conduct an initial review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). For the reasons
set forth herein, the complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief may
Initial Review Screening Standards
The court is statutorily required to conduct an initial review of a complaint filed by a
plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis and to dismiss it prior to service of process if it is
frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary
relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). The screening
procedure established by § 1915(e) applies to in forma pauperis complaints filed by nonprisoners as well as to those filed by prisoners. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 608
(6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007).
In reviewing the complaint to determine whether it states a plausible claim, “a district
court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all wellpleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488
(6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009)). A pro se
pleading must be liberally construed and “held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).
Factual Allegations in the Complaint
The plaintiff alleges that he is a 68-year-old black man who underwent a prostatectomy
on March 31, 2017. He went back to work for Walden Security at the Ellington Agricultural
Center two weeks after his surgery, against his doctor’s recommendation that he take six to eight
weeks off before returning to work. His doctor authorized his early return to work, so long as he
refrained from heavy lifting or from walking, standing, or sitting for long periods of time. The
plaintiff’s direct supervisor told him to “take it easy” and that he would relieve him if the
plaintiff was having problems. (Compl. at 4.)
The plaintiff alleges that, when he went back to work, he was still experiencing bouts of
extreme pain that caused his body to “freeze.” (Id.) On June 26, 2017, during one of these bouts,
defendant Lance Moore took a photograph of the plaintiff while he was sitting in his cart. The
photograph shows the plaintiff to be “la[i]d back with [his] eyes close[d].” (Compl. at 4.) Lance
Moore believed that the plaintiff was asleep while on duty. He forwarded the photograph to
Walden Security Human Resource Manager, Julie Tucker, notifying her that the plaintiff was
asleep on the job and should be terminated. Defendant Julie Tucker terminated the plaintiff’s
employment for sleeping on the job.
Neither Lance Moore nor Julie Tucker was aware of the plaintiff’s medical problems
(Compl. at 5.) The plaintiff faults both defendants for not investigating further to find out what
medical problems the plaintiff might have before terminating him. The plaintiff was awarded
unemployment benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor, because the employer did not
provide “sufficient evidence to prove [that the plaintiff’s] actions constitute work related
misconduct.” (7/21/2017 Letter from Tenn. Dep’t of Labor to R. Woods, Doc. No. 1, at 7.)
The plaintiff asserts that he was unlawfully terminated. He seeks reinstatement as well as
compensatory, punitive, and consequential damages.
“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power
authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree. It is to be
presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the
contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511
U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted).
The plaintiff here does not identify the basis for this court’s jurisdiction, but the only
jurisdictional statutes possibly relevant are 29 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. Under § 1331, which
governs “federal question” jurisdiction,“[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Under § 1332,
the court has diversity jurisdiction over cases between “citizens of different States,” so long as
the “matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).
The information provided by the plaintiff indicates that the court lacks diversity
jurisdiction under § 1332, because all of the parties appear to be citizens of Tennessee.
The court cannot conclude that it has federal-question jurisdiction either. The Complaint
references neither the Constitution nor any discernible federal statute. Although the plaintiff
states that he is a “68 yr old black man” who was “unlawfully terminated” from his job (Compl.
at 2), he does not allege that he was terminated because of either his age or his race. Although he
indicates that he took some time off of work for surgery, he does not allege that he requested or
took leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or that he was terminated in violation of that
statute. He does not allege that he is disabled or that he was terminated in violation of the
Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, he acknowledges that he was terminated for sleeping on
the job and that the individuals who made the decision—and incorrectly jumped to the
conclusion that he was sleeping on the job—were unaware of his medical condition. He asserts
only that they should have conducted an investigation instead of just presuming, based on a
photograph, that he was asleep on the job. Because the plaintiff has not alleged facts showing
that his termination violated any federal anti-discrimination or civil rights law, the Complaint
fails to state a claim over which this court has federal-question jurisdiction or for which relief
may be granted.
The complaint will be dismissed without prejudice based on the plaintiff’s failure to
allege facts to support a claim for which relief may be granted. An appropriate order is filed
ALETA A. TRAUGER
United States District Judge
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