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Michael Davitt v. Rockland County Department of Mental Health

March 14, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frederick P. Stamp, Jr. United States District Judge Sitting BY Designation


I. Background

The now pro se*fn1 plaintiff*fn2 ("plaintiff" or "Mr. Davitt"), a former employee of the defendant ("defendant" or "Rockland County"), filed this civil action in this Court on April 5, 2010. The complaint alleged disability discrimination against Mr. Davitt's former employer, claiming that Rockland County discriminated against him due to his status as a recovering alcohol and drug user, as well as the defendant's perception that Mr. Davitt suffered from a mental or emotional disability, in violation of both state and federal disability discrimination laws. The complaint arose from the following events.

The plaintiff began working for the Rockland County Department of Mental Health ("RCDMH") in June 1991 as a "mental health worker." He informed the defendant at the time of his hiring that he was a recovering alcohol and drug user. He worked for approximately two years in an inpatient psychiatric unit before transferring to the inpatient detoxification unit for approximately the next eight years. In 2000, the plaintiff was transferred back to the inpatient psychiatric unit, where he worked for approximately two years. During those two years, the plaintiff states that he was assaulted on multiple occasions. The plaintiff then obtained a certification as a substance abuse counselor and transferred into a position as a drug court case manager. He worked in this position for approximately 18 months before transferring to the methadone maintenance program, where he worked for approximately 18 months. The plaintiff then transferred to the Rockland County Day Hospital, working as a substance abuse counselor for approximately 18 to 24 months. He then transferred to general case management, continuing to work as a substance abuse counselor.

On February 20, 2008, Mr. Davitt was informed that a consumer had lodged a complaint against him alleging that the plaintiff had threatened to have the consumer's social security revoked.

On March 4, 2008, Mr. Davitt requested a meeting with his supervisor. At that meeting, he disputed the specifics of the complaint and told those present that he was fearful for his physical safety and mental and emotional well being should he be transferred to the inpatient psychiatric unit. On March 5, 2008, Mr. Davitt was told that he was being transferred to the inpatient psychiatric unit. He also received a letter of reprimand. Despite telling his supervisors that he had serious concerns about the transfer, the plaintiff was told to report to his new position. On that same day, after receiving the reprimand and directive to report to the inpatient unit, the plaintiff went to the employee assistance unit and told them he required an accommodation. The employee assistance unit advised the plaintiff to seek psychiatric assistance and gave him the names of several psychiatrists.

On March 6, 2008, Mr. Davitt called the defendant and stated that he was unable to report to the inpatient unit because of the same concerns he had previously expressed and because of the emotional trauma resulting from the alleged efforts of the defendant to retaliate and discriminate against him. The plaintiff also notified the employee assistance program to advise them that he was unable to come to work. On March 18, 2008, the plaintiff met with Helen Kukla, M.D., a psychiatrist. Around that time, the plaintiff sent the defendant a letter stating that he is a protected person under the law and that the defendant's conduct violated his rights. The plaintiff received a letter about the same time indicating that if he did not supply, before the end of the month, a doctor's note explaining his absence, the defendant would treat his absence as a resignation and move to discontinue his medical insurance and that he would owe the defendant for medical benefits extended. The plaintiff provided a written notice from Dr. Kukla before the end of the month. Dr. Kukla verbally told the director of mental health personnel for the defendant that the plaintiff was not able to perform his duties in the inpatient unit because it would be too traumatic. On April 1, 2008, the defendant notified the plaintiff in writing that he was being placed on involuntary unpaid leave of absence and that he would receive notice regarding an Article 72 hearing pursuant to New York Civil Service Law § 72. The plaintiff states that he was not informed of his Article 72 hearing, which occurred on July 7, 2008. He states that he received a telephone call from a representative of the defendant, advising him that a hearing had begun and asking him whether he would attend. The plaintiff then went to the hearing. The hearing officer stated that the hearing was not being opened and that it was adjourned until August 8, 2008. The plaintiff appeared at the next date, where testimony was given. The plaintiff appeared on the third and final date. The hearing officer determined that the plaintiff was unable to perform the essential functions of his job.

The plaintiff states that in July 2008, he provided the defendant with documentation that he was able to return to work as long as it was not in the psychiatric unit. On March 22, 2009, the plaintiff provided a letter from a physician indicating that he is in good physical and mental health and able to perform all of the duties of a substance abuse counselor. On July 15, 2009, the plaintiff filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights asserting his claim of discrimination and retaliation.

After the plaintiff filed his complaint in this case, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. This Court partially granted that motion and dismissed all of the claims in the plaintiff's complaint except for a claim that he was transferred to an inpatient unit because of a perceived psychological or emotional illness, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA").

Following the dismissal of all but one of the plaintiff's claims, the parties engaged in discovery over a number of months, and the parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment which are now both fully briefed and ripe for disposition by this Court. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied, and this civil action will be dismissed with prejudice.

II. Applicable Law

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is only appropriate when the moving party can show that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Based upon this standard, "the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial -- whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). However, as the United States Supreme Court noted in Anderson, "Rule 56(e) itself provides that a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 256. As such, "summary judgment is proper where there is 'nothing in the record to support plaintiff's allegations other than the plaintiff's own contradictory and incomplete testimony.'" Rivera v. Rochester Genesee Reg'l Transp. Auth., 702 F.3d 685, 693 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Jeffreys v. City of New York, 426 F.3d 549, 555 (2d Cir. 2011)). Nonetheless, in reviewing the facts and evidence, a court must "constru[e] all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw[] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." McBride v. BIC Consumer Prods. Mfg. Co., 583 F.3d 92, 96 (2d Cir. 2009).

III. Discussion

In the plaintiff's single remaining claim, he alleges that he was transferred to an inpatient unit as a result of a mental or emotional disability from which the defendant believed that he suffered. This transfer, the plaintiff claims, was thus violative of the ADA, which proscribes discrimination "against a qualified individual on the basis of a disability in regard to . . . other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. ยง 12112(a). The proof of an ADA discrimination claim follows the burden-shifting framework established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). McBride, 583 F.3d at 96. Accordingly, in order to successfully assert an ADA claim, the plaintiff must first "establish a prima facie case." Sista v. CDC Ixis N. Am., Inc., 445 F.3d 161, 169 (2d Cir. 2006). Then, and only if the plaintiff successfully establishes his prima facie case, the burden shifts to the defendant to "offer through the introduction of admissible evidence a legitimate non-discriminatory reason ...

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