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Robson v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 13, 2019

LARRY ROBSON, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. LYNN WINMILL, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Larry Robson brought this action against Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company for disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101. Before the Court are Union Pacific's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 32), and Robson's Objection to Exhibit 1Q in Support of Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 40). The Court heard oral arguments on the motions on October 16, 2019 and took them under advisement. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and deny Plaintiff's objection to Exhibit 1Q as moot.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Larry Robson has been employed by Union Pacific since May 2004. Compl. ¶ 7, Dkt. 1. He is currently employed as a machinist. Id.

         On September 4, 2015, Robson suffered a severe traumatic brain injury due to an ATV accident. Compl. ¶ 8; see Def.'s SOF ¶ 11, 37, Dkt. 34. A CT scan showed that Robson had “a left convexity subarachnoid hemorrhage with punctate hyperdensity in his left anterior temporal lobe and parietal lobe suspicious for cortical contusions.” Def.'s Ex. 1F, Dkt. 33 at 76. This means he had bleeding within his brain, between the brain and the membrane that covers the brain, and between that membrane and the skull. Robson was released from the hospital, but on September 8, 2015, Robson awoke confused and disoriented, he was readmitted to the hospital for observation. Def.'s Ex. 1G, Dkt. 33 at 81. Robson's treating neurosurgeon, Dr. Morgan, determined that Robson's symptoms were most likely due to post-concussive symptoms and not a seizure. Morgan Depo. at 38-40, Dkt. 39-7.

         On October 14, 2015, Robson was authorized to return to work without restrictions by his treating Nurse Practitioner. Def.'s Ex. 1M, Dkt. 33 at 100. Union Pacific required Robson to undergo a medical fitness-for-duty evaluation before it would allow him to return to work. Pl.'s Ex. C at 2-3, Dkt. 39-3. On November 12, 2015, Dr. Reed Wilson, a consulting neurologist, reviewed Robson's medical records and determined that Robson had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Dr. Wilson recommended that Robson be placed on permanent restrictions from safety critical work based on guidance from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Medical Examiner's Handbook. Def.'s Ex. 1M, Dkt. 33 at 102. Dr. John Holland, Chief Medical Officer for Union Pacific, adopted this recommendation and issued a Fitness-for-Duty Determination for Robson permanently restricting him from (1) operating company vehicles, on track equipment or other mobile equipment, or forklifts (2) working on or near moving trains, freight cars or locomotives without protective barriers, (3) operating cranes, hoists or machinery, (4) working at unprotected heights above four feet above ground, and (5) making decisions or performing acts that can affect the safety of others. Def.'s Ex. 1D, Dkt. 33 at 49-50.

         In January 2016, Robson had a CT scan that showed interval resolution of the previously seen contusions and hemorrhages of his brain - in other words, his CT scan was normal. Def.'s Ex. 1N, Dkt. 33 at 116; Charbonneau Depo. at 30, Dkt. 39-4; Wilson Depo. at 29-30, Dkt. 39-5. That same month, Robson's treating physician, Dr. Morgan, provided him a written release to “return to work full duty w/ no restrictions.” Def.'s Ex. 1N, Dkt. 33 at 109. Based on this release, Robson asked Union Pacific to reconsider his fitness-for-duty determination and provided additional medical records. Id. at 105.

         After a follow-up review, Dr. Wilson and Dr. Holland concluded that Robson should be restricted for five years rather than permanently. Def.'s Ex. 1O, Dkt. 33 at 121; Wilson Depo. at 61-62, Dkt. 39-5; Holland Depo. at 36-37, Dkt. 39-2. Although the restrictions prevented Robson from performing some of the essential functions of the machinist job Union Pacific allowed him to return to work as a machinist. Def.'s Ex. 1A at 58, Dkt. 33.

         Robson claims that, because his brain injury has resolved, and he was cleared to return to work without restrictions by his treating physician, he is able to perform all of the essential functions of a machinist. Compl. ¶ 16. Since returning to work, Robson alleges that he has not been sent on certain jobs and has lost overtime opportunities due to the restrictions. Compl. ¶ 12. Robson alleges that, by unnecessarily restricting him from certain jobs, Union Pacific has discriminated against him in violation of the ADA.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         1. Plaintiff's Objection to Exhibit 1Q

         Federal Rule 56(c) governs the procedures that the parties must comply with to support or dispute a motion for summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Under Rule 56(c)(2), a party “may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Id. An affidavit is an acceptable form in which to present evidence in the summary judgment context. However, “[a]n affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to testify on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4).

         Rule 56 makes clear then that only admissible evidence may be considered in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Orr v. Bank of America, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). However, in determining admissibility for summary judgment purposes, it is the contents of the evidence rather than its form that must be considered. Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036-37 (9th Cir. 2003). If the contents of the evidence could be presented in an admissible form at trial, those contents may be considered on summary judgment. Id.

         2. Summary Judgment Standard

         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). “[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 ...


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