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Caberto v. State ex rel. Department of Health and Human Services

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 19, 2019

LIWLIWA CABERTO, Plaintiff
v.
STATE OF NEVADA ex rel. its DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, PUBLIC AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, Defendant

          ORDER (1) DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS AND (2) GRANTING MOTION TO AMEND [ECF NOS. 6, 16]

          ANDREW P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Liwliwa Caberto sues her employer, the State of Nevada's Department of Health and Human Services, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Nevada State law. The State moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted. Caberto opposes that motion and also moves to amend her complaint to add a claim for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Caberto alleges that she suffered an injury while employed by Nevada's Department of Health and Human Services at the Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services Hospital (SNAMHS) in May 2015. After returning from related FMLA leave in December, Caberto started being harassed and was intimidated into accepting a voluntary demotion in March 2016. But even in her new position, Caberto felt intimidated and threatened by her superiors. In June 2017, Caberto was reassigned to a different floor of the hospital. A month later, Caberto and the hospital agreed on reasonable accommodations for her disability, including assistance with lifting, minimal bending and squatting, and an ergonomic computer mouse and chair for computer work. After multiple requests over the next five months, the hospital finally provided her with the ergonomic chair they had agreed to give her.

         Starting in January 2018, Caberto was “floated” to different units on different floors every day, despite the policy for the least senior employee to float between departments. She was told that she would not get another chair for these different units and would have to move her chair between floors of the hospital as needed. Caberto believes this was intended to harass her.

         After filing a charge of discrimination with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, Caberto sued the State, alleging two causes of action: disability discrimination in violation of the ADA and disability discrimination in violation of Nevada Revised Statutes § 613.330.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. The State's Motion to Dismiss

         The State moves to dismiss Caberto's claims because (1) Caberto did not properly exhaust the issue of her voluntary demotion on March 28, 2016, (2) the ADA does not authorize lawsuits for money damages against governmental agencies and Caberto does not request specific injunctive relief, and (3) Caberto fails to state a claim under Nevada Revised Statutes § 613.330.

         1. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         A properly pleaded complaint must provide a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”[2] While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands more than “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”[3] The complaint must set forth coherently “who is being sued, for what relief, and on what theory, with enough detail to guide discovery.”[4] “Factual allegations must be enough to rise above the speculative level.”[5] To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “contain[] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[6]

         District courts must apply a two-step approach when considering motions to dismiss.[7]First, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences from the complaint in the plaintiff's favor.[8] Legal conclusions, however, are not entitled to the same assumption of truth even if cast in the form of factual allegations.[9] Mere recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only by conclusory statements, do not suffice.[10]

         Second, the court must consider whether the factual allegations in the complaint allege a plausible claim for relief.[11] A claim is facially plausible when the complaint alleges facts that allow the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.[12] Where the complaint does not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has “alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief.”[13] If the claims do not cross the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint must be dismissed.[14] “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[15]

         2. Exhaustion of Caberto's Claims

         The State first argues that Caberto's NERC charge of discrimination does not mention her voluntary demotion in March 2016. Thus, Caberto cannot seek reinstatement or back pay based on the voluntary demotion because she did not exhaust her administrative remedies as required before bringing an ADA discrimination claim.

         To bring a claim under Title I of the ADA, a plaintiff must first exhaust her administrative remedies by filing a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.[16] The charge of discrimination Caberto filed mentions only that she was reassigned and was denied a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Caberto therefore did not exhaust the issue of her voluntary demotion. But it appears that her ADA claim is not based on her voluntary demotion and is instead focused on the events described in her NERC charge: the reassignment after she was demoted and subsequent alleged failure to accommodate. And as Caberto clarifies in her response, she is seeking reinstatement to the job she had before she was reassigned, to another floor, not the job she had before the voluntary demotion. I therefore deny the State's motion to dismiss on this basis.

         3. Injunctive Relief

         The State next argues that Caberto cannot sue a governmental agency for money damages under the ADA, and her requested injunctive relief is not specific enough to overcome this procedural barrier. Caberto responds that she specifically requests an order requiring her employer to accommodate her disability and to reinstate her to the position she was in before being reassigned.

         Title I of the ADA does not authorize suits against governmental agencies for money damages.[17] But, “Title I of the ADA still prescribes standards applicable to the States. Those standards can be enforced . . . by private individuals in actions for injunctive relief under Ex Parte Young . . . .”[18] Caberto's complaint requests injunctive relief in the form of an “[o]rder granting or restoring to Plaintiff the rights to which she is entitled.”[19] Reading the complaint as a whole, this appears to be a request for an injunction reinstating her to the position she held before she was reassigned and ordering her employer to accommodate her disability. Because Caberto has requested injunctive relief, I deny the State's motion to dismiss on this basis.[20]

         4. Violation of Nevada Revised Statutes § 613.330

         Finally, the State argues that Caberto's allegations of violations of Nevada Revised Statutes § 613.330 fail to state a claim for disability discrimination. It asserts that Caberto only asks that her accommodation be honored without harassment, which is not clear enough to meet the pleading standard in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Caberto responds that her complaint details her required accommodations (i.e., help with lifting, minimal bending and squatting, and an ergonomic mouse and chair) and the ...


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