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Ice v. Gibson County Commissioners

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division

October 21, 2019

ANN ICE, Plaintiff,
v.
GIBSON COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER ON OUTSTANDING MOTIONS

          Matthew P. Brookman United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on six outstanding motions. The Honorable Richard L. Young has referred this matter to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for a report and recommendation on three of these matters: (1) Defendant's Gibson County Commissioners Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 40); (2) Plaintiff's Ann Ice Amended Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint to Conform to the Evidence (Docket No. 44); and (3) Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Strike Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 45). (Docket No. 67). The undersigned will provide recommendations on each of these motions, separately, below. Three other motions have been referred to the Magistrate Judge: (1) Defendant's Motion to Show Cause (Docket No. 38); Plaintiff's First Motion to Make Report of Conduct to Court and Request for Equitable and Remedial Relief Pursuant to Inherent Power of this District Court (Docket No. 56); and Defendant's Motion for Extension of Time to File Response to [Docket No. 56] (Docket No. 58).[1]

         Plaintiff Ms. Ice was the Education Coordinator for the Gibson County Soil and Water Conservation District (“SWCD”). She brings this matter against Defendant Gibson County Commissioners (“the Commissioners”) alleging that after more than sixteen (16) years of employment, she was wrongfully terminated in July of 2017. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 3, 7). Ms. Ice alleges age discrimination, Family Medical Leave Act violations (“FMLA”), and retaliation claims. (Id.).

         I. Motion to Strike Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 45)

         Before the undersigned addresses the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 40), Ms. Ice's Motion to Strike Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 45) must be considered. Ms. Ice asks this Court to strike or summarily deny the motion for the judgment on the pleadings for its failure to follow Local Rule 7-1(b)(1).

         Local Rule 7-1(b)(1) provides that motions for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 must be accompanied by a supporting brief. The Commissioners' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings does not have a supporting memorandum. Ms. Ice requests strict enforcement of the local rule. (Docket No. 45 at ECF p. 2, citing Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir. 1994) (noting that the Seventh Circuit has “repeatedly held the strict enforcement of [the local] rules”)). But, the Court has great discretion in applying its own rules. SeeS.D. Ind. Local Rule 1-1(c). See also, Stevo v. Frasor, 662 F.3d 880 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[W]e have repeatedly held that district judges are entitled to insist on strict compliance with local rules . . . We have not endorsed the very different proposition that litigants are entitled to expect strict enforcement by district judges.”) (internal citation omitted).

         The Commissioners' failure to separate its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings into a motion and a supporting memorandum is not prejudicial. The Commissioners' factual and legal analysis within its motion is in keeping with the spirit of the local rule. It is in the best interest of this case to consider the Commissioners' motion as filed. Thus, the undersigned recommends that Ms. Ice's Motion to Strike Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 45) be DENIED.

         II. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 40)

         On May 29, 2019, the Commissioners filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). (Docket No. 40). Ice filed a timely response. (Docket No. 42). No reply was filed. The undersigned recommends that the Commissioners' motion be DENIED.

         Either party may move for judgment on the pleadings “[a]fter the pleadings are closed- but early enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings may be granted only if the moving party clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Flora v. Home Fed. Savings & Loan Ass'n, 685 F.2d 209, 211 (7th Cir. 1982). “The court may consider only matters presented in the pleadings and must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Nat'l Fidelity Life Ins. Co. v. Karaganis, 811 F.2d 357, 358 (7th Cir. 1987). The court is not bound by the nonmovant's legal characterizations of the facts. Id. In considering this motion, therefore, we assume the facts as alleged by Ms. Ice, as set forth in the current operative complaint, to be true. See id.

         Ice was an employee of the Commissioners working in the USDA Service Venter for the Gibson County Soil and Water Conservation District (“SWCD”) for more than sixteen (16) years. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 3, ¶¶6-7). The SWCD is supervised and managed by Defendant, the Gibson County Commissioners. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 1, ¶2).

         Ice began experiencing work-related stress and anxiety in December of 2014. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 3, ¶ 11). Her medical issues continued to worsen and on January 14, 2017, she was transported by ambulance to the St. Mary's Hospital Emergency Room experiencing chest pains. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 5, ¶ 22). After this episode, Ice stopped attending board meetings due to her work-related stress. (Id. at ¶ 24). On January 20, 2017, she filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination against the Commissioners, the SWCD Board, and federal employee, Travis Gogel. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         On June 13, 2017, the SWCD notified Ice her hours changed (Id. at ECF p. 6, ¶28) and also instructed her to not work for the rest of the week (June 14-16) because she had already met the requisite hours for the pay period. (Id. at ¶ 30). On June 23, 2017, the SWCD convened in an executive meeting where they presumably discussed that Ice did not work June 14-16, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 31). Ice returned to work on June 27, 2017, and was suspended without pay for three (3) days due to not appearing for work June 14-16, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 32).

