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Meles v. Avalon Health Care, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 10, 2017

ALAM MELES, Plaintiff,
v.
AVALON HEALTH CARE, LLC d/b/a TREVECCA HEALTH CARE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          ALETA A. TRAUGER United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 19) filed by the defendant, Avalon Health Care, LLC d/b/a Trevecca Health Care (“Trevecca”), to which the plaintiff, Alem Meles, has not responded. For the reasons discussed herein, the motion will be granted.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On March 7, 2016, Ms. Meles filed this employment action against her former employer, Trevecca.[1] (Docket No. 1.) The Complaint brings a claim for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2611, et seq. (“FMLA”) based on allegations that, upon requesting leave under the FMLA, Ms. Meles was told by someone in Human Resources at Trevecca that she was being terminated from her employment.

         Briefly, the only evidence in the record that supports Ms. Meles's claim is her testimony that, On September 5, 2012, Ms. Meles received a voicemail from her supervisor, Virginia Diaz, stating that she was terminated from her employment due to her unexplained absence and that she should not return to work on September 6, 2012 as scheduled. (Docket No. 19-2 (November 23, 2016 Meles Deposition (“Meles Dep.”)) at 40:13-41:22.) There is no evidence in the record, however, that, prior to receiving this alleged voicemail, Ms. Meles had requested FMLA leave or otherwise informed Trevecca that she was suffering from a serious medical condition or would need to be absent for an extended period of time.

         In the prior action by Ms. Meles before this court, the testimony by Ms. Meles in the record stated that she faxed her request for FMLA leave to Trevecca prior to Ms. Diaz terminating her. (See Memorandum, Meles v. Avalon Health Care, Case No. 3:14-cv-1487, 2015 WL 5568060 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 22, 2015), Docket No. 30, p. 8.) The testimony before the court in the instant action, however, clarifies that it was on September 6, 2012, the day after Ms. Meles received the initial voicemail terminating her employment, that Ms. Meles faxed to Trevecca documentation of her medical need for leave. (Docket No. 19-2 (Meles Dep), 49:20-51:24.) She then called to follow up, at which time she was initially reminded by Ms. Diaz of her termination the previous day. (Id.) Indeed, the fax from Ms. Meles's physician indicating that she needed an extended leave from work is dated September 6, 2012. (Id. at pp. 78-79 (Exhibit 10 to Meles Dep.).) Ms. Meles admits that she later received a document from Trevecca dated September 19, 2012, stating that she was approved for her request for FMLA Leave. (Id. at 68:23-69:4.)

         On October 14, 2016, the Case Management Order in this action was amended for a final time, requiring dispositive motions to be filed on or before December 23, 2016, with responses due within 28 days of the motion's filing. (Docket No. 18.)

         On December 23, 2016, Trevecca filed the currently pending Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 19), along with a Memorandum in Support (Docket No. 20), the Declaration of Stephanie K. Harris, Trevecca's Human Resources Director (Docket No. 21), the Declaration of Chen Ni, counsel for Trevecca (Docket No. 22), and a Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Docket No. 23).

         On January 11, 2017, upon reassignment of this case to Judge Trauger, the court issued an Order directing the parties to adhere to the briefing schedule set out in the October 14, 2016 Order with respect to the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 25.) By the same Order, Trevecca's Motion to Stay the action pending resolution of its Motion to Recover Costs was denied. (Id.) Ms. Meles's response to the Motion for Summary Judgment, therefore, should have been filed no later than January 20, 2017.

         Despite reminders from the court, Ms. Meles has failed to respond to either the Motion for Summary Judgment or Trevecca's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, and it has now been more than two weeks since the deadline passed.[2]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         In the Sixth Circuit, a plaintiff who fails to address a claim in response to a motion for summary judgment is deemed to have abandoned the claim. Briggs v. Univ. of Detroit-Mercy, 611 Fed.Appx. 865, 870 (6th Cir. 2015). Nonetheless, a district court may not use a party's failure to respond as a reason for granting summary judgment “without first examining all the materials properly before it under Rule 56(c).” Briggs, 611 Fed.Appx. at 870 (quoting FTC v. E.M.A. Nationwide, Inc., 767 F.3d 611, 630 (6th Cir. 2014)). This is so because “[a] party is never required to respond to a motion for summary judgment in order to prevail since the burden of establishing the nonexistence of a material factual dispute always rests with the movant.” Id. Thus, “even where a motion for summary judgment is unopposed (in whole or in part), a district court must review carefully the portions of the record submitted by the moving party to determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists.” Id.

         ANALYSIS

         There are two theories of recovery under the FMLA, interference and retaliation. Wallner v. Hilliard, 590 F. App'x 546, 550 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Hunter Valley View Local Sch., 579 F.3d 688, 691 (6th Cir. 2009)). The elements of an FMLA interference claim are simple: 1) the employee was entitled to benefits, 2) the employee notified the employer of the intent to exercise the rights, and 3) the employee was denied the benefits to which she was entitled. Id. (citing Edgar v. JAC Products, Inc., 443 F.3d 501, 507-08 (6th Cir. 2006)). There is no need to show evidence of any particular employer motive or intent. Id. A retaliation claim requires showing a causal connection between an exercise of FMLA rights and an adverse employment action. Id. (citing Edgar, 443 F.3d at 408 and Hunter, 579 F.3d at 692). “[F]iring someone who has just requested FMLA leave before he can take it could be construed both as retaliation for having asked for leave and as interference with the employee's ability to take it.” Id. at 551 (citing Skrjanc v. Great Lakes Power Serv. Co., 283 F.3d 818, ...


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