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Paraham v. Atriums Management Co., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 28, 2019



          Carlos Murguia United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the court upon plaintiff Frederick E. Paraham's Motion to Alter Judgment for Attorney's Fees, Costs, and Prejudgment Interest (Doc. 96) and defendants Atriums Management Company, Inc, and Tutera Senior Living and Health Care, LLC's Motion for Judgment As a Matter of Law Pursuant to Rule 50(b) (Doc. 99).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed this suit on August 1, 2016, claiming that defendants discriminated against him, failed to offer him a reasonable accommodation, and ultimately retaliated against him by terminating his employment, all based on his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), as amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213. The court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment on February 2, 2018. (Doc. 49.) On March 30, 2018, after a week-long trial, a jury found that defendants discriminated against plaintiff based on a disability or that defendants denied plaintiff a reasonable accommodation, and that defendants retaliated against plaintiff for engaging in conduct protected by the ADA. The jury awarded plaintiff $63, 694 in compensatory damages and for emotional distress and $9, 571 in compensatory damages for lost wages including post-judgment interest at rate of 2.12% annually. Before the jury returned its verdict, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) on each claim and on plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. The court granted the motion as to punitive damages but denied the motion in all other respects.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Renewed Motions For Judgement As A Matter Of Law

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) motions renewing a party's motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a) must be brought within 28 days of the entry of judgment. Defendants timely renewed their motion. Under Rule 50(b), the court may “(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict; (2) order a new trial; or (3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The court applies the same standard to a 50(b) motion as it does to one for summary judgment under Rule 56(c). Cox Enters., Inc. v. Cox Commc'ns, Inc., 871 F.3d 1093, 1096 (10th Cir. 2017). The court may only grant judgment as a matter of law “when a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1)). “In other words, judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only if the evidence points but one way and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences which may support the nonmoving party's position.” Id. (quoting Auraria Student Hous. at the Regency, LLC v. Campus Vill. Apartments, 843 F.3d 1225, 1247 (10th Cir. 2016)).

         B. Attorney Fees And Costs

         Compliance With Local Rules

         Local Rule 54.2 requires the party moving for attorney's fees to provide a statement that the parties consulted and were unable to agree on attorney's fees and costs. D. Kan. Rule 54.2. The statement must include the date of consultation, names of participants, and the result of consulting. Plaintiff has complied with Local Rule 54.2.

         Attorney Fee Awards Under The ADA

         Under § 12205 of the ADA, the court may allow a prevailing party “a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs. . . .” “The proper procedure for determining a reasonable attorney's fee is to arrive at a lodestar figure by multiplying the hours plaintiff's counsel reasonably spent on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.” Praseuth v. Rubbermaid, Inc., 406 F.3d 1245, 1257 (10th Cir. 2005) (citing Case v. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 233, Johnson Cnty., 157 F.3d 1243, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998)). Plaintiff “bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates.” Case, 157 F.3d at 1249.

         III. Discussion

         A. Defendants Fail to Show Their Entitlement To Judgment As A Matter Of Law

         The ADAAA prohibits covered employers from subjecting their employees to disability-based discrimination and retaliation. 42 U.S.C. §§ 12112, 12203. To establish his discrimination claim, plaintiff needed to prove that when defendants terminated his employment, (1) he was disabled as defined by the ADAAA; (2) “he was qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation, to perform the essential functions of his job; and (3) he was fired because of his disability.” Hawkins v. Schwan's Home Serv., Inc., 778 F.3d 877, 883 (10th Cir. 2015) (quoting Carter v. Pathfinder Energy Servs., Inc., 662 F.3d 1134, 1142 (10th Cir. 2011)). To establish his failure to accommodate claim, plaintiff needed to prove: (1) he is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) he requested a plausibly reasonable accommodation for his disability; (3) defendants were aware of his disability at the time of the accommodation request; and (4) defendants failed to reasonably accommodate the disability. See McFarland v. City and Cnty of Denver, 744 Fed.Appx. 583, 586 (10th Cir. 2018); Nunez v. Lifetime Prods., Inc., 725 Fed.Appx. 628, 631 (10th Cir. 2018); Allen v. SouthCrest Hosp., 455 Fed.Appx. 827, 830 n.2 (10th Cir. 2011). To establish his retaliation claim, plaintiff needed to prove: “‘(1) []he engaged in protected opposition to discrimination; (2) a reasonable employee would have found h[is] employer's subsequent action to be materially adverse; and (3) a causal connection exists between h[is] protected activity and the employer's action.'” Lincoln v. BNSF Railway Co., 900 F.3d 1166, 1209 (10th Cir. 2018) (quotation omitted).

