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Scipio v. Fairfield County

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Rock Hill Division

September 30, 2019

Shaun Nathan Scipio, Plaintiff,
Fairfield County, South Carolina, Defendant.


         This action arises from a dispute over Plaintiff Shaun Nathan Scipio’s use of a handicapped parking permit while an employee at the Fairfield County Detention Center. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Fairfield County took adverse employment actions against him – unfavorable work conditions, hostile work environment, reprimands, and harassment – because of his disability. (ECF No. 43 at 1.) The matter before the court is a review of the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation (“Report”) issued on May 15, 2019, recommending that the court grant Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (Id. at 21.)

         For the reasons below, the court ACCEPTS the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 41) and GRANTS Defendant Fairfield County, South Carolina’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 24).


         The Report sets forth the relevant facts and legal standards, which this court incorporates herein without a full recitation. In December 2013, Plaintiff was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. (ECF No. 41 at 1.) Defendant Fairfield County hired Plaintiff as a corrections officer at the Fairfield County Detention Center on November 23, 2015. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff passed the physical examination required to work as a corrections officer. (Id.) However, Plaintiff suffered health issues that caused him to leave shifts early or to be medically excused from work by his physician. (Id. at 2-4.) On May 10, 2016, Plaintiff received a letter about his ten absences from work, recognizing that he had experienced “some health problems, ” informing him he did not have any more time off, and instructing him to have the Fairfield County doctor complete a “fit-for-duty slip” before returning to work. (Id. at 4.) On May 16, 2016, Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for three days and underwent heart catheterization, an angiogram, and a transthoracic echocardiogram. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with severe systemic disease with functional limitation, and his doctor allowed him to return to work on May 19, 2016 (Id. at 6.) On May 20, 2016, Plaintiff met with Human Resources to discuss his absences and request leave due to the death of his sister. (Id.) Human Resources granted the request and asked Plaintiff to provide doctors’ excuses for the time he missed due to his health condition, an obituary or funeral bulletin, and a completed fit-for-duty form by his next shift assignment on Thursday, May 26, 2016. (Id.)

         On May 23, 2016, Plaintiff returned to the emergency department with complaints of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat. (Id.) On May 26, 2016, Plaintiff arrived for work and parked in the handicap parking space at the Detention Center (Id. at 7.) Lt. Gray, the shift supervisor, told Plaintiff he could not return to work without his fit-for-duty paperwork, that reporting for work suggested he was fully capable of performing his job, and that he could not park in the handicap parking space. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff explained that he had a handicap placard due to certain physical impairments and that he had an appointment with his heart doctor. (Id.) Human Resources requested that he submit another fit-for-duty form signed by the cardiologist. (Id.) The cardiologist cleared Plaintiff for work without restrictions. (Id. at 9.)

         On June 13, 2016, Plaintiff returned to work and was presented with a memorandum from Davis instructing that, because his doctors had cleared him for work without restrictions, he should not park in the handicap space. Moreover, Plaintiff was placed on a six-month probationary period and monitored under a performance review plan. (Id.) On June 14, 2016, Plaintiff submitted his letter of resignation. (Id. at 10.)

         On October 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Fairfield County Court of Common Pleas, alleging (1) disability discrimination; (2) failure to provide a reasonable accommodation; and (3) retaliation pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 (2009). (ECF No. 1-1 at 5-8 ¶¶ 25-42.) The ADA protects a “qualified individual” by prohibiting a covered entity[1] from taking adverse employment actions because of a person’s disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) (2009).[2]

         On November 16, 2017, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal. (ECF No. 1.) On December 31, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, declaring that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of disparate treatment due to disability or retaliation. (ECF No. 24-1 at 33.) Furthermore, Defendant avers that none of the alleged employment actions demonstrate pretext for unlawful discrimination. (Id.) Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition on February 4, 2019, to which Defendant filed a Reply on February 11, 2019. (ECF Nos. 34, 36.) The Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff failed to show a genuine issue of material fact regarding his status as a qualified individual under the ADA and as such “summary judgment is appropriate on all claims.” (ECF No. 41 at 21.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report on May 28, 2019, and Defendant filed a Reply on June 3, 2019. (ECF Nos. 43, 45.) The court held oral arguments on June 26, 2019. (ECF No. 48.)


