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Collins v. Dan Cummins Chevrolet-Buick, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

July 29, 2015

PAMELA COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
DAN CUMMINS CHEVROLET-BUICK, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

Defendant Dan Cummins Chevrolet-Buick, Inc. ("DCCB") has moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff Pamela Collins' claims for interference and retaliation in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 2615. [Record No. 20] The defendant contends that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The defendant has also filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to present evidence of damages necessary to prevail on her claims. [Record No. 33] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny both motions.

I.

This case arises out of the plaintiff's termination with DCCB in April 2014. Collins began working at DCCB in 2009 as a receptionist. At the time of her termination, Collins was working as an inventory coordinator, which included the responsibilities involving preowned inventory and customer rebate paperwork. [Record No. 20-2, pp. 5, 13, 47-49]

Collins's job duties were time sensitive. DCCB had ten days to arbitrate any deficiencies with pre-owned vehicles bought at auction. Failure to file a claim within the relevant period would result in DCCB being required to keep the vehicle virtually "as is." [Record No. 20-3, pp. 10-11] Additionally, customer rebate paperwork was required to be filed with General Motors within a certain time or funds would be withheld from the dealership. [Record No. 20-2, pp. 5-7] As of April 9, 2014, Collins had not completed these responsibilities. [ Id. ] She asserts that being tardy in completing this work was a daily stressor.

On April 9, 2014, after speaking with DCCB employees Jessica Coleman and Susan Crawford, processing customer rebates was removed from Collins's assigned duties. [ Id., p. 7] The following morning, Jim Koehler, another employee of DCCB, met with Collins. Koehler informed her that Dusty Cummins ("Cummins"), one of DCCB's owners, wanted Collins to review inventory spreadsheets with him. [Record No. 20-2, pp. 9-10] Collins claims that this cause her to become even more upset because she had previously examined the spreadsheets with Cummins and felt that people did not trust her to do her work. [ Id. ] At that time, Collins left the dealership stating, "I can't take this anymore; I'm useless to anybody; I don't know why I'm living." [ Id., p. 11] DCCB employees Hannah Gross and Christy Gordon apparently responded by advising Collins that she had many reasons to live. However, these reassurances were to no avail. [ Id. ]

Collins sped away from the dealership while allegedly contemplating suicide. [ Id., pp. 18-19] However, she decided to seek help at the Bluegrass Medical Center with her primary care physician. Collins saw Kristie Wheeler, a physician's assistant and cousin, who contacted The Ridge Behavioral Health System ("The Ridge") in Lexington, Kentucky. [ Id., pp. 8, 19-20] Collins' mother (Jeanette Falconer) and sister (Vickie Leggett) drove Collins to The Ridge. When Collins left the Bluegrass Medical Center, Wheeler allegedly told her that either she or a member of her staff would contact DCCB to advise the company that Collins was being hospitalized. [ Id., pp. 53-54] Wheeler attempted to contact Cummins at DCCB by telephone but was placed on hold. As a result, Wheeler did not speak with Cummins directly. [Record No. 27-5-B, at 52:15] Additionally, Sandy Gifford, a nurse employee by the Bluegrass Medical Center, called DCCB to speak with Cummins on three separate occasions but also was unsuccessful. Gifford claims to have left messages with a secretary but Cummins never returned her calls. [Record No. 27-5-B, 1:01:40, 1:03:30]

Collins received treatment at The Ridge beginning April 10, 2014. During the first forty-eight hours of her stay, she was not allowed any outside contact and was advised not to contact her "stressors, " even after the first two-day period.[1] [Record No. 27-1, p. 85] That same day, Cummins sent two separate text messages to Collins. The first message (sent shortly after Collins left the office) stated: "omgosh pam I hope u r OK." The second message (sent later that night) indicated: "Pam please let me know what's up. I'm worried about u." [Record No. 27-4] Later that night, Charles Kevin Collins ("Mr. Collins"), the plaintiff's husband, called Cummins at his home and told him that the plaintiff was hospitalized. Mr. Collins informed Cummins that further details were unavailable at the time because he had been unable to speak with his wife due to her hospitalization. [Record No. 27-3, p. 1]

The following day (April 11, 2014), Mr. Collins again called Cummins and left a voicemail message explaining that the plaintiff was still hospitalized. [Record No. 27-3, pp. 1-2] Cummins did not return this phone call. [ Id. ] On April 12, 2014, Vickie Leggett responded to Cummins' text messages from the plaintiff's phone stating: "Hey this is Vickie, Pam's sister I have her phone so she has not received any of your messages but if you wanna call me feel free I know you probably wanna know what's going on. My number is [XXX-XXXX]." [Record No. 27-4] On April 14, 2014, Jessica Coleman spoke with Leggett in response to the text messages. During this call, Leggett informed Coleman that the plaintiff "was in the hospital" and "really, really sick." [Record No. 27-5-B, 31:25] However, she did not state explain the nature of Collins' medical condition. Leggett further advised Coleman that Collins could not speak with the plaintiff and was not to contact Mr. Collins. [Record No. 20-3, pp. 6-7]

