Disability discrimination complaint does not contradict itself

The general rule in drafting a federal complaint is that the allegations cannot contradict each other. If that happens, you are asking for a motion to dismiss. In this disability discrimination case, the district court dismissed the case on that basis, but the Court of Appeals reinstates the case.

The case is Grant v. County of Erie, a summary order decided on October 17. Plaintiff was injured but claimed she was able to work. The complaint said that a "fourth doctor ... cleared her to return to work." The district court disregarded that allegation because the complaint alleged that the same doctor said plaintiff could not return to full duty at a youth detention facility without restriction in that she could not restrain physically strong people.

Are these allegations mutually exclusive? The Court of Appeals (Hall, Leval and Lohier) says they are not. The doctor said that plaintiff could return to regular work "from an orthopedic stand point." The doctor questioned whether it was reasonable for her to return to work in the face of possible physical injury on the job, but that does not mean she was not qualified to do the work. The Court of Appeals sums it up:

Dr. Bergeron’s report, accordingly, does not support the district court’s conclusion of Grant’s lack of qualification to perform her work duties. Because Dr. Bergeron’s report states that Grant is able to perform the essential functions of her job, it cannot serve as the basis for dismissing her claim of discrimination at this stage in the litigation. We thus vacate that portion of the judgment that dismisses the complaint on the ground that Grant is no longer qualified to return to her job.

Plaintiff also raises a state law discrimination claim. The district court sua sponte chucked that claim because plaintiff did not file a proper notice of claim. This was not fair to plaintiff; she did not have a chance to show that the notice of claim was legitimate. In 1991, the Second Circuit said that while the district court has authority to dismiss a complaint sua sponte, it must give the plaintiff a chance to be heard. That rule is applied here, and that claim is reinstated.