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Miller v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

May 3, 2019

TOMMY JOE MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Tommy Joe Miller brought this workplace injury and discrimination action alleging that Defendant CSX violated (1) the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq.; (2) the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 45 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq.; (3) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701, et seq.; and (4) Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. ECF No. 16. Plaintiff has since conceded that his FMLA claim and some of his Rehabilitation Act allegations are barred by statutes of limitations and should be dismissed. ECF No. 19 at 1. Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. ECF No. 17. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff worked for Defendant from 2005 until his termination in 2016. ECF No. 16 ¶¶ 11, 24. During his tenure, he held different positions including serving in a heavy labor role as a machinist repairing locomotive engines for freight transportation and working in a less physically demanding role as a sedentary contract supervisor. Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff has a history of back and leg pain. Id. ¶ 12. He has diagnoses of L5 radiculopathy, scoliosis and spondylosis and had a lumbar nerve root decompression in 2013. Id. Beginning in July of 2015, while Plaintiff was employed as a machinist, Defendant assigned Plaintiff overtime shifts that aggravated Plaintiff's pre-existing condition and that he could not complete because of pain and numbness. Id. ¶¶ 12, 15. Plaintiff approached various managers to inform them that working double shifts would exacerbate his back problems. Plaintiff's union representative also told a supervisor that Plaintiff could not be assigned work requiring double shifts because of his medical conditions. Id. ¶ 13. But rather than permitting Plaintiff not to work overtime or reassigning Plaintiff to a less physically strenuous position, Defendant continued to assign Plaintiff heavy labor work involving overtime shifts. Id. ¶¶ 13, 42.

         On October 4, 2015, Defendant presented Plaintiff with a letter concerning attendance violations related to Plaintiff's failure to finish working an overtime shift. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff responded to the letter by explaining again that working a full double shift exacerbated his back and leg pain. Id. ¶ 16. A manager responded that another, older employee was able to work double shifts and that Plaintiff would receive a “charge letter” if he failed to finish a double shift again. Id.

         At this point, Plaintiff applied for FMLA leave. Id. ¶ 17. Defendant approved Plaintiff for intermittent FMLA leave, which he used on October 21, 22, and 23, 2015. Id. On October 28, 2015, Plaintiff visited the Parkway Neuroscience and Spine Institute and was told he should stop working because his back injuries had been exacerbated. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff stopped working, began physical therapy, and then underwent a spinal fusion surgery on February 12, 2016. Id.

         Plaintiff's physician completed a Certificate of Ongoing Illness or Injury (COII) every 45 days, and Defendant received these forms at least through June 2016. Id. ¶ 20. A May 23, 2016 letter advised Plaintiff that if he planned to be out of work longer then July 5, 2016, he should have his physician complete a COII form at that time. Id. ¶ 21. The letter did not explain that a failure to complete a COII form by the deadline would result in termination from employment or any discipline. Id. On June 28, 2016, Plaintiff dropped off a COII form at his physician's office during a regularly scheduled visit. Id. ¶ 22. His physician had always sent COII forms directly to Defendant in the past. Id. ¶ 23. However, on July 21, 2016, Plaintiff received a certified letter from Defendant advising that he was charged with job abandonment and failure to protect his seniority because Defendant had not received his updated COII. Id. ¶ 24. The letter explained that an appeal could be filed within fifteen days requesting a hearing. Id.

         Plaintiff drove to his physician's office and learned that the office had been delayed in sending the updated COII form. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff's physician faxed the form supporting Plaintiff's continued leave to Defendant on July 25, 2016. Id. ¶ 26. An investigative hearing was held on August 3, 2016 where Plaintiff presented the letter from his physician's office and explained what had caused the delay by his physician's office in submitting the form. Id. ¶ 27. Although Plaintiff demonstrated that he had not abandoned his position but instead was on an approved medical leave, Defendant nonetheless terminated Plaintiff's employment. Id. Plaintiff filed this suit on July 3, 2018. ECF No. 1.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on the ground that it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” and “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435. 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint 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). But to survive a motion to dismiss invoking Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), “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) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544. 570 (2007)). The factual allegations must be more than “labels and conclusion . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A complaint will not survive Rule 12(b)(6) review where it contains “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id. at 557. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663. “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” See Id. at 679 (citing Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Because Plaintiff concedes that his FMLA claims (Count II) are barred by a statute of limitations, those claims will be dismissed without further analysis. The Court next addresses the sufficiency of Plaintiff's FELA, Rehabilitation Act, and ERISA allegations in turn.

         A. FELA - Negligent ...


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