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Bertrand v. Town of Elkton

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 16, 2019

RANDOLPH BERTRAND, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF ELKTON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Randolph Bertrand (''Plaintiff or "Bertrand") filed suit against his former employer, the Town of Elkton ("Defendant" or "the Town") and Police Chief Matthew Donnelly in his individual and official capacities (collectively, the "Defendants"), alleging that Defendants had discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. ("ADEA"). Ultimately, by agreement of counsel and Order of this Court, two Counts were submitted to the jury as to one Defendant, the Town of Elkton: Count I, which alleged that the Town failed to provide Bertrand a reasonable accommodation and Count II, which alleged that Defendant discriminated against Bertrand due to his disability by terminating his employment. On May 29, 2019, the jury returned a verdict in the Town's favor on both Counts.

         Now pending is Plaintiffs Motion to Alter and Amend the Judgment, and for Directed Plaintiffs Verdict, on Count I. (ECF No. 106.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). Plaintiff has withdrawn his motion for a directed verdict and now seeks a new trial as to Count I under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff has failed to present adequate grounds for a new trial. Accordingly, Plaintiffs Motion (ECF No. 106) is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from Plaintiff Randolph Bertrand's allegation that the Town of Elkton unlawfully terminated his employment as a police officer in January 2014. In his Amended Complaint, Bertrand alleged that he had served as a police officer for the Town of Elkton between 1989 and January 2014. (Id. at ¶ 2.) During his employment, Bertrand experienced complications stemming from a workplace accident which occurred at some point in 2000. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-31.) In August 2013, he applied for and received medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") to obtain medical care related to his back problem. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Bertrand alleged that he was unable to return to work until about six months later, between February 3 and February 11, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 36.) While on leave, Bertrand allegedly requested the opportunity to perform light duty work assignments or to work in a vacant position in the "records room" as an accommodation for his disability. (Id. at ¶¶ 34, 148.) The Town allegedly denied these requests. (Id. at ¶ 34.) Instead, the Town continued to provide Bertrand leave beyond the 12-week period mandated by the FMLA, [1] which would have expired in November 2013. During this period, Bertrand obtain long term disability benefits. (Id. at ¶ 43.) On January 22, 2014, the Town terminated Bertrand's employment. (Id. at ¶ 41.) Following his employment termination, the Town offered to consider Bertrand's application for reemployment on the condition that he pass a physical and a "Fitness for Duty" exam. (Id. at ¶¶ 53-55.) It was alleged that the Town refused to reemploy Bertrand even though he passed these exams. (Id. at ¶¶ 54-56.) In April 2014, the Town allegedly notified Bertrand that he could apply as a new hire, which would require him to undergo extensive testing, including a polygraph test and background investigation, and to attend the police academy. (Id. at ¶ 58-59.)

         On July 7, 2014, Bertrand filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission ("EEOC"). (Id. at ¶ 81.) Bertrand subsequently amended the Charge on December 14, 2014. (Id.) In his EEOC filings, Bertrand alleged that he was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. (EEOC Determination, ECF No. 1-2.) On December 8, 2016, the EEOC issued a Determination indicating that there was reasonable cause to believe that the Town discriminated against Bertrand in violation of the ADA, [2] but made no finding with respect to his ADEA claims. (ECF No. 1-2 at 3.) Subsequently, on August 22, 2017, the EEOC issued Bertrand a Right to Sue Notice. (Am. Compl. ¶ 82.) On November 20, 2017, Bertrand filed suit against the Town of Elkton and Police Chief Matthew Donnelly within 90-days of his receipt of the notice. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) An Amended Complaint followed on November 7, 2018. (Letter Order, ECF No. 24; Am. Compl, ECF No. 25.)

