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Garcia v. Goodwill Industries of South Florida, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

November 15, 2019

BARBARA GARCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
GOODWILL INDUSTRIES OF SOUTH FLORIDA, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH PREJUDICE

          FEDERICO A. MORENO JUDGE

         In this disability discrimination case, Plaintiff Barbara Garcia alleges in her Second Amended Complaint that her former employer, Defendant Goodwill Industries of South Florida, Inc., violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act by terminating Garcia's employment while she suffered from a heart condition. Goodwill Industries filed a Motion to Dismiss (D.E. 20), asking the Court to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint with prejudice, for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Garcia insists that her allegations both comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and plausibly allege violations of federal and state law.

         THE COURT has considered the Motion to Dismiss, the Response in Opposition, the Reply, the pertinent portions of the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, it is ADJUDGED that the Motion is GRANTED because Garcia's allegations do not plausibly allege that she suffered a covered disability under the American's with Disabilities Act, or that she was disabled at the time of her adverse employment decision. Furthermore, the Complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE because the Second Amended Complaint fails to cure pleading deficiencies previously identified by the Court, and because any further amendment would be futile.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         In 2016, Plaintiff Barbara Garcia was employed by Defendant Goodwill Industries. Around July 4, 2016, Garcia went to the hospital after "experiencing chest pains." (D.E. 19 at ¶ 19.) While at the hospital she was diagnosed with "being in the early stages of a heart attack." Id. Garcia's doctors wrote her two medical notes that took her off work until August 18, 2016. She provided both doctor's notes to her employer, Goodwill Industries, who accepted the notes. On August 18, 2016, during a scheduled follow-up appointment, Garcia received a new note from her doctor that kept her off work until August 22, 2016. When Garcia gave this doctor's note to Goodwill Industries, her manager "tore up the note." Id. at ¶ 24.

         On August 19, 2016, a different doctor wrote Garcia a new medical note stating that she showed "signs of a transient stroke, uncontrolled blood pressure, and coronary artery disease." Id. at ¶25. This medical note also stated that Garcia's medical condition was "unstable" and that she "should avoid lifting anything more than lOlbs." Id. Once more, Garcia provided the medical note to Goodwill Industries. According to Garcia, her "medical condition substantially limited her ability to go to work, a major life activity." Id. at ¶ 34.

         Then, on August 23, 2016, Garcia showed up for work at Goodwill Industries "with her uniform on ready to work and get back on the job," but was turned away by her manager who informed her that she was not allowed to work. Id. at ¶¶ 26-28. It was not until August 26, 2019 that Garcia received a letter (dated August 24, 2016) formally notifying her that her employment was terminated.[2]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         "A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain ... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679. Detailed factual allegations are not required, but a complaint must offer more than "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). The factual allegations must be enough to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (citations omitted). Finally, at the motion to dismiss stage, the Court must view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept well-pleaded facts as true. See St. Joseph's Hosp., Inc. v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 795 F.2d 948, 954 (11th Cir. 1986).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The thrust of Garcia's Second Amended Complaint is that Goodwill Industries violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Florida Civil Rights Act when it decided to terminate Garcia's employment based on a heart condition (i.e. her disability), while she still suffered from the heart condition. Goodwill Industries argues that Garcia's disability discrimination claims under these Acts should be dismissed because: (1) Garcia fails to allege facts establishing that her alleged disability is covered under these Acts; and (2) even assuming Garcia can establish she suffered a covered disability, she fails to allege facts showing she was disabled at the time of her adverse employment decision.

         At the outset, disability discrimination claims under the Florida Civil Rights Act are analyzed using the same framework as claims under the Americans with Disability Act. See Holly v. Clairson Indus., L.L.C., 492 F.3d 1247, 1255 (11th Cir. 2007) (citing D'Angelo v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 422 F.3d 1220, 1224 n.2 (11th Cir. 2005)). Consequently, to state a claim for disability discrimination under both Acts, Garcia must allege factual matter showing that she: (1) had a disability; (2) was qualified, with or without reasonable accommodations; and (3) was unlawfully discriminated against because of her disability. Albright v. Columbia Cty. Bd. of Educ, 135 Fed.Appx. 344, 345 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Rossbach v. City of Miami, 371 F.3d 1354, 1356-57 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a))). Here, Goodwill Industries's arguments for dismissal focus only on the first prong, which includes whether Garcia suffered a covered disability and whether she suffered the covered disability at the time her employment was terminated.

         A. COVERED DISABILITY

         The American's with Disabilities Act forbids covered entities from discriminating "against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to ... the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees . .. and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment." 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a). The Act defines "disability" as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual" or "being regarded as having such an impairment." See ยง 12102(1)(A), (C). The Act goes on to define "major life activities" to include "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, ...


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