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Stebbins v. State

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

May 8, 2018




         Plaintiff David A. Stebbins filed a lawsuit against the State of Arkansas, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services ("ARS"), and Amy Jones, the District I Manager of ARS, on July 27, 2016, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The case was transferred to this District, at Defendants' request, on October 13, 2017. See Doc. 89. Before the case was transferred, however, Mr. Stebbins had filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 79), Brief in Support (Doc. 80-1), Statement of Facts (Doc. 81-1), and Supplement (Doc. 83); and Defendants had collectively filed a Response (Doc. 84), Brief in Support (Doc. 85), Response to Statement of Facts (Doc. 86), and Statement of Facts (Doc. 87). In the Motion, Mr. Stebbins requests summary judgment on all claims he asserted in the original Complaint, namely: (1) violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") for discrimination and retaliation, and (2) a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for First Amendment retaliation. The Motion became ripe shortly after the case was transferred, when Mr. Stebbins filed his replies to Defendants' responses. See Docs. 93-96, 99.[1]

         On December 4, 2017, Defendants filed their own Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 109), Brief in Support (Doc. 110), and Statement of Facts (Doc. 111). Mr. Stebbins responded to Defendants' Motion, see Docs. 126-128, on January 2, 2018, and at the same time filed a second Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 123), Brief in Support (Doc. 124), and Statement of Facts (Doc. 125) against ail Defendants. Mr. Stebbins explains in his second Motion for Summary Judgment that he does not intend it to supersede his first Motion; instead, he contends that both Motions "argue completely separate grounds for this relief and "may be granted or denied independently of one another." (Doc. 123, p. 1).

         On January 5, 2018, Defendants filed a second Motion for Summary Judgment. See Docs. 131-133. This second Motion addresses only Mr. Stebbins's claim for discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), which the Court had allowed Mr. Stebbins to add to his Complaint as a separate cause of action on December 7, 2017, just after Defendants filed their first Motion for Summary Judgment. See Doc. 113. Also on January 5, Defendants filed a Response to Mr. Stebbins's second Motion for Summary Judgment, see Doc. 136, as well as a Brief in Support and Statement of Facts, see Docs. 137, 138. Mr. Stebbins then filed a Reply and other documents in support of his second Motion for Summary Judgment (Docs. 149-152). Soon after, on January 29, 2018, Mr. Stebbins filed a Response and supporting documents as to Defendants' second Motion for Summary Judgment, see Docs. 157-159, and Defendants filed a Reply to Mr. Stebbins's Response, see Doc. 160.

         At this point, it is clear from the procedural history cited above that all parties believe the issues in this case may be resolved on summary judgment. Mr. Stebbins has filed two Motions, asserting alternative bases for the Court to find in his favor on all claims; and Defendants have also filed two Motions, the first concerning the ADA and First Amendment claims, and the second concerning the RA claim.

         The Court has carefully evaluated all four Motions and agrees that Mr. Stebbins's claims may be decided as a matter of law, in view of the undisputed facts. Accordingly, for the reasons explained herein, Mr. Stebbins's first and second Motions for Summary Judgment are DENIED, and Defendants' first and second Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to Mr. Stebbins, he is an individual with several disabilities, including Asperger Syndrome and depression. He receives Social Security Disability benefits. At some point in 2015, or perhaps earlier, he decided he wanted to enroll in college and earn a computer science degree. He had previously taken several college courses at other institutions. See Doc. 109-2, p. 54. On December 1, 2015, he visited the Harrison office of ARS, a state agency that provides vocational services and other assistance to disabled citizens of Arkansas. Mr. Stebbins met with a counselor and completed an application for ARS services. In the application, Mr. Stebbins asked for very specific relief: funds to attend Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Arkansas.

         After the initial meeting, ARS worked to obtain copies of Mr. Stebbins's medical records in order to verify his disabilities and need for services. Mr. Stebbins signed a release form for his medical records, id. at 10, 13, and provided his ARS counselor with some hospital records and the names of two of his doctors. From December 3 to December 9, 2015, Mr. Stebbins called and emailed ARS staff members multiple times, trying to find out the status of his request for funds. ARS contends his phone calls with staff demonstrated extreme agitation, anger, yelling, and overt hostility. The staff documented these exchanges in their notes, see Id. at 35-47, 52-53, 59, but Mr. Stebbins denies that his calls were as hostile or negative as the staff has characterized them.

         At some point in early December, Ms. Amy Jones, the ARS District I Director, feared for her Harrison office staff's safety because of the nature of Mr. Stebbins's repeated telephone contacts. Ms. Jones directed her staff to keep the doors to the lobby and office locked at all times, and to call the police if Mr. Stebbins appeared at the office in person. A staff member from ARS called the Harrison Police Department on December 8 to document an allegedly rude and threatening telephone call with Mr. Stebbins. See Id. at 45. Another staff member called the police on December 9 to report Mr. Stebbins's "extremely hostile" telephone call. See Id. at 48. After that, Ms. Jones determined that she "did not feel comfortable" arranging a face-to-face interview between Mr. Stebbins and another ARS staff member to discuss his application. See Id. at 46. By then, it had only been a little more than a week since Mr. Stebbins first visited the office.[2]

         On December 15, 2015, ARS's Licensed Psychological Examiner, Leslie S. Johnson, completed a review of Mr. Stebbins's mental health treatment records in order "to assist in determining [the] feasibility of VR ["Vocational Rehabilitation"] services/training."[3] Id. at 56. Ms. Johnson had at her disposal all the medical treatment records that ARS was able to gather from Mr. Stebbins's healthcare providers. From reviewing these records, she noted that Mr. Stebbins had advised a nurse that he had been "kicked out of the U of A for making threatening statements." Id. He had also admitted that he had been arrested for assaulting his father. He had attempted to commit suicide by drinking bleach. Id. He also reported feelings of frustration, anger, and depression. Id. The most recent medical records are dated April 26, 2015, around the time of his attempted suicide. Mr. Stebbins was admitted briefly to St. Bernards Medical Center for psychiatric treatment, with further instructions for follow-up care. See Id. at 32-33. Ms. Johnson further noted that Mr. Stebbins's doctors described him as "impulsive, lack[ing] insight, paranoid, irritable and agitated." Id. at 56. Although he had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, Asperger's Disorder, Delusional Disorder, and Cluster B personality disorder traits (including narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders), he admitted to ARS that he was "not currently in treatment for his mental health issues." Id.

         In the course of reviewing the medical file, it appears Ms. Johnson also performed a public-records search and discovered that Mr. Stebbins had filed multiple lawsuits "against his parents, Wal-Mart, the U of A, and federal judges." Id. She surmised that the "[c]auses of action were mainly civil rights and discrimination." Id. She prepared a written recommendation as to Mr. Stebbins's request for ARS funds, concluding that his various psychological conditions, as reflected in his treatment records, were "likely to be manifested in a vocational setting" in several negative ways, id. at 57. She then went on to explain that his medical records "indicated a history of physical aggression and threatening statements, " which suggested to her that Mr. Stebbins was "not currently appropriate for vocational rehabilitation services." Id. She strongly recommended that he be referred "to a local mental healthcare provider" for "treatment and the support of a therapeutic relationship, " since he was not currently receiving any health care for his multiple mental health issues. Id. The final paragraph of her recommendation was as follows:

In order for Mr. Stebbins to be appropriate for ARS services he should be able to demonstrate a period of stable functioning. He will also need to provide documentation from his mental healthcare providers that his symptoms are well-managed ...

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