         The Amended Complaint brought five counts, alleging violations of the ADA and the ADEA. In Count I, Bertrand alleged that Defendants violated the ADA by refusing to provide him reasonable accommodations in the form of "light duty and/or reassignment to a vacant position during December 2013 and January 2014." (Am. Compl. ¶ 102.) In Count II, Bertrand alleged that Defendants discriminated against him in violation of the ADA by, inter alia, terminating his employment in January 2014. (Id. at ¶ 122.) Count III brought an ADEA claim based on substantially the same allegations articulated in Counts I and II, i.e., that Bertrand had been denied light duty, reassignment to a vacant position, and reinstatement, but added that younger employees were provided these benefits. (Id. at ¶¶ 132-142.) Count IV, styled as a "Medical Inquiry Claim," alleged that the physical examinations which Bertrand was required to pass as a condition for reinstatement violated the ADA. (Id. at ¶¶ 143-146.) Finally, Count V, an "Interactive Process Claim," alleged that Defendant Donnelly violated the ADA by failing to engage in an interactive process with Bertrand after he allegedly requested accommodations in the form of light duty or reassignment to a vacant position within the records room. (Id. at ¶ 148.)

         The case was trimmed before its submission to the jury. On February 22, 2019, this Court granted Plaintiffs Motion to Dismiss Defendant Donnelly. (ECF No. 43.) On May 2, 2019, following a motions hearing concerning cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 35, 48), this Court entered Judgment in favor of Defendants on Count III, Bertrand's ADEA claim. (ECF No. 64.) On May 15, 2019, this Court dismissed Plaintiffs "Interactive Process Claim" by consent of all parties. Finally, on the fourth day of trial, May 23, 2019, Plaintiff moved to withdraw his "Medical Inquiry Claim" asserted in Count IV. Ultimately, only two claims were submitted to the jury (Counts I and II) against one Defendant (the Town of Elkton).

         On May 29, 2019, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant on both Counts. On June 24, 2019, Plaintiff filed a "Motion to Alter and Amend the Judgment, and for Directed Plaintiffs Verdict, on Count I." (ECF No. 106.) Subsequently, Plaintiff withdrew his request for a directed verdict. (ECF No. 107.) He now seeks only a new trial on Count I pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 109 at 7.) The Town opposes the Motion. (ECF No. 108.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Plaintiff moves for a new trial under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A litigant may seek relief from a jury verdict or judgment under Rule 59. The Rule presents "an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly." Pacific Ins. Co. v. American Nat. Fin Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). Plaintiff repeatedly invokes Rule 59(e) and couches his arguments under that Rule. (ECF No. 106 at 1, 2, 14.) Motions for a new trial following a jury verdict are governed by Rule 59(a)(1)(A). Butler v. Windsor, 143 F.Supp.3d 332, 335 (D. Md. Oct. 22, 2015). Accordingly, this Court will construe Plaintiffs Motion as seeking a new trial under Rule 59(a)(1)(A) to the extent that Plaintiff seeks a new trial. See Jackson v. Egira, LLC, RDB-14-3114, 2016 WL 6583604, at *1 (D. Md. Nov. 4, 2016) (construing Motion to Reconsider as a motion under Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure insofar as it sought a new trial).

         Under Rule 59(a)(1)(A), a court may grant a new trial on all or some issues "for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that a court "must set aside the verdict and grant a new trial[] if... (1) the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict." Knussman v. Maryland, 272 F.3d 625, 639 (4th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff seeks a new trial as to Count I of the Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 109 at 1, 7.) He argues that a new trial should be granted as to Count I because the evidence did not support the jury's verdict on that Count. Plaintiffs Motion also seems to suggest that a "miscarriage of justice" has occurred, as it expresses disagreement with various "erroneous legal arguments," purportedly advanced by the Defendant and makes repeated reference to "manifest injustice," a similar standard applicable under Rule 59(e). (ECF No. 106 at 1, 10, 13, 14.) Throughout his Motion, Bertrand repeatedly insists that the Town presented "no evidence" in support of its defense and from which the jury could find in its favor on Count I. (ECF No. 106 at 3, 4, 14.) His Motion opens by contending that judgment should have been entered in his favor on Count I and that this Court committed legal errors or permitted Defendant to introduce irrelevant evidence. (Id. at 4-9.) The remainder of Plaintiff s Motion takes issue with several "erroneous legal arguments" presented by the Defendant. All of these contentions are meritless. At trial, the jury was tasked with resolving a number of factual issues, including those related to whether Plaintiff ...


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