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Wells v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 16, 2017

James R. Wells, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF Railway Company, Defendant.

          ORDER

          JOAN N. ERICKSEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff James R. Wells (“Wells”) brings three claims against Defendant BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”): (1) disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), (2) improper use of medical examination results in violation of the ADA, and (3) disability discrimination in violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”). Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-55, ECF No. 52. To prevail on any of these claims, Wells must demonstrate that he qualifies as “disabled.”

         BNSF moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the Second Amended Complaint contains insufficient facts to show that Wells is “disabled” under either the ADA or MHRA. For that reason, BNSF contends that Wells fails to state any claims to relief and the Court should dismiss all three claims. BNSF Br. 1, ECF No. 55. Wells opposes the motion to dismiss. Wells Br. 1, ECF No. 64. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         BACKGROUND [1]

         Wells has spent over twenty years as a laborer in heavy construction. Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. In 2000, Wells had neck surgery requiring a cervical discectomy and two-level spinal fusion. Id. ¶ 10. Following the surgery, Wells worked as a pile driver, performed “physically demanding work in heavy construction for several years, ” and suffered no “aggravation or recurrence of any neck or cervical spine condition.” Id. ¶ 11.

         In February of 2008, Wells applied to and received a conditional offer of employment from BNSF in Minnesota as a track laborer. Id. ¶¶ 12-15. The track laborer position involves “laying down railroad tracks and performing repairs on railroad tracks, which is physically demanding.” Id. ¶ 13. BNSF conditioned the offer on Wells' successful completion of a medical evaluation. Id. ¶ 15. In March of 2008, Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. (“CHS”), a medical contractor, conducted the medical examination of Wells, consisting of a Commercial Driver Fitness Determination, Occupational Assessment, and Vision Evaluation. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Wells disclosed the above surgery, stated that the surgery was successful, and confirmed that he had no work limitations. Id. ¶ 17. CHS acquired Wells' medical records and ultimately concluded that Wells passed the medical examination. Id. ¶ 18. Wells alleges that the passing results “confirm that [he] could perform the essential functions of the track laborer position without any reasonable accommodation and that [he] did not pose a threat to himself or anyone else.” Id. ¶ 19.

         The BNSF Medical Department received the results of the CHS examination and concluded that Wells was “not medically qualified for [the] safety sensitive Track Laborer position due to significant risk of aggravation or recurrence of a neck/cervical spine condition following 2-level spinal fusion.” Id. ¶ 20. On April 11, 2008, BNSF withdrew its employment offer. Id. ¶ 21. BNSF did not try to eliminate the alleged “significant risk” and it did not determine whether Wells could work as a track laborer if given reasonable accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. Wells then “applied for other positions with” BNSF, but BNSF made him no offers. Id. ¶ 29.

         From these events, Wells concludes that BNSF mistakenly regarded him as disabled such that he was “substantially limited [in] the major life activity of working.” Id. ¶¶ 3, 23, 24. In April of 2008, Wells filed a discrimination charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the EEOC. Id. ¶ 31. In July of 2012, the EEOC “issued a determination that there is reasonable cause to believe that [BNSF] committed an unfair discriminatory practice.” Id. The EEOC issued Wells a Notice of Right to Sue on December 19, 2016. Id.

         Wells filed his first Complaint on March 17, 2017, asserting claims under the ADA and MHRA. ECF No. 1. On April 11, 2017, BNSF moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. ECF Nos. 9, 11. Among other arguments, BNSF argued, as it does now, that Wells offered no facts to show that he qualifies as “disabled” under either the ADA or MHRA. ECF No. 11 at 6. On May 1, 2017, Wells voluntarily filed his First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 24. On May 15, 2017, BNSF again moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, again arguing that Wells offered no facts to show that he qualifies as “disabled.” ECF Nos. 25, 27. Wells opposed this second motion to dismiss. ECF No. 37. On July 7, 2017, the Court issued an order allowing Wells to “serve and file either (1) a Second Amended Complaint, if BNSF Railway consents in writing to the amendment, or (2) a motion to amend. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2); D. Minn. LR 15.1.” ECF No. 41 at 2.

         With the consent of BNSF, Wells filed a Second Amended Complaint. ECF No. 52. The Second Amended Complaint brings three claims. Count I alleges that BNSF violated 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) by failing to hire Wells based on a perceived disability. Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-39. Count II alleges that BNSF violated 42 U.S.C. § 12112(d)(3)(C) by improperly using the results of a medical examination to discriminate against Wells based on a perceived disability. Id. ¶¶ 40-47. Count III alleges that BNSF violated Minn. Stat. § 363A.08, subd. 2 by discriminating against Wells with respect to hiring based on a perceived disability. Id. ¶¶ 48-55.

         On August 15, 2017, BNSF filed its third motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).[2]ECF Nos. 53, 55. In its third motion, which is presently before the court, BNSF once more argues that Wells offers insufficient facts to show that he is “disabled, ” “a necessary element of each of his claims.” BNSF Br. 1, ECF No. 55. Wells opposes this third motion to dismiss, maintaining that the Second Amended Complaint contains sufficient facts to state claims to relief. But Wells also insists that “the Court should grant [him] leave to amend his complaint again if it deems this necessary.” Wells Br. 14, ECF No. 64. BNSF opposes any further amendments. BNSF Reply 7-9, ECF No. 68.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain “more than labels and conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqb ...


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