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Ransdell v. United States Postal Service

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

March 30, 2017

FRANKFORT WILLIAM RANSDELL, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove, United States District Judge

         William Ransdell, a United States Postal Service mail carrier in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, applied for a promotion but didn't get the job. He now sues the USPS and Postmaster General Megan Brennan for employment discrimination. Because of a physical disability, Ransdell must drive his personal vehicle instead of the provided USPS vehicle to deliver mail. Ransdell alleges he was denied the promotion that he applied for on the basis of that disability. The Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, arguing Ransdell failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies and is barred from filing this federal lawsuit. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of the Defendants.

         I

         A

         William Ransdell is a long-time employee of the United States Postal Service (“USPS”).[1] Since May 5, 2001, Ransdell has been employed as a Rural Carrier Associate at the Post Office in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. [R. 1 at ¶ 6; R. 14 at 2.] Because Mr. Ransdell is medically restricted from climbing steps, he uses a personal vehicle to deliver mail rather than the provided Long-Life Vehicle (“LLV”) used by other USPS employees. [R. 1 at ¶¶ 7, 14.]

         In December 2012, Ransdell learned that a new mail route, Rural Route 9, was becoming available.[2] The Route 9 carrier typically used an LLV to deliver mail, and Ransdell knew his medical condition would prohibit him from using the LLV vehicle with its steps. Nevertheless, Ransdell went ahead and applied for the Route 9 promotion, and he submitted a request to continue using his personal vehicle if he was in fact awarded the Route 9 bid. [Id. at ¶¶ 8-15.] Ransdell indicates, and the Postmaster General does not dispute, that he had the necessary seniority within USPS to be awarded the Route 9 promotion. However, the promotion was ultimately given to an individual with less seniority and no driving disability. [R. 1 at ¶ 16.]

         Ransdell alleges disability discrimination based on the USPS's failure to promote him and failure to accommodate his request to use his personal vehicle on Route 9. [R. 1; R. 17.] The USPS and Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who is sued only in her official capacity, have jointly filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. [R. 14.]

         B

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d), a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss must be treated as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment if “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The rule goes on to note that, if the motion is converted, “[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Id. Whether to consider matters outside of the pleadings and to convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to a Rule 56 motion is a matter within the district court's discretion. See, e.g., Barrett v. Harrington, 130 F.3d 246, 253 (6th Cir. 1997). Moreover, whether a district court is required to provide actual notice to the parties before treating a motion to dismiss as one for summary judgment is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case. Shelby Cnty. Health Care Corp. v. Southern Council of Ind. Workers Health & Welfare Trust Fund, 203 F.3d 926, 931 (6th Cir. 2000). “Where one party is likely to be surprised by the proceedings, notice is required.” Salehpour v. Univ. of Tenn., 159 F.3d 199, 204 (6th Cir. 1998); see also Gautner v. Doyle, 554 F.Supp.2d 779 (N.D. Ohio 2008) (applying Sixth Circuit case law and converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 56 motion).

         In this case, the Court treats the Defendants' motion as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. The dispositive motion is styled as a “motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, ” and, in the motion, Defendants discussed the standard of review for both Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 56 motions. [R. 14.] They also attached twenty-five exhibits. Ransdell responded by specifically arguing the motion should not qualify as a motion to dismiss but, instead, be treated as one for summary judgment [see R. 17 at 5-6], and Ransdell attached nine exhibits of his own. Thus, both sides have presented the Court with matters outside the pleadings, and the nature of the briefing indicates neither side is likely to be surprised by the Court's decision to resolve the motion pursuant to Rule 56. See Shelby Cnty. Health Care Corp., 203 F.3d at 931; Salehpour, 159 F.3d at 204. Further, Mr. Ransdell knew Defendants presented arguments in favor of summary judgment to the Court, and he even urged the Court to consider Defendants' motion as such. [R. 17 at 5-6.] Accordingly, the Court treats the motion as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c), and actual notice of the conversion is not required.

         Under Rule 56, summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A fact's materiality is determined by the substantive law, and a dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Summary judgment is inappropriate where there is a genuine conflict “in the evidence, with affirmative support on both sides, and where the question is which witness to believe.” Dawson v. Dorman, 528 F. App'x 450, 452 (6th Cir. 2013). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Morales v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 71 F.3d 531, 535 (6th Cir. 1995) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). Further, the Court must view all facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         II

         At the outset, the Court notes that only one of the two Defendants is a proper party to this action. Ransdell has named both the United States Postal Service as well as Postmaster General Megan Brennan, in her official capacity. [R. 1.] The only appropriate defendant in a disability discrimination suit against the USPS is the head of that agency, the Postmaster General. See, e.g., Herndon v. Henderson, 238 F.3d 421, 2000 WL 1827956 (6th Cir. Dec. 7, 2000); McGuinness v. U.S. Postal Serv., 744 F.2d 1318, 1322-23 (7th Cir. 1984). Accordingly, Postmaster General Megan Brennan is a proper Defendant, but Ransdell's claims against the USPS itself should be dismissed.

         Whether Ransdell's disability discrimination claim against the Postmaster General can proceed depends on whether Ransdell properly followed certain administrative requirements. The United States has waived its sovereign immunity to allow federal employees to sue under Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 791, et seq., so long as a plaintiff satisfies “rigorous administrative exhaustion requirements and time limitations.” Brown v. Gen. Servs. Admin., 425 U.S. 820, 833 (1976); see also McFarland v. Henderson, 307 F.3d 402, 406 (6th Cir. 2002). The administrative requirement presently at issue compels a plaintiff to “initiate contact with a[n] [Equal Employment Opportunity] Counselor within 45 days of the matter alleged to be discriminatory or, in the case of personnel action, within 45 days of the effective date of the action.” 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(1); McFarland, 307 F.3d at 406. While a federal employee's obligation to contact an EEO counselor within that particular time period is generally “a precondition to filing suit, ” the deadline is also “subject to equitable tolling, waiver, and estoppel.” Mitchell v. Chapman, 343 F.3d 811, 820 (6th Cir. 2003). Moreover, 29 C.F.R. § 1614.105(a)(2) requires a federal agency to extend the forty-five day time limit if a plaintiff shows that he or she “was not notified of the time limits and was not otherwise aware of them.” See Harris v. Gonzales, 488 F.3d 442, 444-45 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

         Mr. Ransdell alleges disability discrimination based on the USPS's failure to promote him to the Route 9 Rural Carrier Association position, which occurred on or around November 4, 2013.[3] [R. 1 at ¶ 16.] Ordinarily, this date would trigger the forty-five day time limitation described above. Because Ransdell did not contact the USPS's EEO counselor until February 8, 2014 [see R. 14 at 3]-ninety-six days after the alleged failure to promote-the Postmaster General contends the present federal action must be dismissed as untimely. Ransdell advances several theories in an attempt to ...


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