The plaintiff was released from The Ridge on April 15, 2014, and advised that she could return to work on April 21, 2014. The accompanying note stated: "Pamela Collins was in treatment at The Ridge Behavioral Health from 4/10/14 until 4/15/14. Please allow [her] to return to work... on 4/21/14." [Record No. 27-2] Mr. Collins delivered the note to DCCB on April 16, 2014, where he met with Cummins, Jessica Coleman, and DCCB's Human Resources Manager. [Record No. 27-3, p. 2] The next day, Coleman called Collins and left a message for Collins to return the call. Collins returned the call later that day but was unable to reach Coleman. [Record No. 20-2, pp. 26-27] On April 18, 2014, Collins again called Coleman. During that conversation, Collins told Coleman she would be back to work on April 21, 2014. However, Coleman advised the plaintiff that, consistent with the employee handbook, her position was abandoned as of April 14, 2014, and that she no longer had a job with DCCB. [ Id. ] In a July 30, 2014, Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission Administrative Hearing, Dusty Cummins testified under oath that the decision to consider Collins' job abandoned did not occur until April 16, 2014, after Mr. Collins delivered the note from The Ridge. [Record No. 27-5-A, 52:51-52:42]

At the beginning of her employment with DCCB, Collins signed an acknowledgement that she had received and understood the provisions of the company's employee handbook. [Record No. 20-4] Regarding unexcused absences, the handbook states that "[e]mployees are expected to personally make the effort to notify the company of any absence or tardiness" and that "[i]f an employee is absent from work for two consecutive days without informing your department manager, or Don Ruark or Dan Cummins, it will be assumed that the employee resigned and employment will be terminated as of the last day worked by the employee." [Record No. 20-5, p. 2] Collins received a termination letter dated April 17, 2014, which read:

As of 4/17/2014 we have not received direct communication from you regarding you position with the company. Per the handbook you must personally contact your supervisor or one of the owners of your reason for absence within 2 days of absence. This has not happened since your unexcused absence of duties on 4/10/14 and is considered job abandonment. Please find your final paycheck enclosed along with a copy of the handbook page and your signature accepting those terms.

[Record No. 27-6]

Collins filed this action on June 20, 2014, in the Bourbon Circuit Court, alleging claims of interference and retaliation under the FMLA. [Record No. 1-1] The case was removed to this Court on July 11, 2014. [Record No. 1] The defendant contends that summary judgment is proper with respect to Collins' claims. [Record Nos. 20, 33]

II.

Entry of summary judgment is appropriate when "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Chao v. Hall Holding Co., 285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). A dispute over a material fact is not "genuine" unless a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. That is, the determination must be "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing conclusively that no genuine issue of material fact exists. CenTra, Inc. v. Estrin, 538 F.3d 402, 412 (6th Cir. 2008). However, once the moving party has met its burden of production, its opponent must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'" Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). Instead, the nonmoving party must present "significant probative evidence" of a genuine dispute in order to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Chao, 285 F.3d at 424. Further, a nonmoving party cannot rely upon the assertions in its pleadings. Instead, it must come forward with probative evidence, such as sworn affidavits, to support its claims. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the Court views all the facts and inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

A. Rule 56(d)

Courts may grant summary judgment before the end of the discovery period, provided that sufficient time for discovery has passed. Bowling v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 233 F.Appx. 460, 464-67 (6th Cir. 2007). A nonmoving party must inform the Court of its need for discovery. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. v. Am. Eagle Outfitters, Inc., 280 F.3d 619, 627 (6th Cir. 2002). Rule 56(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

If a non-movant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may: (1) defer considering the motion or deny it; (2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or take discovery; or (3) issue any other appropriate order.

FED. R. CIV. P. 56(d). Accordingly, before a summary judgment motion is decided, the nonmoving party may file an affidavit that details the discovery needed or file a motion for additional discovery. If the nonmoving party does neither, courts will "not normally address whether there was adequate time for discovery." Plott v. General Motors Corp., 71 F.3d 1190, 1196 (6th Cir. 1995). The nonmovant must show that they diligently pursued discovery and explain why those efforts have not yielded the necessary facts. Id. In addition, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has observed that "vague assertions of the need for discovery are not enough" to meet the requirements of Rule 56(d). Summers v. Leis, 368 F.3d 881, 887 (6th Cir. 2004). Instead, the nonmoving party "must state with some precision the material [she] hopes to obtain with further discovery, and how exactly [she] expects those materials would help [her] in opposing summary judgment." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

Here, Collins argues that summary judgment is premature because she was not provided the opportunity to depose Dusty Cummins and Hannah Gross before the deadline for responding to the defendant's motions. [Record No. 27, pp. 8-9] Collins was provided a ten day extension to file her response, but she still asserts that she was unable to fully conduct the required discovery. [Record No. 25] In support, Collins has submitted an affidavit stating that the depositions were not taken prior to responding to the motion because the defendant requested that they be postponed due to a hearing in another matter. [Record No. 27-7] However, Collins has failed to provide sufficient detail regarding the material she hopes to obtain from these depositions or stated how those materials would help her in opposing the defendant's motion. Instead, she has simply asserted a need for the depositions to be conducted.

As described earlier, "[b]are allegations or vague assertions of the need for discovery are not enough." Summers, 368 F.3d at 887. Under the standard set out above, Collins ...


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