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Matthews v. Gee

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

June 30, 2017

TRACY GEE, et al., Defendants.


          Henry E. Hudson United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Robert L. Matthews's ("Plaintiff) Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. (ECF No. 4.) The Court concludes that Plaintiff is unable to pay the required fees. Therefore, Plaintiffs Motion will be granted. Plaintiff may proceed in this case without paying the Court's filing fee. The Court will direct the Clerk to file Plaintiffs Complaint.[1] (ECF No. 1.)

         Plaintiff, who is pro se, brings suit against Lunenburg County, Virginia, as well as Tracy Gee and Nicole Clark, in their respective capacities as County Administrator and Human Resource Professional for Lunenburg (collectively, the "Defendants"). According to Plaintiff, the Defendants are liable for defamation and for multiple violations of the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., related to the termination of Plaintiff s employment.

         For the reasons set forth below, however, the Court finds Plaintiffs Complaint fails to state a claim and is largely frivolous. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2).

         I. BACKGROUND

         As required by Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court assumes Plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations to be true and views all facts in the light most favorable to him. T.G. Slater & Son v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan, LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Mylan Labs, Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). At this stage, the Court's analysis is both informed and constrained by the four corners of Plaintiff s Complaint. Viewed through this lens, the facts are as follows.

         This case arises from Plaintiffs employment with Lunenburg County. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-6.) In June 2007, the County hired Plaintiff as a "buildings and grounds technician, " though "no job description was provided ... at the time of hire." (Id. ¶ 5.) Three years later, in July 2010, the Defendants offered Plaintiff additional part-time work as an assistant Animal Control Officer ("ACO"). (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff received initial training for the ACO position in March 2011. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff subsequently requested that the Defendants provide him with additional training as well as personal protective equipment. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Those requests were denied. (Id.)

         On May 20, 2012, while working as an ACO, Plaintiff responded to a call reporting a dog attack. (Id. ¶ 12.) Immediately after Plaintiff arrived at the scene and exited his vehicle, the dog assaulted him as well. (Id.) Plaintiff suffered multiple lacerations and punctures to his throat, hands, and wrists. (Id.) He also sustained injuries that caused an "11% permanent disability" in each shoulder. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 16.)

         As a result of the dog attack, Plaintiff filed a Worker's Compensation ("W.C.") claim, which was approved. (Id. ¶ 13.) However, that "claim is still pending resolution and settlement." (Id.)

         After the incident on May 20, 2012, "Defendants] terminated Plaintiffs employment in the position of ACO." (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Plaintiff remained out of work for two years while recovering from his work-related injuries. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         On May 1, 2014, Plaintiff returned to part-time work as a buildings and grounds technician with Defendants' approval of light-duty restrictions. (Id. ¶ 19.) He then resumed full-time work in August 2014. (Id. ¶ 20.) Despite the Defendants' accommodations, Plaintiff continued to experience pain in his right shoulder. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) He alleges that this pain necessitated further surgery, which he scheduled for September 11, 2015. (Id. ¶¶ 19-21.)

         On September 4, 2015, one week prior to the surgery, Plaintiff received a letter from Clark referencing the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Id. ¶ 21.) The letter explained that Plaintiffs surgery qualified for leave pursuant to the FMLA and that he could continue to be paid through W.C., with the possibility of supplementing his income through sick leave. (Compl. Ex. l, a 11, ECF No. 1-1.) The letter also stated that Plaintiffs FMLA leave would be exhausted on December 4, 2015. (Id. at 1-2.)

         Plaintiff subsequently spoke with Clark and told her that he "would use [his] sick leave time from 11 Sept 2015 (the date of surgery) until 30 Sept 2015 (Intermittent Leave), then Plaintiff would switch to W.C. on 1 Oct 2015 and start receiving W.C. payments from VACORP, the county's insurance carrier." (Compl. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff asserts that he memorialized this conversation in a written letter and then took it to Clark, who subsequently "accepted the agreement." (Id., see also Compl. Exs. 2-3, ECF Nos. 1-2, 1-3.)

         Plaintiff underwent shoulder surgery on September 11, 2015, and began his period of FMLA leave. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-20.)

         On December 2, 2015, Gee sent Plaintiff a certified letter reminding him that his FMLA leave would expire on December 4, 2015, and verifying that he intended to return to full-duty work on December 7, 2015. (Id. ¶ 23; see also Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 1-4.) Plaintiff reported to work on December 4, seeking to return with his prior light-duty restrictions in place. (See Compl. ¶ 24 (referencing his treating physician's "orders for sedentary work on approximately 4 Dec 2015").) However, Gee stated, "No light duty work is available. You are terminated." (Id.) On December 14, 2015, shortly after his termination, Plaintiff asserts that his "restrictions were upgraded" by his attending physician. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that on December 8, 2015, he received a certified letter from Gee stating that "[he was] considered to have resigned from [his] position." (Compl. Ex. 5, ECF No. 1-5.) Plaintiff then alleges that he republished this statement on January 4, 2016 (id. ¶ 30 (filing his EEOC charge)), May 14, 2016 (id. ¶ 31 (sending additional papers to the EEOC)), August 30, 2016 (id. ¶ 32 (filing his original Complaint in the Lunenburg County Circuit Court)), and December 30, 2016 (id. ¶ 33 (filing his First Amended Complaint in the Lunenburg County Circuit Court)).


         The statute governing in forma pauperis ("IFP") filings provides that "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that the action or appeal is frivolous or ... fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(ii); see also Michau v. Charleston Cty, 434 F.3d 725, 728 (4th Cir. 2006) ("28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)... governs IFP filings in addition to complaints filed by prisoners ...." (emphasis added)).

         When determining whether an action is "frivolous, " the Fourth Circuit has noted that "[t]he word ... is inherently elastic and 'not susceptible to categorical definition.'" Nagy v. FMCButner, 376 F.3d 252, 256 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 74 (4th Cir. 1994)). "It is designed to confer on district courts the power to sift out claims that Congress found not to warrant extended judicial treatment under the in forma pauperis statute." Id. "The term's capaciousness directs lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the frivolity of a claim." Id. at 257. "[D]istrict courts are at liberty to consider any factors that experience teaches bear on the question of frivolity." Id.

         When assessing whether an IFP complaint "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " courts conduct a similar analysis to that used when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). Rule 8(a)(2), which governs pleading generally, "requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Id. (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations, " but it must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted).

         Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" to one that is "plausible on its face, " rather than merely "conceivable." Id. at 555, 570. "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). When considering an IFP filing, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the ...

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