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Biniaris v. Hansel Union Consulting, PLLC

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

June 11, 2019




         This matter comes before the court on Defendant Hansel Union Consulting, PLLC's ("Hansel") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Motion"), ECF No. 12, and accompanying Memorandum in Support, ECF No. 13, filed on April 17, 2019. Plaintiff Tonya C. Biniaris ("Biniaris") filed a Response on May 1, 2019, ECF No. 14, and Hansel filed a Reply on May 7, 2019, ECF No. 15. The matter has now been fully briefed and is ripe for review.[1] For the reasons below, Hansel's Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from Biniaris' First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 5, and for the purposes of this Motion are accepted as true. See, e.g., Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005). Biniaris was employed by Hansel from July 31, 2017 through March 13, 2018, and in her most recent position at Hansel she worked as a physical therapist. Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Hansel is a professional limited liability company that provides physical therapy and consultation services. Id. ¶¶ 7, 12. In its business, Hansel receives payments via Medicare and Medicaid. Id. ¶ 34.

         On February 13, 2018, Biniaris suffered a lower back injury while on the job at Hansel. Id. ¶ 16. The lower back injury "substantially limited one or more of [Biniaris's] major life activities." Id. On February 20, 2018, Hansel assigned Biniaris to a revised work schedule due to her injury. Id. ¶ 18. Biniaris alleges that, even after her injury, her performance continued to meet or exceed Hansel's expectations. Id. ¶ 15.

         On both February 20 and 26, 2018, Biniaris requested an accommodation from Hansel that would allow her to continue performing "physical" consulting work, which Biniaris alleges is an essential function of her job as a physical therapist. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. Hansel refused to accommodate Biniaris, and informed her that she could only return to her "regular" employment duties, if she was "released with no restrictions." Id. ¶ 48-4 9.

         On March 13, 2018, Hansel terminated Biniaris. Id. ¶ 24. Hansel's stated reasons for terminating Biniaris were that she had taken patient files outside of the office, and that she had made out-of-office patient visits. Id. ¶ 26. Biniaris alleges that she had permission to conduct out-of-of fice patient visits. Id. ¶ 28. She further alleges that at least two other Hansel employees took patient files out of the office, and said employees were not terminated by Hansel. Id. ¶ 27. Biniaris asserts that Hansel's stated reasons for her termination are pretextual, and that she was actually terminated due to her back injury. Id. ¶ 51. Due to her termination, Biniaris has suffered "lost or diminished earnings, pain and suffering, or mental and emotional distress." Id. 29.

         On May 4, 2018, Biniaris filed a charge of disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission PEEOC") . Id. ¶ 9. On May 31, 2018, the EEOC issued Biniaris a Notice of Right to Sue. Id. ¶ 10. On August 29, 2018, Biniaris filed her Complaint in this court, ECF No. 1, and on December 11, 2018, she filed her First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 5. Biniaris claims that Hansel's actions have violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("Rehabilitation Act" or "Act"), and the Virginians with Disabilities Act, Va. Code § 51.5-41. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39, 56.

         Hansel filed an Answer to Biniaris's First Amended Complaint on December 26, 2018. ECF No. 8. A Rule 16(b) Scheduling Conference was held on January 28, 2019, at which time it was ordered that Biniaris's discovery shall be completed by June 11, 2019; Hansel's discovery shall be completed by July 9, 2019; and trial shall begin on August 20, 2019. ECF No. 11. On April 17, 2019, Hansel filed the instant Motion and accompanying Memorandum in Support, claiming that Biniaris's First Amended Complaint should be dismissed in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). ECF Nos. 12, 13.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), "[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Id. In considering a motion under Rule 12(c), the court applies the same legal standard as it does in a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Walker v. Kelly, 589 F.3d 127, 139 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)) .[2]

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b) (6), a complaint must be dismissed when a plaintiff's allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To evaluate a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court accepts facts alleged in the complaint as true, and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. E.g., Venkatraman, 417 F.3d at 420.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Hansel advances three arguments in support of its Motion. See ECF No. 13. First, Hansel argues that Biniaris's Rehabilitation Act claim must be dismissed because the Rehabilitation Act does not apply to Hansel. Id. at 4. Second, Hansel argues that, if the court concludes that the Rehabilitation Act applies to Hansel, then Biniaris's Virginians with Disabilities Act claim must be dismissed, because the Virginians with Disabilities Act does not apply to employers already covered by the Rehabilitation Act. Id. at 5 n. 4. Third, Hansel argues that both of Biniaris's claims should be dismissed because Biniaris's First Amended Complaint contains only conclusory allegations, and does not sufficiently allege ...

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