Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sturgill v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.

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

August 7, 2019

MATTHEW STURGILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY CO., Defendant.

          OPINION

          Rebecca Beach Smith United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 16, and accompanying Brief in Support, ECF No. 17. The Plaintiff filed a Memorandum of Law in Opposition ("Memorandum in Opposition"), ECF No. 18, and the Defendant filed a Reply, ECF No. 19. The Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint has been fully briefed and is now ripe for review.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Matthew Sturgill ("Sturgill") filed his Complaint in this court on October 24, 2018, ECF No. 1, and filed an Amended Complaint ("First Amended Complaint") on November 15, 2018, ECF No. 6. On March 6, 2019, the court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendant's first Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 7, without prejudice and with leave to amend. ECF No. 14. On March 22, 2019, Sturgill filed a Second Amended Complaint. ECF No. 15. The facts set forth herein are taken from Plaintiff Matthew Sturgill's ("Sturgill") Second Amended Complaint and are accepted as true for the purpose of deciding Defendant's current Motion to Dismiss. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         On April 16, 2018, Sturgill applied for a conductor position with Defendant Norfolk Southern Railway Co. (''Norfolk Southern") . Second Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Norfolk Southern offered Sturgill the position on May 30, 2018. Id. ¶ 7. Following a pre-employment physical, Norfolk Southern withdrew the offer. Id. ¶ 8. In the letter notifying Sturgill of the withdrawal, Norfolk Southern cited Sturgill's body mass index ("BMI") as the sole reason for the withdrawal. Id. In that letter, Norfolk Southern further stated that "during [his] examination, [Sturgill] indicated that [he] did not have an underlying physiological condition that could cause obesity." Id. ¶ 10 (alterations in original). Sturgill alleges he "made no such claim." Id.

         Sturgill has "primary male hypogonadism, which is an underlying physiclogical [sic] condition that not only causes his obesity but also substantially limits his ability to enjoy and live a fulfilled life, if left untreated." Id. ¶ 11. Specifically, primary male hypogonadism causes Sturgill "to suffer from a high body mass index, muscle weakness, and fatigue." Id. ¶ 13. Additionally, "Sturgill's body mass index, in and of itself, substantially limits his ability to enjoy and live a fulfilled life," by causing "him to be in pain, have difficulty performing physical functions, and be self-consious [sic]." Id. ¶¶ 14, 16. "Neither his primary male hypogonadism, his high body mass index, nor the effects of those disabilities, however, prevent Sturgill from performing any of the essential functions of a conductor." Id. ¶ 17. Further, "Sturgill can perform each of a conductor's essential functions without any accommodation." Id. ¶ 18.

         Sturgill alleges that "Norfolk Southern knows that a high body mass index is almost always causally related to a disability or disabilities." Id. ¶ 21. "While Norfolk Southern may not have know [sic] that Sturgill sufferd [sic] from primary male hypogonadism, it therefore knew that he suffered from some disability and was discriminating against him on that basis." Id. ¶ 22. Therefore, Sturgill claims that when Norfolk Southern withdrew the job offer because of Sturgill's BMI, Norfolk Southern discriminated against Sturgill on the basis of his disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1210 et seq., as amended. Id. ¶¶ 1, 8, 19, 22.

         Sturgill also alleges that "[s]uch discrimination is pursuant to a policy of not hiring employees with a high body mass index." Id. ¶ 20. This policy arises from two concerns. Id. ¶¶ 23-24. First, the policy "arises from a concern that [employees with] high body mass indexes are not good emplyees [sic]." Id. ¶ 23. Second, the policy "arises from a concern that employees with a high body mass index suffer from sleep apnea, diabetes, and/or heart disease, which Norfolk Southern believes could caused [sic] them to become incapacitated." Id. ¶ 24. The conditions of sleep apnea, diabetes, and heart disease impact the individuals suffering from those conditions in a variety of ways. Id. ¶¶ 25-27. Sleep apnea causes its sufferes [sic] to be tired, have headaches, and/or be depressed." Id. ¶ 25. "Diabetes can kill its sufferers, cause them to have blurry vision, and cause them to be fatigued." Id. ¶ 26. "Heart disease can kill its sufferes [sic], cause them to be in pain and/or cause them to be nauseaus [sic]." Id. ¶ 27.

