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Johnson v. Ben E. Keith Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

July 28, 2017

BEN E. KEITH COMPANY, et al., Defendants.



         Came on for consideration the motion of defendants, Ben E. Keith Company ("Ben E. Keith") and Ben E. Keith Company Injury Benefits Plan, for summary judgment. Plaintiff, Derrick Johnson, has filed a response, and defendants have filed a reply. Having considered the motion, the response[1], the reply, the entire summary judgment record, and applicable authorities, the court concludes that defendants' motion should be granted.



         Plaintiff initiated this action on November 4, 2016 by the filing of an original complaint. On January 23, 2017, plaintiff filed his first amended complaint, in which he asserted the following claims and causes of action against defendants: (1) violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"); (2) violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"); and (3) negligence.


         The Summary Judgment Motion

         As to plaintiff's ADA claims, defendants contend that summary judgment is warranted because the undisputed facts establish that plaintiff was not a qualified individual with a disability. Moreover, defendants maintain that although plaintiff never requested an accommodation, Ben E. Keith provided plaintiff with a reasonable accommodation for his work injury. Defendants also argue that plaintiff cannot prove that he was terminated because of his disability. Rather, defendants assert that plaintiff was terminated after he failed to return to work when released by a qualified medical provider. Defendants contend that plaintiff's ADA claims arise from nothing more than plaintiff's subjective belief of discriminatory animus. As to plaintiff's ERISA claims, defendants argue that the Plan Administrator's decision was not arbitrary and capricious and thus did not constitute an abuse of discretion. Defendants also contend that plaintiff's negligence claim fails as a matter of law because plaintiff cannot prove that defendants breached a duty that proximately caused plaintiff's injury.


         Applicable Summary Judgment Principles

         Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that the court shall grant summary judgment on a claim or defense if there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The summary judgment movant bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 325 (1986). The movant can carry this burden by pointing out the absence of evidence supporting one or more essential elements of the nonmovant's claim, "since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 323.

         Once the movant has carried its burden under Rule 56(a), the nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the precise manner that creates a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 324; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) ("A party asserting that a fact ... is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .") A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a" material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a rational fact finder could resolve the dispute in favor of either party. Id.

         The standard for granting a motion for summary judgment is the same as the standard for rendering judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. If the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmovant, there is no genuine dispute for trial and summary judgment is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. V. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 597; see also Boeing Co. v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374-75 (5th Cir. 1969) (en banc) (explaining the standard to be applied in determining whether the court should enter judgment on motions for directed verdict or for judgment notwithstanding the verdict).


         Undisputed Evidence

         The following is an overview of evidence pertinent to the motion for summary judgment that is undisputed in the summary judgment record:

         Plaintiff was employed by Ben E. Keith as a Route Service Associate Trainee - DOT ("Driver Trainee") in its food service division. Doc.[2] 33 at 5, ¶ 3. As a Driver Trainee, plaintiff was responsible for delivering product along assigned routes consisting of multiple stops with various levels of difficulty, assembling customer orders to be delivered to places of business, maintaining delivery time windows for each stop on the route, and maintaining accuracy of delivered product with no damage due to mishandling, among other responsibilities. Id. at 62. The position was very physical in nature. Id. at 6, ¶ 5. Even pre-trip truck inspections required substantial physical activity, including repeated bending, stooping, pulling ramps out of the truck, and checking the product to be delivered. Id. During the hiring process, plaintiff was physically tested to determine whether he was physically qualified for the position. Id. at 16, Johnson Dep. 18:4-8; see id. at 64.

         On or about December 19, 2014, plaintiff fell while delivering product to a barbeque restaurant. See Doc. 33 at 20, Johnson Dep. 36:18-20. Near the end of his shift, plaintiff was maneuvering a dolly loaded with 200 pounds of product down the ramp of his truck when the dolly struck what plaintiff described to be a bracket plate that had popped up from the truck ramp. See id. at 24, Johnson ...

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