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Harris v. Allen County Board of Commissioners

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

April 14, 2017

CARLETON HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLEN COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS and ALLEN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Allen County Board of Commissioners' (the “Board”) Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 42]. The Defendant seeks judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff Carleton Harris's claims for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which he alleged in the Second Amended Complaint [ECF No. 34] against both the Board and Defendant Allen County Superior Court (the “Superior Court”). This matter is ripe for the Court's review.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Chronology of Events Giving Rise to the Complaint

         The Plaintiff obtained employment as a Youth Care Worker at the Wood Youth Center on March 14, 1995. (Harris Aff. ¶ 1, ECF No. 52-2.) The Wood Youth Center was later expanded and renamed the Allen County Juvenile Center (“ACJC”) during the Plaintiff's employ there, and in 2003 he was promoted to a Youth Care Specialist at the ACJC. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) In 2013, the Plaintiff “injured [his] back at work when [he] was kicked by a large inmate.” (Id. ¶ 8.) He “received medical treatment for this injury and . . . was paid temporary total disability benefits of $533.52 per month, ” totaling approximately $5, 600. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10, Ex. F.)

         In May 2014, the Plaintiff saw Dr. Kevin Rahn, who determined that after his course of treatment he was at “maximum medical improvement” (“MMI”), “assigned a permanent partial impairment rating of 3% of the body as a whole, ” and put the Plaintiff “on work restrictions.” (Id. ¶ 11; Murphy Dep. Ex. 4, ECF No. 52-3.) Such a diagnosis made the Plaintiff unable to work in his former job. (Harris Aff. ¶ 12.) In a letter from Risk Manager/Attorney Charity Murphy, a Board employee in the Allen County Human Resources Department, the Plaintiff also learned that this diagnosis would terminate his temporary disability benefits. (Murphy Dep. Ex. 3; Harris Aff. Ex. H; Heath Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 48-3.)

         Because the Plaintiff disagreed with the diagnosis, he requested an independent medical examination (“IME”) from the Indiana Worker's Compensation Board, which Dr. Robert Gregori conducted in August 2014. (Murphy Dep. 32:1-33:4, ECF No. 48-1.) Dr. Gregori agreed with Dr. Rahn that the Plaintiff was “currently at maximum medical improvement” and that he should be given “permanent restrictions” at work. (Harris Aff. Ex. J.)[1]

         As a result of his diagnosis, the Plaintiff was precluded from “perform[ing] the essential functions of [his] former job as a youth care worker with or without reasonable accommodation, ” according to the ACJC. (Id.) In May and June 2014, the Plaintiff spoke with both Murphy and with Personnel Manager Chandra Reichert, a Superior Court employee at the ACJC, about possible open positions he could take. (Murphy Suppl. Dep. 57:14-25, ECF No. 55-2; Reichert Aff. ¶ 2, ECF No. 48-4.) The Plaintiff had applied for a full-time position as a judicial assistant in May 2014, while he was obtaining the IME, but was only offered a part-time position, which he did not accept because it lacked benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15, Ex. I.)[2]

         In an October 2014 letter, Murphy advised the Plaintiff that it was her “responsibility as the Americans with Disability Coordinator to determine if there [we]re any other job vacancies within Allen County Government that [the Plaintiff] could transfer into or apply.” (Id.) Murphy included a link to jobs available at that time and informed him that his “unpaid leave of absence w[ould] end on Monday, October 27, 2014, ” if he did not pursue any vacancies. (Id. Ex. J.) After the October letter, the Plaintiff “applied for several” additional openings but did not obtain employment. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         On October 31, 2014, the Plaintiff received a letter from Insurance Manager Debra Hudson, a Board employee in the Allen County Human Resources Department. (Id. Ex. K.) Hudson stated that she “ha[d] not received the premium to continue [the Plaintiff's] insurance coverage . . . through October 31, 2014, ” and told him to “make payment no later than November 7, 2014, to avoid termination of coverage.” (Id.)[3] When the Plaintiff called Hudson back to contest the letter, she told him that “this was [his] last payment” and that he was effectively terminated from his employment with the ACJC. (Id. ¶ 19.) In a subsequent phone call, Murphy confirmed to the Plaintiff that he “was no longer employed because there were no jobs within [his restrictions]” and he “did not qualify for any of the jobs [he] applied for.” (Id. ¶¶ 20, 22.)

         B. Disputes Pertinent to this Motion

         Relevant to deciding this Motion is the Board and Superior Court's makeup, the ACJC's relationship to the Defendants, and Murphy's position. The Court denotes where the parties disagree upon these questions.

         1. Structure of the Board, the Superior Court, and the ACJC

         The Superior Court's Family Relations Division established the ACJC, pursuant to Indiana Code §§ 31-31-8-2 & 31-31-8-3. (Heath Aff. ¶ 3.) The Superior Court “appoints staff and oversees the operations of the juvenile detention facility that is housed in the building named the [ACJC]. The [Superior] Court is the employer of the staff appointed by it to work at the juvenile detention facility.” (Id. ¶ 4.) The Superior “Court has not delegated the hiring, firing, or control of those individuals working at the juvenile detention facility to the County, or its Board of Commissioners, or its County Council. The Allen Superior Court hires, fires, and . . . directs the day to day work of those individuals working at the” ACJC. (Id. ¶ 6.) The Board states that neither it nor Murphy “made the decision to either hire or to terminate the employment of [the Plaintiff]” (Id. ¶ 7), while the Plaintiff disputes this contention.

         The Allen County Council is the “fiscal body of the County of Allen, Indiana, [and] pays all expenses for” the ACJC, which includes “compensation, health insurance benefits, and workers compensation insurance and claims for the non-judicial employees appointed by the [Superior] Court” working at the ACJC. (Id. ¶ 5.)

         “Allen County has only one (1) worker's compensation policy and all individuals paid by County funds are covered by that policy, regardless of the governmental unit by which they are employed. . . . [T]here can only be one worker's compensation policy for all employees paid by county funds because the ‘County' is only permitted by ...


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