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Monica O'donnell v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

May 16, 2011

MONICA O'DONNELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, Monica O'Donnell, a former employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, has sued the Department and four of its current and former officials, alleging that the Defendants violated her rights under both federal and state law by failing to provide her with a reasonable accommodations to address her medical needs stemming from diabetes, and by retaliating against her in a variety of ways after she sought such accommodations. Specifically, Ms. O'Donnell has brought claims for alleged violations of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.; the self-care provision of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)(1)(D); § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951 et seq.; and for First Amendment retaliation, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition to the Department of Corrections, Ms. O'Donnell has sued Jeffrey Beard, in his official capacity as the former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Robert Collins, in his individual and official capacity as the current Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Frackville (SCI-Frackville), where Ms. O'Donnell was employed between June 2000 and September 2010 as a licensed and certified teacher preparing inmates at the prison to take the General Education Development ("GED") examination; Robert Shannon, in his individual and official capacity as the former Superintendent of SCI-Frackville; Jeffrey Chiampi in his individual and official capacity as the former Principal at SCI-Frackville; and Cephus Moore in his individual and official capacity as the Human Resources Representative of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.*fn1

Following a tortuous and fitful litigation history,*fn2 Defendants have filed two motions for summary judgment, which are currently before the Court and which are ripe for disposition. (Docs. 58, 65.) For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND*fn3

Between June 2000 and September 3, 2010, Monica O'Donnell was employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at SCI-Frackville, as a licensed and certified teacher preparing inmates at the prison for taking the GED.*fn4

Ms. O'Donnell also suffers from diabetes, a condition that requires that she be able to frequently monitor her glucose levels throughout the day.

In order to address her medical needs relating to her diabetes, in the fall of 2007, Plaintiff formally requested permission to bring certain medical supplies into SCI-Frackville, and to keep them on her person at all times throughout the day, in order to monitor her glucose levels. (Doc. 59, ¶ 8.) Ms. O'Donnell's request to supervisors at SCI-Frackville was forwarded to the Department of Corrections' ADA Committee in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania for consideration. (Doc. 63, Kowalsky Dep. at 40-47.) Defendant Cephus Moore served as Chairman of the ADA Committee that considered Ms. O'Donnell's request. (Doc. 59, ¶ 10.)

In March 2008, the ADA Committee approved Ms. O'Donnell's request insofar as she sought permission to bring medical supplies into SCI-Frackville. SCI-Frackville is designated as a Level 4, maximum security institution that houses inmates who have been convicted of very serious offenses. (Id., ¶¶ 2, 3, 11.) Thus, although the ADA Committee approved Ms. O'Donnell's request for permission to bring these outside medical devices and materials into SCIFrackville, the Committee deferred to the Superintendent of the prison as to how best to implement the Committee's decision, in light of security concerns applicable to SCI-Frackville and its inmate population. According to Cephus Moore, the ADA Committee expressly did not grant Ms. O'Donnell approval to keep the medical supplies on her person throughout the day due to security concerns. (Doc. 63, Moore Dep. at 25, 30.) After Mr. Moore informed Ms. O'Donnell in writing that the ADA Committee has approved her request for permission to have ready access to her medical supplies, Mr. Moore had no further contact with her. (Id., ¶¶ 16-17.) Furthermore, Mr. Moore had no supervisory authority over Ms. O'Donnell's employment, (id., ¶ 24), did not interact with Ms. O'Donnell during the course of her work at SCI-Frackville, (id., ¶ 25), and had no personal knowledge regarding Ms. O'Donnell's interactions with other staff at SCI-Frackville, (id., ¶ 26). Moreover, Ms. O'Donnell never voiced a complaint to Mr. Moore concerning her work environment at SCI-Frackville either before or after she requested medical accommodations, although he did receive correspondence from her lawyer asserting that the refusal to accede to Ms. O'Donnell's requested accommodations was a violation of the ADA, which he forwarded to DOC counsel. (Id., ¶¶ 20, 23, 27.)

During the time that Ms. O'Donnell was requesting permission to keep her medical supplies on her person at SCI-Frackville, Defendant Chiampi, the former Principal at SCI-Frackville, was Ms. O'Donnell's supervisor. (Doc. 59, ¶ 15.)

Mr. Chiampi has submitted a sworn declaration in which he attests that he took no adverse actions against Ms. O'Donnell because of her disability or because she requested an accommodation, or after she was granted an accommodation. (Id., ¶¶ 15-16.)*fn5 Mr. Chiampi further attests that Ms. O'Donnell never once complained to him about her work environment at SCI-Frackville, other than to express dissatisfaction with the accommodation that was provided with respect to her request to keep medical supplies on her person during the workday. (Doc. 59, ¶ 22; Chiampi Decl., ¶ 4.)