         Thus, Sturgill claims that "[p]ursuant to its policy, Norfolk Southern regarded Sturgill as having sleep apnea, diabetes, and/or heart disease, and withdrew its offer because it was concerned those disabilities would incapacitate him." Id. ¶ 28. And, therefore, "Norfolk Southern also discriminated against Sturgill on the basis of a perceived disability." Id. ¶ 29. Sturgill further claims that "Norfolk Southern has engaged in a pattern and practice of violating the ADA." Id. ¶ 30 (citing EEOC v. Norfolk Southern Corp., No. 2:17-cv-1251 (W.D. Penn.)).[2]

         In sum, Sturgill alleges violations of the ADA for the withdrawal of the job offer, and he requests a finding that Norfolk Southern acted in direct violation of the ADA. Id. ¶¶ 31-40. As remedies for these violations, Sturgill requests that he be reinstated and awarded compensatory and punitive damages. Id. ¶ 41.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 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) .”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.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Facial plausibility means that a "plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). It is, therefore, not enough for a plaintiff to allege facts demonstrating a "sheer possibility" or "mere[] consist[ency]" with unlawful conduct. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         The Supreme Court, in Twombly and Iqbal, offered guidance to courts evaluating a motion to dismiss:

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 67 9. That is, the court accepts facts alleged in the complaint as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc., 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005). After doing so, the court should grant the defendant's motion if the plaintiff's "well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct," because "the complaint has alleged- but it has not 'show[n]'- 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         III. DISPARATE-TREATMENT CLAIM

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a), "No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring ... or discharge of employees, . . . and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." Id. To establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination on a theory of disparate treatment under the ADA, a plaintiff must prove (1) he has a "disability," (2) he is a "qualified individual, "[3] and (3) his employer took an adverse employment action against him because of his disability. Martinson v. Kinney Shoe Corp., 104 F.3d 683, 686 (4th Cir. 1997).

         A. Disability

         The ADA defines "disability" in three ways. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1) . First, an individual has a disability if he or she has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual." Id. § 12102(1)(A). Second, an individual has a disability if he or she has "a record of such an impairment." Id. § 12102(1) (B) . Third, an individual has a disability if he or she is "regarded as having such an impairment." Id. § 12102(1)(C).

         Here, Sturgill claims he has a disability under the ADA'S first and third definitions of "disability." Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 11, 13-14, 16, 19-29. Specifically, Sturgill alleges his condition, primary male hypogonadism, is a physical impairment that "substantially limits his ability to enjoy and live a fulfilled life, if left untreated," by causing "him to suffer from a high body mass index, muscle weakness, and fatigue." Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.[4] Sturgill also alleges his BMI is a physical impairment that "substantially limits his ability to enjoy and live a fulfilled life," by causing "him to be in pain, have difficulty performing physical functions, and be self-consious [sic]." Id. ¶¶ 14, 16. Sturgill further alleges that "Norfolk Southern regarded Sturgill as having sleep apnea, diabetes, and/or heart disease." Id. ¶ 28.

         1. Body Mass. Index Disability Claim

         An individual has a disability if that individual has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1) (A). Major life activities are defined to "include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working." Id. § 12102(2) (A). Major life activities are further defined to "include[] the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions." Id. § 12102 (2) (B) . To adequately plead that his BMI alone is a disability, Sturgill must plead facts to show that his BMI alone is (1) a physical impairment that (2) substantially limits one or more major life activities. Id. § 12102 (1) (A) .

         Norfolk Southern argues that "Sturgill's BMI is not and cannot be a stand-alone disability." Br. Supp. at 9. To the extent Sturgill asserts his high BMI itself is a disability, Mem. Opp'n at 7-10, the court agrees with Norfolk Southern that it is not. The court's March 6, 2019 Memorandum Order and Opinion previously held that "Sturgill's BMI alone, without his underlying condition, is not a physical impairment." Mem. Op. & Order at 16 (citing Morriss v. BNSF Ry. Co., 817 F.3d 1104, 1108 (8th Cir. 2016)); see id. at 8 n.4 ("Sturgill's allegations regarding his underlying physiological condition, primary male hypogonadism, only enable him to plausibly allege that his high BMI or obesity, as caused by his primary male hypogonadism, is a physical impairment." (citing Morri ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.