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Jackson v. South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

June 15, 2016

Juanita Jackson, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, Defendant.

          Juanita Jackson, Plaintiff, represented by Pheobe A. Clark, Wukela Law Firm.

          South Carolina Department of Disabilities & Special Needs, Defendant, represented by Christopher W. Johnson, Gignilliat Savitz and Bettis & D.L. Dirk Aydlette, III, Gignilliat Savitz and Bettis.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAYMANI D. WEST, Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Juanita Jackson ("Jackson" or "Plaintiff"), filed this action against her former employer, South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs ("Defendant" or "SCDDSN"), asserting claims under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA Title I"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111, et seq; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA Title II"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131, et seq.; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701, et seq. as applied through 28 C.F.R. Part 35 Section 504 ("Rehabilitation Act"); and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621, et seq. ("ADEA"). In response to Plaintiff's Complaint, ECF No. 1, Defendant initially filed an Answer on February 2, 2016, ECF No. 12. Defendant then filed an Amended Answer, ECF No. 12, as well as a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 13. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) for a Report and Recommendation ("Report") on Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, in which it seeks dismissal of all of Plaintiff's causes of action. Plaintiff filed a responsive memorandum, ECF No. 15, to which Defendant filed a Reply, ECF No. 21. Having reviewed the parties' submissions and the applicable law, the undersigned recommends that Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 13, be granted and this matter be dismissed.

         I. Background and Standard of Review

         Plaintiff was employed by SCDDSN in a "direct care position" until her termination on November 1, 2013. See Compl., ECF No. 1; Charge of Discrimination, ECF No. 13-2.[1] Plaintiff claims she was discriminated against on account of a disability and on account of her age. See Charge. In its Rule 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, SCDDSN seeks dismissal on several legal grounds and based on affirmative defenses.

         The standard of review for a motion seeking judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motion is the same as that for Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Butler v. United States, 702 F.3d 749, 751-52 (4th Cir. 2012). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would support his claim and would entitle him to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "A motion filed under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009).

         When considering this motion, the court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). The court is also to "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.'" E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir. 2009)). Although a court must accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true, this is inapplicable to legal conclusions, and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted).

         II. Analysis

         A. Defendant Claims Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         SCDDSN claims the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars Plaintiff's causes of action brought pursuant to Title I of the ADA and the ADEA. The Eleventh Amendment provides immunity to nonconsenting states and their agencies from suits by private citizens in federal court. See Regents of the Univ. of Calif. v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997). Plaintiff acknowledges in her Complaint that SCDDSN is a South Carolina state agency. Compl. ¶ 2; see SCDDSN v. Hoover Universal, Inc., 535 F.3d 300, 308 (4th Cir. 2008) (noting SCDDSN is an "integral arm[] of the State."). Only if Congress has appropriately abrogated that immunity does federal jurisdiction exist as to suits against such states and state entities. See Bd. of Trustees of the Univ. of Al. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001) ("Congress may abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity when it both unequivocally intends to do so and act[s] pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority.'") (quoting Kimel v. Fla. Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 72-73 (2000)).

         1. ADA Title I

         As explained by the Supreme Court of the United States, "the ADA is designed to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.' It forbids discrimination against persons with disabilities in three major areas of public life: employment, which is covered by Title I of the statute; public services, programs, and activities, which are the subject of Title II; and public accommodations, which are covered by Title III." Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 516-17 (2004) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101(b)(1), (b)(4)). Here, Plaintiff brings causes of action pursuant to the ADA's Title I and Title II. Defendant seeks dismissal of both, but on different grounds. Defendant's challenge to the ADA Title II claim is discussed separately below.

         Defendant submits state agencies cannot be sued for claims brought under ADA's Title I based on the Supreme Court's decision in Garrett,531 U.S. 356, in which the Court held that Congress had not validly abrogated Eleventh Amendment immunity in the passage of the ADA. Def.'s Mem. 2-3. In response, Plaintiff does not address the Garrett decision in any manner. Rather, she looks the Court's 2000 opinion in Kimel,528 U.S. 62, in which the Court had determined Congress did not appropriately abrogate immunity in passing the ADEA, ...


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