         Defendants contest the evidence plaintiff produced on these claims with four arguments:

(1) there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find plaintiff was disabled on January 8, 2015;
(2) There was insufficient evidence for the jury to find defendants failed to provide reasonable accommodation on January 8, 2015;
(3) There was insufficient evidence for the jury to find plaintiff engaged in protected conduct on January 8, 2015 by making an adequate, direct and specific request for reasonable accommodation; and
(4) There was insufficient causation evidence for the jury to find defendants terminated plaintiff because of a disability or protected conduct.

(Doc. 99, at 1.)

         Because defendants fail to show that no legally sufficient evidentiary basis existed for a reasonable jury to find for plaintiff on each of these points, defendants' renewed motion is denied.

         1. There Was Sufficient Evidence That Plaintiff Was Disabled

         The issue initially before the court is whether this case's trial would have provided a reasonable jury legally adequate evidence that plaintiff was disabled. “Under the ADAAA's amended definition, ‘[t]he term “disability” means, with respect to an individual-(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.'” Adair v. City of Muskogee, 823 F.3d 1297, 1305 (10th Cir. 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1)). Plaintiff claims that he presented sufficient evidence under each subsection. The court need not address all three alternatives, however, because plaintiff presented legally sufficient evidence of the first alternative. For the following reasons, a reasonable jury could find that a physical impairment substantially limited plaintiff in one or more major life activities.

         “An impairment is a disability . . . if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ii). “‘To satisfy this definition, a plaintiff must (1) have a recognized impairment, (2) identify one or more appropriate major life activities, and (3) show the impairment substantially limits one or more of those activities.'” Crowell v. Denver Health and Hosp. Auth., 572 Fed.Appx. 650, 657 (10th Cir. 2014) (quotation omitted). The first two requirements are questions of law for the court. Id. The third requirement, however, “is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury.” Id.

         Evidence that plaintiff's chronic back condition limits his abilities to lift and work satisfies the initial two requirements.[1] See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(1) (defining physical impairment to include “[a]ny physiological disorder or condition . . . affecting one or more body systems, such as . . . musculoskeletal”); 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A) (defining “major life activities” to include “lifting . . . and working”). Defendants do not dispute these requirements.

         Defendants instead dispute the third requirement-i.e., whether plaintiff proved his back impairment substantially limits his lifting and working abilities as compared to most people in the general population. Defendants make three supporting arguments. Each, however, is unpersuasive.

         First, defendants argue that plaintiff's evidence proved little more than the fact that a doctor diagnosed plaintiff as having mild degenerative disc disease and arthritis of the low back resulting in chronic back pain. Defendants are correct that a medical diagnosis alone is insufficient to establish that an impairment is substantial. (See Doc. 100, at 4 (citing Taylor v. Kan. Dept. of Corr., No. 16-2056, 2017 WL 1479375, *3 (D. Kan. Apr. 25, 2017) (quotation omitted) (“A medical diagnosis is insufficient; rather, the ADA requires plaintiffs to offer evidence that ‘the extent of the limitation caused by their impairment in terms of their own experience is substantial.'”)). But defendants take an inappropriately broad view of what the law requires and an inappropriately narrow view of plaintiff's evidence.

         The level of limitation on an individual's ability required by the ADAAA is only substantial- not significant or severe-as compared to most people in the general population. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(j)(1)(ii); Significant or Severe Restriction Not Required; Nonetheless, Not Every Impairment Is Substantially Limiting, Appendix to Part 1630-Interpretive Guidance on Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2, App. (quoting legislative history showing that Congress envisioned a “substantial” limitation to be an “important” limitation but not one that need rise to the level of severely restricting or significantly restricting the ability to perform a major life activity).[2] Congress intended courts to construe “substantially limits, ” not as “a demanding standard” requiring “extensive analysis, ” but “broadly in favor of expansive coverage” so that it places the primary object of attention in ADAAA cases on whether ...

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