         The Magistrate Judge’s Report is made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. The Magistrate Judge only makes a recommendation to this court, and the recommendation has no presumptive weight. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270–71 (1976). The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the court. Id. at 271. As such, the court is charged with making de novo determinations of those portions of the Report to which specific objections are made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). In the absence of specific objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report, the court is not required to give any explanation for adopting the Report. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983). Rather, “in the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 advisory committee’s note). Thus, the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248–49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011). When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party may not oppose a summary judgment motion with mere allegations or denial of the movant’s pleading, but instead must “set forth specific facts” demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (1); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1012 (4th Cir. 1991). All that is required to survive summary judgment is that “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties differing versions of the truth at trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Mere unsupported speculation . . . is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ennis v. Nat’l Ass’n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995).

         III. ANALYSIS

          Plaintiff objects to the Report and argues that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that: (1) Plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether he is a “qualified individual” under the ADA; (2) Plaintiff failed to sufficiently explain his contradicting SSDI application and ADA claim; and (3) Defendant Fairfield County did not admit that Plaintiff could perform the essential functions of a corrections officer. (ECF No. 43 at 4-13.)

         A. Plaintiff’s First Objection

         Plaintiff asserts that he is a qualified individual under the ADA and that a reasonable jury may well conclude that, “absent Defendant [Fairfield County’s] discriminatory treatment and failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, Plaintiff would have performed the essential functions of his job and could have continued to work as [a corrections officer].” (ECF No. 43 at 5.) The Magistrate Judge concluded that Plaintiff’s allegations do not “explain or even address how, in light of his assertions of disability, he was, in fact, qualified to perform the essential functions of the position.” (ECF No. 41 at 21 (citing Lane v. BFI Waste Sys. of North America, 257 F.3d 766, 770 (8th Cir. 2001).) Moreover, “there is no explanation in the record ‘to warrant a reasonable juror’s concluding that, assuming the truth of, or [the Plaintiff’s] good faith belief in, the earlier statement, [he] could nonetheless perform the essential functions of [his] job.’” (ECF No. 41 at 21 (quoting Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 802, 807 (1999).) The court agrees.

         The court observes that “[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of showing that he can perform the essential functions of the job and is, therefore, qualified . . . [t]hus, to bring any of his claims, [Plaintiff] must show that he is a qualified individual under the [ADA].” (ECF No. 41 at 15 (citing Doe v. Univ. of Maryland Med. Sys. Corp., 50 F.3d 1261, 1264–65 (4th Cir. 1995)).) Simply put, Plaintiff’s status as a qualified individual depends on whether he: (1) has a disability;[3] (2) is otherwise qualified for the employment; and (3) was excluded from the employment due to discrimination solely based on his disability. See EEOC v. Stowe-Pharr Mills, Inc., 216 F.3d 373, 377 (4th Cir. 2000). The ADA defines a “qualified individual” as:

[A]n individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires. For the purposes of this subchapter, consideration shall be given to the employer's judgment as to what functions of a job are essential, and if an employer has prepared a written description before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job, this description shall be considered evidence of the essential functions of the job.

42 U.S.C. § 12111(8) (2009).

         The record includes the essential functions of a corrections officer at the Detention Center. For example, a “terms of employment” form indicates that Plaintiff as a “full-time employee” that is subject to the following schedule:

Normal Hours of Work: Law Enforcement Detention Center: The department operates seven days per week, twenty-four hours per day. Full time employees are normally scheduled to work rotating shifts twelve (12) hours each and may work five to seven days per week, depending on the needs of the department. All employees are subject to working other hours and days as needed.”

(ECF No. 24-3 at 2.)

         Here, Plaintiff worked 12-hour shifts in the control room or inmate dormitory and was responsible for the care, custody, and transport of inmates. (Id. at 15.) In general, Plaintiff’s duties included monitoring day-to-day activity, controlling door locks as officers moved throughout the Detention Center, conducting security checks, and controlling inmates he transported to off-site appointments. (ECF No. 41 at 2.) Plaintiff testified about his duties when conducting security checks:

Q: When you were stationed in the dorms, tell me what you would be doing?
A: Monitoring the inmates, making sure that nothing got out of hand as far as the inmates were concerned. It could be laundry, could be meals, could be the mail. Things of that sort. Just their day to day, monitoring their day-to-day activities.

(ECF No. 24-5 at 17.)

         Plaintiff’s explained his duty to care for the inmates:

Q: How about medical events, do you recall medical emergencies where an inmate would go into some kind of medical distress and an officer would have to respond to get the inmate out or get treatment?
A: I recall an incident where an inmate, just prior to shift change, I believe, fell out of one of the bunks, and so between the shit [sic] that was there and us ...

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