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Levine v. City of Eureka Springs

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Harrison Division

December 29, 2017

BRUCE A. LEVINE PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS; EUREKA SPRINGS PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION; ROBERT “BUTCH” BERRY, individually and in his representative capacity as Mayor of Eureka Springs; and WILLIAM F. “BILL” FEATHERSTONE, individually and in his representative capacity as Chairman of Parks & Recreation Commission DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 26), Brief in Support (Doc. 27), and Statement of Undisputed Facts (Doc. 28) filed by Defendants City of Eureka Springs, Arkansas (“the City”), Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission (“the Commission”), Robert “Butch” Berry, and William F. “Bill” Featherstone; the Response in opposition (Doc. 34) and Response to Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Facts and Separate Statement of Undisputed Facts (Doc. 31) filed by Plaintiff Bruce A. Levine; the Defendants' Reply in support of their Motion (Doc. 35); and Mr. Levine's Sur-reply (Doc. 39). Furthermore, although the Court previously granted Mr. Levine's Motion for Leave to file the aforementioned Sur-reply, see Doc. 40, the Court has also considered the Defendants' Response to Motion for Leave to File Sur-reply (Doc. 37) in the context of its deliberations on their Motion for Summary Judgment, as this document contains substantive arguments in opposition to arguments contained in Mr. Levine's Sur-reply.

         For the reasons given below, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Mr. Levine's federal claims will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, and his state-law claims will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 9, 2015, Mr. Levine was fired from his job as the Director of the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission-a position he held for twelve years. On September 28, 2016, he filed this lawsuit against the City, the Commission, Mr. Berry (the Mayor of the City), and Mr. Featherstone (the Chairman of the Commission).[1] In his Complaint (Doc. 1), Mr. Levine alleges that his firing was unlawful. Specifically, Mr. Levine brings claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various causes of action under Arkansas law.[2] The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Mr. Levine's claims. That Motion is now ripe for decision.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and give the non-moving party the benefit of any logical inferences that can be drawn from the facts. Canada v. Union Elec. Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1997). The moving party bears the burden of proving the absence of any material factual disputes and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).

         If the moving party meets this burden, then the non-moving party must “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. These facts must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “The nonmoving party must do more than rely on allegations or denials in the pleadings, and the court should grant summary judgment if any essential element of the prima facie case is not supported by specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial.” Register v. Honeywell Fed. Mfg. & Techs., LLC, 397 F.3d 1130, 1136 (8th Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Court will begin its summary-judgment analysis with Mr. Levine's claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, which are premised on his allegation that his firing was a form of unlawful disability discrimination. Then the Court will consider Mr. Levine's claims under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, the Court will turn to Mr. Levine's claims under Arkansas law.

         A. Disability Discrimination

         The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act both prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of one's disability. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a); 29 U.S.C. § 794. For our purposes in this case, the legal test under these two different statutes is identical.[3] See Wojewski v. Rapid City Regional Hosp., Inc., 450 F.3d 338, 344 (8th Cir. 2006). To establish a claim of workplace disability discrimination under the ADA (and accordingly, also under the Rehabilitation Act), “an employee must show that [he] (1) is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) is a qualified individual under the ADA, and (3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of [his] disability.” Hill v. Walker, 737 F.3d 1209, 1216 (8th Cir. 2013).

         A plaintiff's claim of disability discrimination may survive a summary judgment motion through the presentation of either direct or inferential evidence in support of his claim. Libel v. Adventure Lands of Am., Inc., 482 F.3d 1028, 1034 (8th Cir. 2007). “[D]irect evidence is evidence showing a specific link between the alleged discriminatory animus and the challenged decision, sufficient to support a finding by a reasonable fact finder that an illegitimate criterion actually motivated the adverse employment action.” Id. (quoting Griffith v. City of Des Moines, 387 F.3d 733, 736 (8th Cir. 2004)). However, when a disability discrimination claim is premised merely on inferential evidence, then the Court must apply a burden-shifting test known as the “McDonnell Douglas” standard. Id. This standard, which takes its name from the famous case of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), requires application of a three-step process. First, the plaintiff “bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination.” Libel, 482 F.3d at 1034. If the plaintiff meets that burden, then the burden shifts to the defendant “to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employer's actions.” Id. Finally, if the defendant's burden is met, then the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show that the defendant's justification is pretextual. Id.

         Mr. Levine's Complaint alleges that he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (“BPD”) in 2004, see Doc. 1, ¶¶ 5-8, and that he contracted a tick-borne disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (“RMSF”) roughly two months before he was fired, which may have contributed to a major bipolar episode, see Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 13-14. He further alleges that when he was fired, he was never told any specific reason for the firing; and from ...


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