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WILSON v. PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE DEP'T

March 26, 1997

MICHAEL ANTHONY WILSON
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RENDELL

 Plaintiff Michael Wilson brings this class action against the Pennsylvania State Police Department, Commissioner Glenn A. Walt, individually and in his official capacity, and Wayne Dowling, the Director of Bureau of Personnel, individually and in his official capacity (collectively, "defendants"), alleging that in rejecting him and all persons similarly situated as candidates for the position of state trooper cadet, defendants acted in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (1995), and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("the Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Supp. 1996).

 Plaintiff was rejected as a state trooper because he failed to meet the Pennsylvania State Police Department's visual acuity standards, which require state troopers to have uncorrected vision of at least 20/70 in one eye and 20/200 in the other eye. Plaintiff suffers from myopia, commonly known as nearsightedness, such that his uncorrected vision in each eye is 20/150. Plaintiff has submitted the expert affidavit of an optometrist, Dr. Louis Catania, who explains that "what a normally sighted person would be able to see clearly at 150 feet away, . . . [plaintiff] would have to move up to 20 feet to see." Catania Aff., Plaintiff's Ex. D at 2. Dr. Catania also states that approximately eighty percent of the population has uncorrected vision which is better than that of plaintiff. See id. at 1.

 It is undisputed that plaintiff's vision is fully correctable to 20/20 through his use of eyeglasses or contact lenses. However, in his sworn affidavit, plaintiff claims that without such corrective measures, his vision is blurred and unfocused, and he is unable to perform such routine daily tasks as driving, cooking, reading, and caring for his infant son. See Plaintiff's Aff., Ex. C at PP 6-16. Consequently, plaintiff puts on his glasses first thing in the morning, and wears either his glasses or contact lenses continuously throughout his waking hours. Id. at P 8.

 Plaintiff alleges that his myopia constitutes a "disability" entitling him to the protections of the ADA and the Act, and further, that he is qualified, notwithstanding his disability, to hold the position of state trooper. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, claiming that plaintiff has not met his prima facie burden as to either his disability or his qualification for this position. *fn1"

 On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying for the Court those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of dispute as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading, but [its] response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

 DISCUSSION

 In order to sustain a claim under the ADA, a plaintiff must establish:

 
(1) that he is a disabled person within the meaning of the ADA; (2) that he is qualified, that is, with or without reasonable accommodation (which he must describe), he is able to perform the essential functions of the job; and (3) that the employer terminated him because of his disability.

 Milton v. Scrivner, Inc., 53 F.3d 1118, 1123 (10th Cir. 1995); Chandler v. City of Dallas, 2 F.3d 1385, 1389-90 (5th Cir. 1993) (describing plaintiff's comparable burden under the Rehabilitation Act), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1011, 128 L. Ed. 2d 61, 114 S. Ct. 1386 (1994). *fn2" Only the first two elements of plaintiff's prima facie burden are at issue here, requiring examination of whether plaintiff is disabled, and if so, whether he is qualified to hold the position of state trooper.

 I. Is Plaintiff "Disabled"?

 Defendants initially attack plaintiff's claim by arguing that his condition, myopia, is not a disability under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. A disability is defined under the ADA as:

 
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.

 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2). *fn3" In this case, plaintiff bases his claim of disability upon the first and third prongs of the definition: substantial limitation of major life activity and regarded as having such an impairment.

 With respect to the first prong, it is undisputed that plaintiff has a visual impairment. See Defs.' Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 4; Plaintiff's Ex. F and G (quoting Defs.' Admissions # 30-31, admitting without qualification that plaintiff has a visual impairment). In order to be considered a disability, however, the impairment must "substantially limit" one or more of plaintiff's "major life activities." 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A).

 The regulations which accompany the ADA define the term "substantially limits" as:

 
[]unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform . . . or . . . significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity as compared to the condition, manner or duration under which the ...

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