After officials with the Department of Corrections failed to approve all of her specific requests to be permitted to keep a number of medical items on her person throughout the workday at the prison, and after she was denied certain promotions and reimbursements for professional development activities, Ms. O'Donnell commenced this litigation on October 14, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The action was subsequently transferred to this Court on June 19, 2009. In her original complaint, Plaintiff brought a number of claims against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and certain of its supervisory officials, alleging that the Defendants collectively violated her rights under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 971 et seq., the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1)(D), and the PHRA, 43 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. §§ 951 et seq., by failing to accommodate her requested medical needs, and by retaliating against her in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff claims that the Defendants retaliated against her by failing to promote her to other positions within the Department to which she applied, and by failing to reimburse her for certain tuition expenses that she incurred during her employment. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and equitable injunctive relief.

On October 1, 2009, Plaintiff amended her complaint to include additional averments. (Doc. 9.) After the Defendants answered the amended complaint, the parties engaged in mandatory mediation proceedings that resulted in the mediator informing the Court that the parties had negotiated a complete settlement of the litigation. (Doc. 21.) Accordingly, the Court entered an order dismissing the case on May 18, 2010, without prejudice to either party moving to reinstate the action within 60 days if settlement had not been consummated. (Doc. 22.) Ultimately, the parties were unable to resolve the litigation through settlement, and the action was reopened. Following discussions between the Court and the parties, the Court entered a case management order setting forth a pre-trial schedule, (Doc. 31), and Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint on October 18, 2010, to add additional parties as Defendants (Doc. 32).*fn6

Following additional discovery and other pre-trial litigation, Defendants filed two motions for summary judgment. In the first motion (Doc. 58), the Individual Defendants named in this litigation*fn7 move for judgment in their favor. In the second motion (Doc. 65), the Department seeks summary judgment on its own behalf. These motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal courts are permitted to summarily adjudicate an action in order to dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue as to any material fact," Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, and for which a jury trial would, therefore, "be an empty and unnecessary formality," Peynado v. Sabol, No. 09-355, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134131, 2010 WL 5300563, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2010). Rule 56 specifically provides that "[t]he judgment sought should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The substantive law identifies which facts are material, and "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49.

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the nonmoving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is also appropriate if the non-moving party provides merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative evidence. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the nonmoving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also, Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

IV. DISCUSSION

The Defendants have filed two separate motions for summary judgment, one on behalf of the Department of Corrections itself (Doc. 65), and the other on behalf of the Individual Defendants (Doc. 58). Because these motions generally address discrete issues, we address them separately below.

A. Department of Corrections

1. The Department of Corrections is Immune From Plaintiff's Claims Premised Upon the First Amendment, the PHRA, and the ADA.

The Department of Corrections first argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims brought for alleged violations of the First Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the PHRA, and the ADA because these claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because the law is well-settled that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is immune from suits brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the PHRA, and the ADA, and because Plaintiff has offered no legal authority to challenge these longstanding, and clearly established principles regarding governmental immunity, we will grant the Department of Corrections' motion for summary judgment with respect to these claims.

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides as follows:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

U.S. Const. amend. XI. Subject to very narrow exceptions, the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars suits brought in federal court against states and their agencies. See Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 750-52 (1999); Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 253 (3d Cir. 2010). Moreover, the immunity conferred to states by the Eleventh Amendment also extends to subsidiary units such as state agencies. Id.; Bowers v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 475 F.3d 524, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Regents of the Univ. of California v. Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997); Pennshurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 101 (1984); Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655, 659 (3d Cir. 1989) (a state agency is properly characterized as an arm of the state, and is thus "entitled to immunity from suit in a federal court under the eleventh amendment when a judgment against it 'would have essentially the same practical consequences as a judgment against the State itself.") (quoting Lake Country Estates, Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, 440 U.S. 391, 401 (1979)).*fn8 Although the language of the Eleventh Amendment appears only to apply to out-of-state plaintiffs, "[t]he Supreme Court extended the Eleventh Amendment's reach to suits by in-state plaintiffs, thus barring all suits against non-consenting States in federal courts." Lombardo v. Pennsylvania Dep't of Public Welfare, 540 F.3d 190, 194 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10 (1890)). A state may consent to be sued in federal court, and thereby waive its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, but Pennsylvania has not done so, and has in fact specifically withheld its consent pursuant to statute. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8521(b).

The law is also clearly settled that the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against states and state agencies alleging claims brought under three of the state and federal statutes pursuant to which Plaintiff has brought claims against the Department: 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Pennhurst State Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. at 101; Title I of the ADA, Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374 (2001); and pendent claims brought pursuant to the PHRA, Patterson v. Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General, 243 F. App'x 695, 696 (3d Cir. 2007). Because the Department of Corrections is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, and because the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against non-consenting states and their subsidiary agencies for suits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Title I of the ADA,*fn9 and the PHRA, we must conclude that the Department of Corrections is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for relief under any of these statutes. Accordingly, we will grant the Department's motion with respect to Plaintiff's claims brought under each of these federal and state statutes.

2. The Department of Corrections is Entitled to Eleventh Amendment Immunity From Plaintiff's Claims Under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The Department of Corrections also argues that it is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from Plaintiff's claims brought for alleged violations of the Family Medical Leave Act's self-care provision, which provides leave for employees to care for their own serious health conditions. See Second Am. Compl. Count IV; 29 U.S.C. ยง 2612(a)(1)(D). As with the claims discussed above, the Department contends it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's FMLA claim, but ...


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