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Felton v. City of Jackson

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

June 14, 2018




         This cause is before the court on the motion of defendants Chief Lee Vance, Assistant Chief Allen White, Deputy Chief James Davis, and Commander Thaddeus Jones, each of whom has been sued in his individual and official capacities, to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff Lance E. Felton, who is proceeding pro se, has responded in opposition to the motion. The court, having considered the memoranda of authorities submitted by the parties, concludes that the motion should be granted.

         Plaintiff Lance Felton was a police officer with the City of Jackson from December 1995 until his termination in December 2016. Following his termination, he filed the present action alleging that the City and the individual defendants, who are alleged to have been his supervisors in the Jackson Police Department, violated his rights under various federal statutes, including the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; and the Employment and Reemployment Rights of Members of the Uniformed Services Act (USERRA), 38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq. In addition, he alleges that defendants violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. His claims are grounded in the following alleged facts.

         On April 24, 2014, plaintiff, while attempting to apprehend an armed assailant, was forced to fire his weapon. As a result, pursuant to standard department procedure, he was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an administrative internal departmental investigation and a mandatory mental evaluation. On May 4, 2014, the consulting psychologist who conducted the mental evaluation reported to former JPD Police Chief Lindsey Horton that plaintiff exhibited a “high level of acute distress” attributable to an “acute stress reaction” following the shooting incident, as a result of which he was deemed not fit to return to duty at that time. The psychologist recommended further therapy for managing plaintiff's distress and provided the name of an expert in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who had indicated a willingness to accept plaintiff as a patient.

         Plaintiff alleges that the City was clearly apprised of his PTSD and yet failed to provide him the additional counseling he needed. He further asserts that while he spoke with defendants Lee Vance and Commander Thaddeus Jones on several occasions requesting an accommodation, i.e., being allowed to work in a different capacity commensurate with his disability while he was receiving treatment, the City failed to provide him any accommodation.

         Plaintiff remained on paid administrative leave for nearly a year and a half, until being advised by letter dated September 17, 2015 from Police Chief Lee Vance, that his paid administrative leave would end on September 19, 2015. In this letter, Chief Vance wrote that once this leave expired and until such time as plaintiff was able to provide a statement from a physician showing he was capable of returning to work, plaintiff could use any accrued sick or personal leave; Vance suggested, alternatively, that plaintiff might be eligible for leave under the FMLA. However, he did not offer any accommodation. As a result, plaintiff was forced to use his vacation and sick leave until those ran out in April 2016. Then, on April 4, 2016, he began using FMLA-approved leave. Plaintiff alleges that on July 5, 2016, a week after his FMLA leave ran out, he was instructed to report to the police chief's office the following day. When he did so, he was met by Assistant Chief Allen White and Deputy Chief James Davis, who ordered him to return to work the following day with a letter from his doctor clearing him for duty, failing which he would be terminated. Even though he had no letter from a doctor clearing him for duty, plaintiff reported to work the following day, and each day thereafter for the next week in the hopes that he would be put to work in another capacity. However, each day he was ordered by Chief Davis to leave since he did not have a fitness-for-duty letter from his doctor. After about a week, Chief Davis and Chief White told him not to return to work since he did not have a letter clearing him for duty. Plaintiff states at that point, he filed a charge of disability discrimination with the EEOC in order to protect his job.

         Two months later, plaintiff received a letter from Police Chief Vance dated September 9, 2016 advising of the City's intent to terminate his employment for violations of the City's sick leave and attendance policies. Following an October 11, 2016 pre-termination hearing, plaintiff was terminated, effective December 5, 2016, for alleged attendance and sick leave policy violations. Plaintiff sought review of the termination decision and alleges that at a May 11, 2017 civil service hearing, he was forced, under duress and mounting financial hardship, to accept a premature medical retirement.

         On this factual basis, plaintiff purports to state claims against the City and the individual defendants for disability discrimination and retaliation in violation of the ADA and Title VII, and violation of the FMLA, USERRA and his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.

         Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” but it must provide the plaintiff's grounds for entitlement to relief, including factual allegations that when assumed to be true “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). In other words, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Title VII

         While plaintiff purports to sue for disability discrimination under Title VII, Title VII does not protect against discrimination based on disability but rather applies only to discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Avina v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 413 Fed.Appx. 764, 766 n.4 (5th Cir. 2011) (“Title VII does not prohibit discrimination because of a disability.”). Accordingly, this claim will be dismissed as to all defendants.


         Plaintiff's ADA claims against the individual defendants will also be dismissed. While the Fifth Circuit has not directly addressed the issue, it is the “virtually universal view” that Title I of the ADA does not impose liability on individual employees. See Roman-Oliveras v. Puerto Rico Elec. Power Auth., 655 F.3d 43, 51-52 (1st Cir. 2011) (holding that plaintiff's claims under Title I of the ADA against co-workers were properly dismissed in accordance with the “virtually universal view” that Title I of the ADA, like Title VII, does not impose individual liability); Franklin v. City of Slidell, 936 F.Supp.2d 691, 703 (E.D. La. 2013) (finding ADA claims against employee defendants “not legally cognizable” since “individuals are not subject to liability under Title I of the ADA”) (citations omitted); Jenkins v. Bd. of Educ. of Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 937 F.Supp. 608, 613 (S.D. Tex. 1996) (explaining that individual defendants “may not be held personally liable under the ADA because they do not fall within the statutory definition of an employer”) (citations omitted). Further, since the City of Jackson is named as a defendant, plaintiff's official capacity claims against the individual defendants are superfluous. See Jenkins, 937 F.Supp. at 613 (explaining that “because a suit against a public employee in his or her official capacity is simply another way to sue the public entity, [the plaintiff] cannot show that he would be prejudiced by the dismissal of the individual HISD defendants from this case in their official capacities, as HISD ...

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