         Ice requested FMLA paperwork from the Gibson County Auditor's Office on July 13, 2017 (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 7, ¶ 35). Ice completed the paperwork and returned it to the Auditor's Office by July 18, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 37). An employee in the Auditor's Office informed Ice that there was insufficient time to add the FMLA request to the Commissioners' July 18, 2017, meeting agenda for approval. (Id. at ¶ 38). Ice was terminated on July 28, 2017 by SWCD Board Chairman, Matt Michel and SWCD Supervisor, Kenny Page. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 3, ¶¶ 7-8). She was replaced by a younger candidate. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 4, ¶ 16, n. 1). She filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) on December 15, 2017. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 2, ¶ 5). She filed this suit on May 14, 2018, alleging discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) (“Count I”), a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) (“Count II”), and retaliation because she engaged in activities protected by the ADEA and FMLA (“Count III”).

         The Commissioners argue that Ice admits that SWCD members terminated her from employment, but that subsequent depositions have “indisputably [established] that the Board of Soil and Water Conservation District is a state-created agency and is not overseen by the Board of Commissioners of the County.” (Docket No. 40 at ECF p. 1). The Commissioners argue that Ice concedes that Indiana law establishes the Soil and Water Conservation District for Gibson County as a governmental subdivision of the State of Indiana pursuant to Ind. Code § 14-32-5-1, although Ice was designated as a County employee pursuant to Ind. Code § 14-32-4-18. (Id. at ECF p. 2). The Commissioners argue that, given this concession, and that the Complaint alleges discrimination by SWCD-the Commissioners are entitled to judgment on the pleadings in its favor. (Id. at ECF p. 3).

         Ice argues the Commissioners' motion should fail because it looks beyond the allegations contained in the Complaint and the Answer, or those documents' attachments-an impermissible exercise for a Rule 12(c) motion. (Docket No. 42 at ECF p. 2). Thus, Ice argues if the Court is going to consider the Commissioners' motion at all it should be converted to a Motion for Summary Judgment under Rule 56. (Docket No. 42 at ECF p. 4). But, even under that standard, Ice argues, the motion fails as it does not meet the substantive or procedural requirements of Local Rule 56-1 or Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Id. at ECF pp. 4-5). Ice further argues that the Commissioners' argument lacks substantive merit because it assumes that there is not an agency relationship between the Commissioners and the SWCD supervisors. (Docket No. 42 at ECF p. 6). The Commissioners do not reply to Ms. Ice's arguments.

         The Commissioners' motion for a judgment on the pleadings is unpersuasive. In its answer, the Commissioners admit that they are “responsible for the supervision and management of the [SWCD].” (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 1, ¶ 2; Docket No. 9 at ECF p. 9 ¶ 2). The Commissioners also admit that Ms. Ice “was an employee of the Commissioners working in the USDA Service Venter for the SWCD.” (Docket No. 9 at ECF p. 2 ¶ 6; Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 3 ¶ 6). Several of the Commissioners' affirmative defenses aver, among other defenses, that its “actions regarding Plaintiff's employment were taken for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons” (Docket No. 9 at ECF p. 7, ¶ 2); “treatment of Plaintiff was in compliance with federal and state laws” (Id. at ¶ 4); and “actions were job-related and consistent with business necessity.” (Id. at ECF p. 10, ¶ 8). The undersigned understands that the Commissioners draws a distinction between employing Ms. Ice, which it admits it did, and making the decision to terminate Ms. Ice, which it admits that SWCD Board Chairman, Matt Michel and SWCD Supervisor, Kenny Page did. (Docket No. 1 at ECF p. 3, ¶ 8; Docket No. 9 at ECF p. 2, ¶ 8). But the Commissioners have already admitted, whether the evidence supports or not, that it is responsible for the supervision and management of the SWCD. What the evidence post-pleadings shows is beyond the scope of a motion for judgment on the pleadings. See Nat'l Fidelity Life Ins. Co., 811 F.2d at 358. The pleadings, viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Ice, show that she was employed by the Commissioners, that she was terminated by the SWCD Board Chairman and SWCD Supervisor, and that the Commissioners was responsible for the supervision and management of the SWCD.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that if a motion for judgment on the pleadings presents matters outside the pleadings, “the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such motion by Rule 56.” The decision of whether to convert a motion to dismiss for summary judgment is left to the discretion of the court. See Levenstein v. Salafsky, 164 F.3d 345, 347 (7th Cir. 1989). The undersigned declines to do so. The evidence has not been presented in a manner consistent with the Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 and S.D. Ind. Local Rule 56-1. For these reasons the undersigned recommends that the Commissioners' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 40) be DENIED.

         III. Amended Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint to Conform ...


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