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Hurst v. The Lilly Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

November 8, 2017

WENFORD T. HURST, Plaintiff,



         This civil action is before the Court on plaintiff Wenford T. Hurst's Motion to Reconsider [Doc. 28]. In this motion and the accompanying memorandum in support [Doc. 29], plaintiff moves the Court to reconsider its July 26, 2017, order [Doc. 24] granting summary judgment to defendant The Lilly Company on all of the claims in plaintiff's amended complaint [Doc. 8]. Defendant responded in opposition [Doc. 30]. Plaintiff's motion is therefore fully briefed and ready for disposition. E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.2. After carefully considering the matter, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion.

         I. Background

         This case concerns allegations of disability and age discrimination in violation of: the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; the Tennessee Disability Act (“TDA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-103 et seq.; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101 et seq. The Court previously outlined the undisputed facts underlying this action in the memorandum opinion [Doc. 23] accompanying its order granting summary judgment [Doc. 24]. As such, the Court here provides only a limited summary of the factual and procedural history of this case.

         A. Factual History

         Plaintiff worked as a forklift service technician for defendant from August 1978 until his termination in late 2014 [Doc. 21-1 p. 16].[1] This position required plaintiff to lift sixty- to seventy-pound tanks on a daily basis, to occasionally lean over and place twenty-to thirty-pound parts in engine spaces, and to generally bend, reach, and crawl under the forklifts [Doc. 19-1 pp. 15-16, 19-20]. Plaintiff began experiencing back pain in 2011 [id. at 38], and on June 24, 2014, he underwent a discectomy to remove a herniated disk [Doc. 19-34 p. 15]. Plaintiff's doctor, Patrick Bolt, indicated that five to six months of recovery would be necessary for significant improvement, though he also noted that this timetable was an “extremely variable” estimate [Id. at 12-14]. Plaintiff then requested, and defendant approved, leave until September 30, 2014 [Doc. 19 p. 3; Doc. 19-2].

         After plaintiff returned to his doctor with increased pain, he underwent a second surgery that restarted the clock on his estimated recovery time [Doc. 19-34 pp. 18-21]. Then, on October 8-approximately one week after plaintiff's approved leave ended, but without having resumed work-plaintiff returned to Dr. Bolt's office and met with nurse practitioner Ashley Self [Doc. 19-35 p. 13]. After a follow-up call that same day, Nurse Self provided plaintiff with a note indicating that he needed additional time off work and stating, “Off work until [follow-up] apt on 11/19/14 & will be determined at that time” [Id.; Doc. 19-2]. Plaintiff provided this note to his supervisor, Chris Oxendine, but defendant terminated his employment the next day, October 9 [Doc. 21-1 p. 28].

         Plaintiff met with Nurse Self again on November 19, and she released him to return to work [Doc. 19-17 p. 1]. But when plaintiff spoke with Oxendine that same day, Oxedine informed him that his position was no longer available [Doc. 21-1 p. 3]. Plaintiff reported continued pain to Nurse Self the next day, and after another MRI on November 26, Nurse Self recommended that plaintiff alternate sitting and standing and refrain from lifting over twenty pounds until she could reevaluate his condition [Doc. 19-35 pp. 20-21]. Finally, in December 2014, plaintiff spoke with defendant's operations manager, Wally Painter, about returning to his position [Doc. 21-1 p. 22]. Painter told plaintiff, “[W]ith your age, you just need to go ahead and try to get your disability” [Id.].

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff brought this action on October 8, 2015, seeking monetary relief for defendant's alleged age and disability discrimination in violation of state and federal law [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff later filed an amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1)(B) [Doc. 8]. On May 15, 2017, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims [Doc. 18]. Plaintiff responded in opposition [Doc. 21], to which defendant replied [Doc. 22]. Then, on July 26, 2017, the Court entered an order granting defendant summary judgment on all claims in the amended complaint [Doc. 24].

         First, the Court held that plaintiff could not sustain his ADA disability discrimination claim-whether premised on his termination or defendant's failure to engage in the interactive process-because plaintiff could not show that he was “otherwise qualified” to perform the essential functions of his position, “with or without reasonable accommodation.” Maat v. County of Ottawa, 657 F. App'x 404, 411 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8)). Second, plaintiff's TDA disability discrimination claim failed because the TDA does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodation and because plaintiff was indisputably not qualified to perform the duties of his position. See Jones v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., No. W2013-01817-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 806131, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 28, 2014). Third, summary judgment was proper with respect to plaintiff's age discrimination claims because he could not establish that he was “qualified” for his position under the ADEA and THRA, for the same reasons warranting dismissal of his ADA and TDA claims. See Rowan v. Lockheed Martin Energy Sys., 360 F.3d 544, 547 (6th Cir. 2004).

