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Hilliard v. Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 20, 2019

BRENT E. HILLIARD, an individual, Plaintiff,
TWIN FALLS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, a Public Entity, and TWIN FALLS COUNTY, a Public Corporation, Defendants.



         Before the court is defendants' Motion to Dismiss filed February 19, 2019. (Docket No. 5.) The court held a hearing on the motion on June 11, 2019.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This case concerns plaintiff's claims that the Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office discriminated against him based on his disabilities. Plaintiff was a captain with the Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office with a history of positive performance evaluations and no significant disciplinary actions prior to 2017. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-9 (Docket No. 1).) In about mid-April 2017, plaintiff informed his supervisor, Chief Deputy Don Newman that he was suffering from depression; some time thereafter, plaintiff began receiving treatment from a licensed therapist. (Id. ¶ 10.) This depression was aggravated by a back injury in spring 2017, which resulted in surgery in May 2017 that prevented plaintiff from working for about one month. (Id. ¶ 11.) After the surgery, plaintiff was released by his doctors to work part-time and was given pain medication as treatment for the recovery. Plaintiff returned to work in about June 2017 and was placed on light administrative duty. (Id. ¶¶ 10-13.)

         On July 8, 2017, Newman was advised that plaintiff was taking pain medication per doctor's orders. Plaintiff was then called into a meeting with Twin Falls County Sheriff Tom Carter and Newman on July 10, 2017 to discuss his use of pain medication. During the meeting, Newman explained that two officers had expressed concerns that plaintiff was under the influence of pain medication while on duty, though plaintiff explained that he was only using his medication as prescribed by his doctors. In response, Sheriff Carter requested that plaintiff go home and remain off duty until he was off all pain medication. (Id. ¶¶ 14-16.)

         Within a week, around July 17, 2017, plaintiff informed Newman that he was off all pain medication and ready to return to work. Plaintiff was then called into another meeting with Sheriff Carter, Newman, and legal counsel from the county attorney's office, at which he was told he was being placed on “unofficial administrative leave.” Plaintiff was also required to have a “Fitness for Duty” evaluation (“fit for duty”). (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.)

         Plaintiff had a fit for duty evaluation on July 27, 2017 with Dr. Tye.[1] During the evaluation, plaintiff informed Dr. Tye that he was no longer taking any pain medication. At the end of the evaluation, plaintiff met with Dr. Tye and Newman, and Dr. Tye stated that he believed plaintiff was fit for duty and that returning to work would be best for his health. (Id. at 20-21.) Newman later called Dr. Tye and claimed that plaintiff was not entirely open during the evaluation and had a history of substance abuse. (Id. ¶¶ 20-24.)

         In Dr. Tye's August 3, 2017 written report, he found plaintiff unfit for duty and expressly relied on his conversation with Newman, including the allegations of substance abuse. (Id. ¶ 25.) Dr. Tye's report also made recommendations for treatment, which included continuing to meet with plaintiff's therapist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner and taking a “GAIN” substance abuse evaluation. Plaintiff followed these recommendations. (Id. ¶¶ 26-29.)

         Defendant then met with Sheriff Carter, Newman, the county attorney, and Human Resources Director Elain Molignoni on August 17, 2017. At the meeting, defendant was given a letter informing him that he was no longer on administrative leave and would need to use vacation time and sick leave to be off work. Defendant was also told by Molignoni to meet with his nurse practitioner to fill out Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) paperwork. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         Plaintiff continued to meet with his therapist and nurse practitioner, who both wrote letters stating they believed he was able to return to work. Upon receiving the letter from the nurse practitioner, Molignoni told plaintiff that since he could return to work, there was no need to fill out FMLA paperwork. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.)

         On August 27, 2018, Sheriff Carter called plaintiff and told him that if he passed his fit for duty evaluation the next day, he would keep his job, but if he failed, he could no longer be employed by the Sheriff's Office. (Id. ¶ 33.) After the fit for duty evaluation, Dr. Tye told plaintiff that he was leaning towards finding him fit for duty. However, Dr. Tye's final report dated September 6, 2017 made no recommendation. (Id. ¶¶ 33-35.)

         According to plaintiff, Dr. Tye's report contained numerous irregularities and erroneous factual allegations showing that the Sheriff's Office interfered in Dr. Tye's evaluation.[2] Among other things, the report referenced multiple phone conversations with Newman, who claimed plaintiff had a broader history of substance abuse than was indicated by the GAIN assessment, and Dr. Tye relied on Newman's allegations to determine that plaintiff's purported substance abuse problem could not be fully resolved or treated. These allegations were purportedly meritless and motivated by Newman's discriminatory animus, according to plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 35-40.)

         The same day the report was released, Newman texted plaintiff letting him know he was going to send Dr. Tye's report to the legal department. Plaintiff interpreted this text to mean that he would be fired. Faced with this likelihood, the next day, plaintiff drank alcohol, drove to a remote location, and considered committing suicide. Plaintiff eventually reconsidered his actions and began to drive home, but he was stopped and arrested for driving under the influence. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.)

         A few days later, plaintiff received a Notice of Suspension with Pay from Newman explaining that he was being investigated and would be subject to discipline because of his arrest. Plaintiff had a pre-disciplinary hearing with Newman on September 26, 2017 and was officially terminated on September 28, 2017. Plaintiff's appeal before Sheriff Carter was denied on about October 6, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.)

         As a result of plaintiff's termination and certain actions taken against him prior to his termination, plaintiff filed his Complaint alleging that defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12112, et seq., the Idaho Human Rights Act (“IHRA”), Idaho Code § 67-5909 et seq., the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2615, et seq.; and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff also alleges that such conduct constituted negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“NIED” and “IIED”) under Idaho common law.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the inquiry before the court is whether, accepting the allegations in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, the plaintiff has stated a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. A complaint that offers mere “labels and conclusions” will not survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         B. Defendants' Affidavits and Evidence

         Before turning to the merits of the Motion to Dismiss, the court will address defendants' attachment of affidavits and exhibits to their motion. Ordinarily courts may not consider evidence outside the pleadings on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Khoja v. Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc.,899 F.3d 988, 998 (9th Cir. 2018). However, courts may consider materials attached to the complaint or documents the complaint necessarily relies on if those documents' authenticity is not contested, under the “incorporation by reference” doctrine. Lee v. City of Los Angeles,250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). Specifically, a complaint necessarily relies on extrinsic evidence if “(1) the complaint refers to the document; (2) the document is central to the plaintiff's claim; and (3) no party questions the authenticity of the copy attached to the 12(b)(6) motion.” Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006). Put ...

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