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Pegues v. Mississippi State Veterans Home

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

August 2, 2017

MISSISSIPPI STATE VETERANS HOME; AMANDA MAY, Individually and in Her Official Capacity as the Administrator of Mississippi State Veterans Home; and STEPHANIE SPEARS, Individually and In Her Official Capacity as the Assistant Director of Nursing DEFENDANTS



         Defendants Mississippi State Veterans Home (“MSVH”), Amanda May and Stephanie Spears have filed motions to dismiss in this case which have been partially conceded by plaintiff Tamisha Pegues. This court will grant the motions to dismiss to the extent that they have been conceded, and it will also address, on its own motion, jurisdictional concerns which it has developed regarding certain other claims asserted by plaintiff after having reviewed the parties' submissions in this case.

         This is a case which finds itself in a regrettably deficient state of pleading and briefing, considering that it is set to go to trial on September 11, 2017. This case involves, at its heart, a claim for disability discrimination based upon plaintiff's allegations that her former employer MSVH unlawfully refused to accommodate her disability resulting from a ruptured disc. Plaintiff further contends that she was improperly fired from her position at MSVH after defendant determined that it could no longer offer light duty as an option for its employees.

         Defendants have presently filed motions to dismiss most, but not all, of the claims asserted against them, and, as noted previously, plaintiff has conceded that some of her claims should be dismissed. In her response, however, plaintiff argues certain other claims which she asserts should be permitted to go to trial, and it is unclear to this court whether defendants agree with this assertion, since they did not file a rebuttal brief. This situation appears to be based partly upon the fact that the former lead counsel for defendants filed a motion to withdraw from this case on April 26, 2017, which is approximately when defendants would have been required to file their rebuttal briefs. In (successfully) seeking permission to withdraw, counsel noted that he had “resigned from his position as Special Assistant Attorney General effective April 30, 2017, and will no longer be employed by the Office of the Attorney General.” [Motion to withdraw at 1]. Perhaps as a result of their former counsel's employment situation, [1] the briefing on the motion to dismiss leaves a good deal to be desired, and there are a number of unsettled issues in this court's mind even after having reviewed defendants' motions to dismiss and plaintiff's responses to them.

         The lack of rebuttal briefing aside, it strikes this court that defendants' motions to dismiss are rather bare-bones in nature, given that they consist almost entirely of citations to generalized principles of law, dealing primarily with Eleventh Amendment immunity. Notably, the motions to dismiss make little, if any, effort to point out weaknesses in the specific allegations of plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, even though that complaint strikes this court as being, if anything, even more bare-bones than the motions to dismiss. For example, the Third Amended Complaint makes conclusory allegations that the individual defendants May and Spears, who are administrators at MSVH, face liability under state and federal law, but it never comes close to making any sort of detailed allegations in this regard. Specifically, the complaint alleges that:

5. Plaintiff was employed by the Defendant Veterans Home for six and one-half (6 ½) years. On approximately December 4, 2013, Plaintiff ruptured a disc while on the job. The ruptured disk substantially affected Plaintiff's ability to perform everyday life activities, and constituted a “disability” within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Plaintiff was placed on light duty. Defendant, in violation of doctor's orders, required Plaintiff to perform light-duty by lifting.
6. Consistent with the purposes of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Act, Plaintiff reported to Mississippi Workers' Compensation Commission (“MWCC”) that she was being required, as a condition of her employment, to violate doctor's orders. The MWCC then contacted Defendant Veterans Home. Immediately thereafter, Defendant Veterans Home, acting through Defendant Spears, but with the consent and direction of Defendant May, terminated Plaintiff's employment.
In terminating Plaintiff on April 2, 2014, Defendants told Plaintiff that there would no longer be any light-duty work available for any employees. Defendant Veterans Home terminated Plaintiff by abolishing its light-duty work because Plaintiff had reported to the MWCC that Defendant Veterans Home was violating doctor's orders by requiring her to perform work in violation of the doctor's orders. Except for Plaintiff's report to the MWCC, Defendants may have accommodated Plaintiff by allowing her light-duty work.
7. A report to the MWCC that employees are being required to work for a state agency in conflict with doctor's orders is a report on a matter of public concern. Furthermore, following the implicit requirements of state law by reporting on one's work conditions to the MWCC is speech protected by the petitions clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
8. Defendant Veterans Home refused to accommodate Plaintiff's disability by allowing her to perform light-duty work. Instead, it abolished its light-duty jobs. Light-duty work would have been a reasonable accommodation for Plaintiff's injury.
9. Defendant Veterans Home and individual Defendants willfully violated Plaintiff's rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Even though the Veterans Home offered FMLA leave to its employees and Plaintiff qualified for FMLA leave, and they were aware that Plaintiff had an injury that qualified her for FMLA leave, they never offered her leave instead of firing her.
10. Plaintiff has suffered lost income and mental anxiety and stress.

[Third Amended Complaint at 3-4].

         These allegations are the only ones of any specificity in the complaint, and there is nothing in them which spells out what the individual defendants May and Spears may have done to subject themselves to liability in this case. Nevertheless, the remaining portion of the complaint alleges liability on the part ...

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