         On August 23, 2017, plaintiff moved the Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), to reconsider its order granting defendant summary judgment [Doc. 28]. Specifically, plaintiff requests that the Court reconsider the following four questions:

[1] Whether Plaintiff was a “qualified individual” for purposes of his disability discrimination claim, his interactive process claim, and his age discrimination claim; [2] Whether Plaintiff proposed a “reasonable accommodation” in light of the undisputed testimony that his termination was temporary and that he would be returned to work when he was released to full-duty by his doctor; [3] Whether Defendant failed to engage in the interactive process in light of . . . the undisputed testimony that his termination was “temporary” and that he would be returned to work when he was released to full-duty by his doctor; and [4] Whether Defendant violated the ADA [by] requiring Plaintiff to be “100% healed” before considering returning him to work.

[Doc. 28 pp. 2-3 (citation omitted)]. Defendant responded in opposition, asserting that: (1) plaintiff waived any argument regarding a “100% healed” rule by failing to raise it in response to defendant's summary judgment motion; (2) plaintiff's other arguments are mere reassertions of the same positions it took in its summary judgment briefs, and thus are not a proper basis for Rule 59(e) relief; and (3) even if these arguments were properly raised, the Court correctly decided the merits of defendant's summary judgment motion [Doc. 30]. Plaintiff did not file a reply to defendant's response brief, and the time in which to do so has now passed. See E.D. Tenn. L.R. 7.1(a).

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) permits courts to entertain a motion to alter or amend a final judgment. The Sixth Circuit has held, however, that “[t]he circumstances under which a district court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion are limited.” Robbins v. Saturn Corp., 532 F. App'x 623, 632 (6th Cir. 2013). Relief under this rule is proper only if the movant shows one of the following: “(1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice.” Henderson v. Walled Lake Consol. Sch., 469 F.3d 479, 496 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005)); accord Ogden v. Fortress Grp. USA, 550 F. App'x 283, 284 (6th Cir. 2014); Alliance Tax Credit Fund 31-A, Ltd. v. Murphy, 494 F. App'x 461, 568 (6th Cir. 2012).

         A Rule 59(e) motion “is not an opportunity to re-argue a case.” Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians v. Engler, 146 F.3d 367, 374 (6th Cir. 1998). Such motions “should not be utilized to submit evidence which could have been previously submitted in the exercise of reasonable diligence[, ] and are not the proper vehicle to attempt to obtain a reversal of a judgment by offering the same arguments previously presented.” Kenneth Henes Special Projects Procurement v. Cont'l Biomass Indus., 86 F.Supp.2d 721, 726 (E.D. Mich. 2000) (quoting Nagle Indus. v. Ford Motor Co., 175 F.R.D. 251, 254 (E.D. Mich. 1997)). Moreover, “parties cannot use a motion for reconsideration to raise new legal arguments that could have been raised before a judgment was issued.” Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publ'g, 477 F.3d 383, 395 (6th Cir. 2007). Indeed, the Sixth Circuit has “found issues to be waived when they are raised for the first time in motions requesting reconsideration.” Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Flowers, 513 F.3d 546, 553 (6th Cir. 2008); see also Am. Meat Inst. v. Pridgeon, 724 F.2d 45, 47 (6th Cir. 1984) (finding an issue raised for the first time in a motion for reconsideration “effectively waived”).

         III. Analysis

         The Court will first discuss plaintiff's argument that the Court failed to consider all pertinent evidence in determining that he was not a “qualified individual” for purposes of the ADA, TDA, ADEA, and THRA [Doc. 29 pp. 2-8].[2] The Court will next address plaintiff's argument that he established a prima facie case of defendant's failure to engage in the ADA interactive process [Id. at 9-12]. Finally, the Court will consider plaintiff's argument that defendant's alleged “100% healed” rule violates the ADA [Id. at 8-9]. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds each of these arguments unpersuasive and thus will not reverse its decision to grant summary judgment in defendant's favor.

         A. Plaintiff's Status as a Qualified Individual

         First, plaintiff argues that the Court overlooked relevant evidence in holding that plaintiff's request for additional medical leave was objectively unreasonable, and thus that plaintiff was not a qualified individual under the ADA.

         The ADA prohibits discrimination against a “qualified individual” on the basis of disability with regard to, among other things, “the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees.” See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The statute defines discrimination to include “not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual . . ., unless [the employer] can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of [its] business.” § 12112(b)(5)(A). And an individual is “otherwise qualified” under the ADA if the employee, “with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position.” § 12111(8). Moreover, although courts apply the familiar burden-shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) when the plaintiff seeks to prove disability discrimination indirectly, that framework is unnecessary where a plaintiff asserts direct evidence of such discrimination. Kleiber v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 485 F.3d 862, 869 (6th Cir. 2007). ...

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