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HUNTER v. COM. OF PA.

April 7, 1999

MARCUS HUNTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The plaintiff, Marcus Hunter ("Hunter") brings this employment discrimination action against the defendant, the Department of Corrections for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ("DOC"), asserting claims under Article I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., the Heart and Lung Act, 53 Pa. Cons.Stat.Ann. § 637 et seq., and the Workers Compensation Act, 77 Pa. Cons.Stat.Ann. § 1 et seq.; and an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Before the Court is the DOC's Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 and Hunter's response thereto. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied as to the federal claim and the state claims shall be dismissed without prejudice.

BACKGROUND

The DOC hired Hunter in September 1989 to be a Corrections Officer at the State Correctional Institute at Graterford ("SCI-Graterford"). On February 11, 1993 Hunter injured his back at work while opening a cell door in the old section of SCI-Graterford. He left work and received workers compensation benefits. He returned to work in May or June 1993 on a light duty basis. This light duty assignment lasted until November 1993 when Hunter's superior, Captain Thomas J. Dohman, repeatedly placed Hunter in SCI-Graterford's old section. (Hunter's May 15, 1998 Dep. at 59-61). On December 5, 1993 Hunter left work because his back was hurting. (Hunter's May 15, 1998 Dep. at 15-16). He again received workers compensation benefits.

In January or February 1994 an MRI scan revealed that Hunter had a small disc herniation central and slightly to the left at L4-L5. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D at 3). On April 7, 1994, however, Dr. Barbara Ann Shelton examined Hunter and found him to be capable of returning to work at full duty. (Dr. Barbara Ann Shelton's Dep. at 23). She, nevertheless, did place a fifty pound lifting restriction on him. (Dr. Barbara Ann Shelton's Dep. at 37).

Hunter did not return to work and continued to receive workers compensation benefits. On May 13 and September 23, 1994 Dr. Donald Griffin submitted to SCI-Graterford medical forms in which he opined that Hunter would be totally disabled for an unknown period of time. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. Uhl-9, Uhl-10). In November 1994 Dr. Morley sent a similar form to SCI-Graterford. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. Uhl-8).

On January 17, 1995 the DOC petitioned to terminate Hunter's workers compensation benefits on the basis of Dr. Barbara Ann Shelton's report. (DOC's Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5 at 3). The DOC conducted a hearing on May 24, 1995 to determine Hunter's continued eligibility for Heart and Lung Act benefits. (DOC's Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5 at 2). On November 6, 1995 Workers' Compensation Judge Joseph Hakun found that Hunter failed to present evidence in opposition to the DOC's petition. (DOC's Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5 at 5). Hearing Examiner James J. Kirchner agreed with the judge. (DOC's Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 5 at 5). On March 26, 1996 the DOC terminated Hunter's workers compensation benefits. Hunter blamed his counsel, Robert H. Bembry, III, for not presenting evidence to oppose the DOC's petition.

On April 24, 1996 SCI-Graterford Superintendent, Donald T. Vaughn, sent Hunter a letter to notify him that he would be terminated unless he was able to return to work at full duty by May 2, 1996. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. Uhl-1). To return to work at full duty, Hunter would be required to obtain complete medical clearance. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. Uhl-1). Hunter also was advised to contact the State Employees' Retirement System before May 2, 1996 "to protect [his] rights under the Commonwealth's Retirement Act[,]" and to direct questions to Ann Uhl, a personnel analyst II in the SCI-Graterford personnel department. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. Uhl-1).

Hunter contacted Ann Uhl and told her that he could not return to work at full duty. She advised him to apply for disability retirement benefits. (Ann Uhl's May 29, 1998 Dep. at 21). Hunter applied. Ann Uhl instructed Hunter to request leave without pay while his application was being considered. (Ann Uhl's May 29, 1998 Dep. at 22-23). On June 4, 1996 he formally requested leave without pay. Medical reports describing Hunter's inability to perform his work duties were submitted to the State Employees' Retirement System.

Ann Uhl also explained to Hunter that if his application was accepted he would have to resign to receive the disability retirement benefits. (Ann Uhl's May 29, 1998 Dep. at 22-23). When his application was accepted, Hunter resigned on October 24, 1996 with the reservation that he was "still able to perform the essential functions of [his] current position with modifications." (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. Uhl-4). On March 20, 1997, medical personnel evaluated Hunter and determined him much improved and able to return to work. (Hunter's Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J. Ex. D at 7). On January 22, 1998 Hunter filed this action. Before the court is the DOC's Motion for Summary Judgment.

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, reveal no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Our responsibility is not to resolve disputed issues of fact, but to determine whether there exist any factual issues to be tried. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The presence of "a mere scintilla of evidence" in the nonmovant's favor will not avoid summary judgment. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505). Rather, we will grant summary judgment unless "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505.


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