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Lindstrom v. Bingham County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 28, 2018

RICK LINDSTROM, Plaintiff,
v.
BINGHAM COUNTY, IDAHO, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

         I. OVERVIEW

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Bingham County's Motion for Partial Reconsideration of Summary Judgment. Dkt. 40. The Motion is briefed and ripe for the Court's review. Having fully reviewed the record herein, the Court finds the parties have adequately presented the facts and legal arguments in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court decides the Motion without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The County filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in this case. Dkt. 27. As part of its Motion, the County asked the Court to dismiss Lindstrom's Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) claim, alleging that, as a matter of law, the right to reinstatement expired immediately upon the completion of the statutory 12 weeks of leave. Ultimately, the Court found that there were disputed facts related to all claims-included Lindstrom's FMLA claim-and denied the County's Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 39.

         As part of its Decision, the Court found the County's argument that Lindstrom's benefits under the FMLA expired promptly upon completion of the 12 weeks was somewhat misplaced, as the County based its position upon the premise that Lindstrom's failure to provide a fitness for duty form prior to his return foreclosed all benefits completely. The County filed the instant Motion for Partial Reconsideration based upon the Court's holding on this topic.

         The County does not cite a particular line of the Court's Decision that it believes is fundamentally flawed, but rather asserts that the whole analysis is manifestly unjust and will lead to unintended consequences for employers. While somewhat lengthy, the Court will include the relevant paragraphs from its Decision for context, with emphasis on certain language that reflects the County's objection.[1]

The County states that under the FMLA an employee is entitled to 12 weeks off followed by reinstatement (see 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D) and 29 U.S.C. § 2614(a)(1)(A-B)) and then concludes that reinstatement is conditioned upon an employee returning to work immediately after the 12 week period- anything else would infringe upon the employer. This statement is true and seemingly self-explanatory: in order to be reinstated, an employee must return to work. The County, however, appears to be suggesting that this must take place instantly upon conclusion of the 12 weeks, or the employee has somehow waived the opportunity for reinstatement. There is no basis for such a position in case law or under the FMLA and the County has not pointed to any legal authority that indicates an employee must return to work at that specific time or risk losing his right to reinstatement. To the contrary, there are indications in the FMLA regulations-specifically on point in this case-that timing is not as rigid as the County suggests.
Section 825.216 of Title 29 of the Federal Regulations outlines that an employer “may delay restoration to an employee who fails to provide a fitness-for-duty certificate to return to work . . . .” It does not say that the employer can fire an employee or that the employee's rights to reinstatement have lapsed or ended, but simply that the employer can delay reinstatement. As will be discussed shortly, this is precisely what happened here. Lindstrom did not provide the form upon completion of his 12-week leave, the County requested it, Lindstrom produced it, and then the parties worked towards a solution.
. . .
First, there is no requirement in any of these sections that puts a timeframe on the required fitness for duty form. The employee clearly must provide the fitness for duty form prior to the employee returning to work-it is after all the “clearance” that ultimately allows the employee to return. In addition, while it is logical to assume that in order to avoid any downtime the employee should provide the form immediately after the 12 weeks, the regulations are silent when it comes to timing. The Court has trouble accepting the County's argument that Lindstrom did not “timely” file his fitness for duty form when there is no timing requirement; particularly because the County decided to continue Lindstrom on paid leave while each side got everything in order. It seems it was acceptable for Lindstrom to turn in his fitness for duty forms anytime during that period. At a minimum, there is a disputed material fact on this issue.
Second, as previously noted, the regulations explain that an employer “may delay” restoration until it receives the requisite paperwork. By allowing a delay for an employee to get paperwork, the regulations suggest that there is not a strict timing requirement. Clearly, an employee could not take this to the extreme, wait many months to file his or her paperwork and still expect reinstatement. In this case, however, we do not have this extreme behavior. Lindstrom's leave ended on December 16, 2014. He got a note from his doctor on December 31, 2014, and submitted the same to the County on January 2, 2015. The County then asked for the official fitness for duty forms and Lindstrom provided two. There is no indication that the County told Lindstrom that he had to submit the forms prior to December 16, nor is there any indication that Lindstrom was not diligent in getting the forms that the County requested.

Dkt. 39, at 8-12 (footnotes omitted) (emphasis added).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         A federal court has the “inherent procedural power to reconsider, rescind, or modify an interlocutory order for cause seen by it to be sufficient.” City of Los Angeles, Harbor Div. v. Santa Monica Baykeeper, 254 F.3d 882, 885 (9th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). A motion for reconsideration is “appropriate if the district court (1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in controlling law.” Sch. Dist. No. 1J, Multnomah Cty., Or. v. ACandS, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993). “[A] motion for reconsideration should not be granted, absent highly unusual circumstances.” Orange St. Partners v. Arnold,179 F.3d 656, 665 (9th Cir. 1999). A motion for reconsideration may not be ...


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