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Jackson v. Canyon County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 30, 2016

KYLE JACKSON, an individual Plaintiff,
CANYON COUNTY, a governmental entity, and its governmental sub-unit, the CANYON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, Defendant.


          Honorable Ronald E. Bush Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         Now pending before the Court are (1) Defendant Canyon County's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 37), and (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 38). Having carefully considered the record, participated in oral argument, and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Kyle Jackson (“Jackson”) is a former detention deputy with Defendant Canyon County Sheriff's Office. This case stems from Defendant's firing of Jackson on September 4, 2012. In response to his discharge, Jackson brings this action, asserting two causes of action: (1) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA), and (2) wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Defendant now moves for summary judgment, arguing that (1) Jackson's ADA claim must be dismissed because he was not a qualified individual who could perform the essential functions of his position as a detention deputy, with or without reasonable accommodation; and (2) Jackson's wrongful termination claim must be dismissed because there is no causal connection between his worker's compensation claim and his termination (in addition to the argument that Jackson could not perform the essential functions of his position as detention deputy, with or without reasonable accommodation). Jackson naturally disagrees, and moves for partial summary judgment himself, arguing that Defendant's “100 percent healed policy” violates the ADA as a matter of law.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “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). One of the principal purposes of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims . . . .” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-34 (1986). It is “not a disfavored procedural shortcut, ” but is instead the “principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources.” Id. at 327. “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. See McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         When parties submit cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court must consider each party's evidence, regardless under which motion the evidence is issued. See Las Vegas Sands, LLC v. Nehme, 632 F.3d 526, 532 (9th Cir. 2011). The Court must independently search the record for factual disputes. See Fair Hous. Council of Riverside Cnty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001). The filing of cross-motions for summary judgment - where both parties essentially assert that there are no material factual disputes - does not vitiate the Court's responsibility to determine whether disputes as to material fact are present. See id.[1]

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to a material fact. See Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. See Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9thCir. 2000). This then shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in his favor. See Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.


         A. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 37)

         1. Jackson's ADA Claim

         Title I of the ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating “against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). Disability discrimination claims typically proceed under the familiar McDonnell Douglas three-step, burden-shifting framework - first, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie disability discrimination claim; second, if the plaintiff does, the defendant must then articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct; and, third, if the defendant does, the plaintiff must then demonstrate that the articulated reason is pretext for discrimination. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973); see also Snead v. Metro Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 237 F.3d 1080, 1093 (9th Cir. 2001) (applying framework to ADA claims).

         Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment challenges the first element of the McDonnell Douglas framework - that is, whether Jackson can establish a prima facie disability discrimination claim. See generally Mem. in Supp. of MSJ, pp. 3-18 (Docket No. 37, Att. 2). To establish a prima facie disability discrimination claim, Jackson must put forth evidence that (1) he is “disabled”; (2) he is a “qualified individual”; and (3) he suffered an adverse employment action “because of” his disability. See Hutton v. Elf Atochem N. Am., Inc., 273 F.3d 884, 891 (9th Cir. 2001). “At the summary judgment stage, the ‘requisite degree of proof necessary to establish a prima facie case . . . is minimal and does not even need to rise to the level of a preponderance of the evidence.'” Lyons v. England, 307 F.3d 1092, 1112 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 885, 889 (9th Cir. 1994)). Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment takes aim at the second of these three elements, arguing that Jackson cannot show that, at the time of his termination, he was qualified as a detention deputy.

         The ADA defines a “qualified individual with a disability” as an “individual with a disability who, ‘with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires.'” Nunes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 164 F.3d 1243, 1246 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8)); see also 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(m). “To determine the essential functions of a position, a court may consider, but is not limited to, evidence of the employer's judgment of a position, written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job, the work experience of past incumbents of the job, and the work experience of current incumbents in similar jobs.” Basith v. Cook Cty., 241 F.3d 919, 927 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(3)).[2] Further, “[t]he function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(n)(2)(I). An employer has the burden to come forward with evidence of a job's essential functions, in part because “‘much of the information which determines those essential functions lies uniquely with the employer.'” Bates v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 511 F.3d 974, 991 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Benson v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 62 F.3d 1108, 1113 (8th Cir. 1995)).

         a. The Essential Functions of a Detention Deputy

         Defendants have put into evidence the essential functions of a detention deputy. For example, the written job description (and confirmed by Jackson's supervisors) outlines a detention deputy's essential functions, including:

• “Sufficient personal mobility, flexibility, agility, reflexes, and physical strength”;
• “Stand[ing] and walk[ing] for long periods of time, lift[ing] up to 50 pounds, respond[ing] physically to restrain inmates, and work[ing] in a detention environment”;
• Monitoring inmate activities to “ensure the safety and security of the facility”;
• Maintaining “facility security by patrolling the secure areas within and around the detention center”;
• Maintaining “facility security be seizing weapons, drugs, contraband, and related items”;
• Monitoring inmate behavior in a variety of activities and situations;
• Transporting inmates;
• “Deal[ing] verbally and/or physically with uncooperative, distraught, and hostile inmates”;
• “Recogniz[ing] and respond[ing] appropriately to unusual medical, physical, or mental conditions of inmates”;
• Performing cell searches and ...

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