United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
May 17, 2005.
LINDA M. KOZLOWSKI, Plaintiff
PENN NATIONAL INSURANCE and HOOVER REHABILITATION SERVICES, INC., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court is a motion (Doc. 16) in which
defendants, Penn National Insurance ("Penn National") and Hoover
Rehabilitation Services, Inc. ("Hoover"), seek summary judgment
on the claim of plaintiff, Linda M. Kozlowski ("Kozlowski"), of
wrongful discharge under the American with Disabilities Act
("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213.*fn1 Defendants argue that
plaintiff cannot demonstrate that she is a "qualified individual" under the ADA.
The court agrees, and will grant the motion.
I. Statement of Facts*fn2
Kozlowski was employed by Penn National as an insurance
underwriter from 1998 until 2003. Her position involved review of
coverage applications, entry of this information into computer
databases, and, after a promotion in 2002, supervision of other
employees. Kozlowski suffered from various medical problems,
including "degenerative joint disease" and
"fibromyalgia,"*fn3 and she was forced to take leave for
several brief periods in 2002 and 2003. However, she was able to
return to her job full-time following treatment. (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 1,
3-17; Doc. 22 ¶¶ 1, 3-17).
Her medical problems escalated in the latter part of 2003. On
November 4, 2003, Kozlowski sought emergency treatment for
immobility and severe pain in her legs. The next day, she
forwarded to Penn National a physician's note indicating that she
was "totally incapacitated" and "unable to work." She requested
that she be granted paid medical leave from her position pursuant
to the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654,
and Penn National's "salary continuation program."*fn4 These requests were approved.
However, Penn National notified Kozlowski that her leave under
the FMLA would expire on December 8, 2003, and that the company
would "be unable to provide [her] with continuing job protection"
after that date. (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 18-29; Doc. 21, Tab B, Exs. 38, 41;
Doc. 21, Tab F, Ex. 3; Doc. 22 ¶¶ 18-29).*fn5
On December 5, 2003, Kozlowski delivered to Penn National
records detailing her medical history for the past several years.
The records indicated that her condition was worsening and did
not show signs of improvement despite treatment. A representative
of Penn National replied that these materials would be considered
in assessing Kozlowski's continuing eligibility for salary
benefits during her leave, but did not suggest that the
information altered the expiration date of her leave under the
FMLA. (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 26, 30; Doc. 21, Tab B, Exs. 44, 46, 48; Doc.
22 ¶¶ 26, 30).
On December 9, 2003, Penn National issued a letter to Kozlowski
stating that her leave under the FMLA had expired, that her
former position as insurance underwriter had been filled, and
that the company could no longer offer her "continuing job
protection."*fn6 The next day, Kozlowski notified Penn
National that her condition was "permanent." She did not suggest that a period
of leave or any other accommodation would allow her to return to
work. On December 19, 2003, Penn National notified Kozlowski
that, because she was "unable to return to work," the company was
terminating her employment. (Doc. 17 ¶¶ 31-37; Doc. 21, Tab B,
Exs. 48-51; Doc. 22 ¶¶ 31-37).
Soon thereafter, Kozlowski submitted an application for
benefits to the United States Social Security Administration. The
application, completed and executed by Kozlowski on December 29,
2003, stated that she "became unable to work because of [a]
disabling condition on [November 3, 2003,]" and that she was
"still disabled." She confirmed in supplemental documentation
that her condition was "worsening" and that treatment had not led
to any improvement. The agency found that Kozlowski was "totally
disabled" and awarded her benefits effective as of November 3,
2003. (Doc. 17 ¶ 39; Doc. 20, Ex. B; Doc. 21, Tab B, Ex. 2).
She commenced the case sub judice in April 2004. Defendants
filed the instant motion for summary judgment one year later, in
April 2005. (Docs. 1, 12, 16).
II. Standard of Review
"Summary judgment serves as a minimal but important hurdle for
litigants to overcome before presenting a claim to a jury."
Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F. Supp. 2d 311, 315 (M.D. Pa.
2004). Faced with such a motion, the adverse party must produce
affirmative evidence, beyond the disputed allegations of the
pleadings, in support of the claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Corneal
v. Jackson Township, 313 F. Supp. 2d 457, 464 (M.D. Pa. 2003), aff'd, 94 Fed. Appx. 76 (3d Cir. 2004). "Such
affirmative evidence regardless of whether it is direct or
circumstantial must amount to more than a scintilla, but may
amount to less (in the evaluation of the court) than a
preponderance." Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32
(3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Williams v. Borough of West Chester,
891 F.2d 458, 460-61 (3d Cir. 1989)). Only if this burden is met
can the cause of action proceed. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.
v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89 (1986); see FED.
R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e).
The ADA prohibits employment discrimination against a
"qualified individual with a disability." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a);
see also Buskirk v. Apollo Metals, 307 F.3d 160, 166 (3d Cir.
2002). A "qualified individual" is one who, "with or without
reasonable accommodation," can perform "the essential functions
of the employment position that such individual holds or
desires." 42 U.S.C. § 12111(8); see also 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(m).
The burden is on the plaintiff to show that he or she is
"qualified" for the position at issue under this definition.
Buskirk, 307 F.3d at 168; Deane v. Pocono Med. Ctr.,
142 F.3d 138, 146-49 (3d Cir. 1998) (en banc).
Kozlowski cannot satisfy this prerequisite. She has admitted,
in depositions and several letters, that she was and is "totally
disabled" and that she "cannot work" as an insurance underwriter
or in any other position.*fn7 Records from her physicians verify that she is "totally incapacitated" and is not
"employable at even a sedentary level of employment."*fn8
Nothing in the summary judgment record suggests that she has any
foreseeable chance of improvement in the future, or that any
accommodation would allow her to work in any capacity. There is
simply no basis on which a trier of fact could find that
Kozlowski was or is a "qualified individual." See id.
This conclusion is confirmed by records of the Social Security
Administration. Sworn statements in an application for disability
benefits are binding on the applicant in subsequent judicial
proceedings, and may preclude relief under the ADA unless a
"sufficient explanation" for the contrary position is offered.
Cleveland v. Policy Mgmt. Sys. Corp., 526 U.S. 795, 805-06
(1999); see also Detz v. Greiner Indus., Inc., 346 F.3d 109,
115-21 (3d Cir. 2003). Kozlowski represented in her application
for social security benefits that she was "unable to work" as of
November 3, 2005, and that she remained disabled as of December
29, 2003, when the application was submitted. These statements
supported the agency's finding that she was "totally disabled,"
and Kozlowski offers no reason why they should not be given
conclusive weight here. By her own binding admissions, Kozlowski
is not a "qualified individual." See id. at 119-21. She
cannot maintain a claim under the ADA. IV. Conclusion
The only potential claims remaining in this case are those
under state law for the allegedly wrongful denial of salary
continuation benefits.*fn9 However, the parties offer no
reason for the court to entertain these matters in the absence of
a federal cause of action, and the court declines to do
so.*fn10 See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) ("The district court?
may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a [state
law] claim . . . if . . . the district court has dismissed all
claims over which it has original jurisdiction."); Borough of
West Mifflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 788 (3d Cir. 1995)
("[W]here the claim over which the district court has original
jurisdiction is dismissed before trial, the district court must
decline to decide the pendent state claims unless considerations
of judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the parties
provide an affirmative justification for doing so.") (emphasis
added). The state law claims will be dismissed for lack of
jurisdiction, and this case will be closed.
An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, this 17th day of May, 2005, upon consideration of
defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 16), and for the
reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby
ORDERED that the motion (Doc. 16) is GRANTED as follows:
1. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter JUDGMENT
in favor of defendants and against plaintiff with
respect to the claims under the American with
Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213,
and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1401.
2. The claims against defendants under state law are
DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction.
3. The Clerk of Court is directed to CLOSE this case.