Thursday, October 13, 2016

How to plead an ADA discrimination claim

This case teaches us a thing or two about pleading standards and jurisdiction. Boring, I know, but important.

The case is Soules v. Town of Oxford, a summary order decided on October 6. Plaintiff is a young police officer who claims to have PTSD from service in the Army. He also has a bad knee. Plaintiff sued his employer after he was placed on paid administrative leave following his employer's directive that he undergo a mental fitness examination. Additionally alleging his employer solicited false complaints from citizens about his job performance plaintiff claims the State discriminated against him because of his disability and also subjected him to intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), a state law claim.

The district court said the complaint does not state an ADA claim because plaintiff did not allege his his disability substantially affected any major life activities, a necessary element for any ADA claim. The Court of Appeals (Newman, Winter and Cabranes) affirms on that point. I would think that PTSD would impair any number of life activities, but assumptions are not evidence, and in the post-Iqbal world of particularized and plausible pleading standards, you'd better throw everything you've got into the Complaint.

The district court also said plaintiff does not have an IIED claim. As any law student knows, these are difficult claims to win. Only the most outrageous actions may predicate an IIED claim. Otherwise, the courts fear, everyone would be suing everyone else for offensive conduct. The district court did say that it had no subject matter jurisdiction over the state law IIED claim because it had already dismissed the federal claims. The trial court proceeded to analyze the IIED claim on the merits, ruling that the employer's actions, including belittling and physically intimidating plaintiff and placing him on administrative leave, are not sufficiently extreme and outrageous enough for liability. The district court then dismissed the IIED claim.

This case would make for a good bar exam question: what did the district court do wrong on the IIED claim? What went wrong is that once the district court decided it had no subject matter jurisdiction over the state law claim, it had no authority to dismiss it on the merits. It had to dismiss the IIED claim without prejudice, allowing plaintiff to bring that claim in state court. The district court's analysis of the IIED claim is meaningless and has no legal effect. 

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