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Adkins v. Kroger Ltd. Partnership I

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

June 11, 2018

ANTHONY ADKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
KROGER LIMITED PARTNERSHIP I, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DANNY C. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is pending for consideration of the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. [Record No. 23] The motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part, for the reasons that follow.

         I.

         Plaintiff Anthony Adkins alleges that he is a former employee of Kroger Limited Partnership I (“Kroger”) with “active back and shoulder impairments, which substantially limit major life activities, including but not limited to work.” [Record No. 21, ¶¶ 6, 7] Adkins began a medical leave of absence from his employment on September 26, 2013. [Record No. 22-2] Kroger's leave of absence policy is contained in a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) negotiated with its employees' union. [Record No. 22-1] The relevant provision states:

[a] leave of absence because of sickness or non-work related injury, not to exceed ninety (90) days, shall be granted to an employee upon written request, supported by medical evidence. Extensions shall be granted up to ninety (90) days at a time, if requested in writing and supported by proper medical evidence prior to each expiration, but in no case shall the leave exceed two (2) years in duration.

         [Record No. 22-1, p. 21 (emphasis added).]

         Adkins' leave of absence was extended until December 30, 2015, in excess of the two-year limit contained in the CBA. [See Record No. 21, ¶ 10; Record No. 25-1.] Kroger mailed Adkins a letter on December 23, 2015, stating that, “[i]n accordance with your union contract, absences from employment due to sickness or injury shall not exceed two (2) years in length. Therefore, effective December 30, 2015 your employment with the Kroger Co will be terminated.” [See Record No. 21, ¶ 12; Record No. 25-2.] Adkins received the letter on December 28, 2015. [Record No. 21 ¶¶ 12, 13]

         The next day, Adkins obtained a note from his doctor clearing him to work one day per week as long as he did not lift, push, or pull over 20 pounds. [Record No. 25-3] He provided the note to the personnel manager at the Georgetown Kroger store, who provided it to John Mosley, the store manager. [Record No. 21, ¶¶ 14-15, 17-78] Mosley allegedly informed Adkins that “there was nothing he could do for him and he was afraid he would get hurt.” [Id. ¶ 18]

         Adkins also spoke to a co-manager who said there was a “pricing” job available that he would like Adkins to fill upon his return. [Id. ¶ 16] When Adkins “informed store manager John Mosley that a co-manager told him that [he] could do a pricing job, ” Mosley stated that he would “contact the human resources department.” [Id. at ¶ 19] The next morning, Adkins obtained a note from his doctor clearing him to perform the pricing job, and provided the note to the personnel manager at the Georgetown Kroger. [Id. ¶¶ 20, 21] However, in accordance with the letter dated December 23, 2015, Adkins' employment with Kroger was terminated that same day. [Id. ¶¶ 12, 22]

         Adkins filed this action on January 19, 2018, alleging that Kroger: (i) unlawfully discriminated against him based on his disability; (ii) failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation or engage in an interactive process with him; (iii) is estopped from arguing that he was not otherwise qualified to return to work in the pricing job; and (iv) caused him to incur attorney's fees and costs. [Id. ¶¶ 23-38] Kroger has moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Adkins has failed to state a disability discrimination or reasonable accommodation claim, and that his estoppel and attorney's fees claims are not independent claims recognized by Kentucky law. [Record No. 23] Kroger also argues that Adkins' claims are preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”) and barred by the six-month statute of limitations applicable to LMRA claims. [Id.]

         II.

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is analyzed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Roth v. Guzman, 650 F.3d 603, 605 (6th Cir. 2011). Under that standard, the Court must determine whether the Complaint alleges “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plausibility standard is met “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Although the Complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations” to satisfy the plausibility standard, the “plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Further, while the Court is required to accept all of the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In general, where “matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion will be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). “[H]owever, documents attached to the pleadings become part of the pleadings and may be considered on a motion to dismiss.” Commercial Money Ctr., Inc. v. Ill. Union Ins. Co., 508 F.3d 327, 335-36 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c)). Accordingly, the Court may consider the documents attached to ...


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