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Renner v. Supreme Court of Florida

United States District Court, N.D. Florida, Tallahassee Division

November 1, 2019

SHERRI L. RENNER, Plaintiff,


          Robert L. Hinkle United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff has a history of mental-health treatment. She became a conditional member of The Florida Bar but eventually stopped complying with her conditions and was disbarred. She asserts claims for damages against the Bar and the Florida Supreme Court. This order grants their motions to dismiss.


         The plaintiff is Sherri L. Renner. The Florida Bar admitted her as member in 2005 but imposed conditions because of her history of mental-health treatment. Ms. Renner was required to consult at least monthly with a licensed mental-health provider, to have the provider submit quarterly reports to the Bar, to submit her own quarterly statements to the Bar attesting to her compliance with the conditions, and to pay a quarterly monitoring fee.

         Ms. Renner did not contest the conditions at that time. But she asked the Bar to remove the conditions in 2010, asserting, among other things, that the conditions were unnecessary and that continuing them would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

         Under the Bar's standard practice, removal of the conditions could occur only if Ms. Renner paid for an examination by a Bar-approved mental-health provider and the provider gave a favorable opinion. That did not occur. The Bar did not respond to Ms. Renner's request for information on how she could challenge the conditions. She decided to stop complying with the conditions-her strategy for challenging the refusal to remove the conditions. At that point the Bar told her she could challenge its refusal to remove the conditions through a motion in the Florida Supreme Court, but she decided instead to continue with her strategy of noncompliance.

         The Bar filed a disciplinary petition in the Florida Supreme Court. The Court disbarred Ms. Renner for willfully failing to comply with her conditions. Neither the Bar nor the Court provided Ms. Renner an opportunity to present evidence or to be heard in a meaningful manner on whether the conditions were in fact unnecessary.

         Ms. Renner brought this action for damages against the Bar and the Court. She asserts claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The substantive standards under the two statutes are the same in relevant respects, and for convenience, this order usually refers only to the ADA, not also to the Rehabilitation Act, except when discussing the Rehabilitation Act's separate jurisdictional requirements. See Cash v. Smith, 231 F.3d 1301, 1305 (11th Cir. 2000) (“Discrimination claims under the Rehabilitation Act are governed by the same standards used in ADA cases.”).

         The Bar and the Court have filed separate motions to dismiss the amended complaint on grounds that include failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted and Eleventh Amendment immunity. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for a decision.


         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the complaint's factual allegations, though not its legal conclusions, must be accepted as true. Id.; see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A motion to dismiss is not the vehicle by which the truth of a plaintiff's factual allegations should be judged. Instead, it remains true, after Twombly and Iqbal as before, that “federal courts and litigants must rely on summary judgment and control of discovery to weed out unmeritorious claims sooner rather than later.” Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993).

         A motion to dismiss for lack jurisdiction-this includes Eleventh Amendment immunity-can properly challenge the sufficiency of a complaint's jurisdictional allegations or the sufficiency of the actual facts to establish jurisdiction. See, e.g., Cable/Home Commc'n Corp. v. Network Prods., Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 855 (11th Cir. 1990). Here the motions assert Eleventh Amendment immunity primarily based on the amended complaint's allegations; to that extent the factual allegations must be accepted as true. The motions also rely on evidence to establish the facts relevant to Eleventh Amendment immunity from the Rehabilitation Act claims. To that extent the facts must be determined based on the evidence, with genuine disputes resolved in the plaintiff's favor.


         The ADA prohibits a public entity from discriminating against a “qualified individual with a disability.” 42 U.S.C. § 12132. A “disability” is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, ” or “a record of such an impairment, ” or “being regarded as having such an impairment.” Id. § 12102(1). An individual is “regarded as having such an impairment” if the individual “has been subjected to an action prohibited [by the ADA] because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.” Id. § 12012(3)(A).

         The amended complaint alleges that Ms. Renner has a history of mental-health treatment but gives no details. The amended complaint does not allege that Ms. Renner currently suffers an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Nor does it allege that she ever suffered such an impairment. But the amended complaint does allege that Ms. Renner suffered discrimination-she was subjected to burdensome conditions and eventually disbarred-because of a perceived mental impairment. This is a sufficient allegation that the ADA applies to Ms. Renner.


         Neither side has identified the defendants' alleged violations with the precision necessary for proper analysis under the ADA and the Eleventh Amendment. At some points the two sides have talked past one another, not understanding the other side's position. When Ms. Renner's claims are properly ...

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