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WOOD v. COUNTY OF ALAMEDA

January 30, 1995

LOIS M. WOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: THELTON E. HENDERSON

 The above-captioned matter came before the Court on January 9, 1995 for oral argument on defendant County of Alameda's ("County's") motion for judgment on the pleadings. Having carefully considered the oral and written arguments submitted by the parties, and good cause appearing, the Court DENIES defendant's motion for the reasons explained below.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The facts relevant to the resolution of the instant motion are not in dispute. Plaintiff is a former employee of County who suffered an injury in 1992 while on the job. Subsequently, plaintiff became disabled and filed for benefits under California's workers' compensation statute as a result of her injury. Some time later, plaintiff was cleared by her physician to return to work. Despite this clearance, however, plaintiff was not returned to her formerly held position or a comparable position with the County. Plaintiff alleges that the County's actions represent a denial of "reasonable accommodation" to a "qualified individual with a disability" in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.

 Defendant County moves for judgment on the pleadings on plaintiff's ADA claim on the ground that California's Workers' Compensation Act, California Labor Code § 3200 et seq., provides the sole remedy for such claims.

 II. LEGAL STANDARD

 Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), judgment on the pleadings is proper when the moving party clearly establishes on the face of the pleadings that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner and Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989). When Rule 12(c) is used to raise the defense of failure to state a claim, the motion faces the same test as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6). McGlinchy v. Shell Chem. Co., 845 F.2d 802, 810 (9th Cir. 1988). On such a motion, the court must accept all material allegations in the complaint as true and indulge all reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, and must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. NL Industries, Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986).

 III. DISCUSSION

 The sole question before the Court on defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is whether a provision in a state statute establishing workers' compensation payments as the exclusive remedy for certain injuries sustained on the job bars the plaintiff from bringing a simultaneous or subsequent claim under the ADA. *fn1" Defendant argues that California workers' compensation laws, specifically California Labor Code §§ 132(a) and 3200 et seq., provide the sole remedy for, and deprive this Court of jurisdiction over, such claims. Defendant argues that these state provisions, which make recovery under the workers' compensation statute the exclusive remedy for work-related injuries, necessarily preclude recovery under other statutes, including the ADA.

 Preliminarily, the Court notes that issues of the type raised in defendant's motion generally arise when plaintiffs seek to bring suit or obtain remedies under state laws in a manner which defendants argue is incompatible with prevailing federal law. See, e.g., Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U.S. 238, 241-58, 78 L. Ed. 2d 443, 104 S. Ct. 615 (1984) (federal statute regulating handling and use of nuclear materials did not preempt plaintiff from claiming punitive damages under state law for defendant's mishandling of such materials); Chmiel v. Beverly Wilshire Hotel Co., 873 F.2d 1283, 1286-87 (9th Cir. 1989) (federal labor law did not preempt plaintiff from bringing age discrimination claim under state law).

 As explained above, however, the instant case presents a related but somewhat different question, in that the defendant essentially argues that a state law precludes the granting of relief sought by the plaintiff under federal law. While defendant wisely denies that its motion is based on a "reverse preemption" argument of the sort which would explicitly fly in the face of the Supremacy Clause, defendant's claim that the ADA by its terms should "defer" to state law unmistakably has elements in common with such an argument. Defendant reasons that because the state statute establishes the state remedy as exclusive, and because the federal statute states Congress' intent not to "invalidate or limit" such a statute, the federal statute must be denied effect to the extent that the granting of relief under the federal law would "invalidate" the exclusivity provision of the state law.

 An analysis of the merit of defendant's position, therefore, requires the Court to resolve the following question: Did Congress intend the ADA to preempt state laws which contain exclusive remedy clauses, at least to the limited extent that such clauses cannot limit a plaintiff's pursuit of a cause of action under the ADA (even while expressly recognizing that a plaintiff may seek relief under both state statutes and the ADA)? Or did Congress intend the ADA to "defer" entirely to such state law exclusive remedy provisions, even if doing so would limit the scope of relief available to plaintiffs under the ADA? The answer to this question, which the Court believes to be a matter of first impression in the context of the relationship between the ADA and state workers' compensation statutes, must be determined through analysis of both the express language of the statute and the principles of preemption which control in cases in which federal and state laws may be incompatible.

 A. The Adams Fruit Framework

 In Adams Fruit Co. v. Barrett, 494 U.S. 638, 108 L. Ed. 2d 585, 110 S. Ct. 1384 (1990), the Supreme Court considered a question very similar to the one presented in the instant case: Did an exclusive remedy provision in a state workers' compensation law preclude migrant workers from bringing a cause of action under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act ("AWPA"), a federal statute whose coverage overlapped to an extent with that of the state law? The Adams Fruit Court held that the state exclusive remedy provision did not bar the plaintiffs from bringing a cause of action under the federal statute, reasoning that the AWPA "preempts state law to the limited extent that it does not permit States to supplant, rather than to supplement, AWPA's remedial scheme." 494 U.S. at 648-49. While, as explained below, the preemption issue is very much dependent on the particular language of the federal statute at issue, Adams Fruit provides an appropriate framework for resolving apparent conflicts between state exclusivity provisions and federal laws. Accordingly, the Court finds that the analysis set out in Adams Fruit governs the question of whether plaintiff retains a cause of action under the ADA in the present case.

 The Adams Fruit Court identified "two doctrinally related issues" as relevant to the determination of whether a federal right of action is withdrawn where state law establishes workers' compensation as an exclusive remedy:

 
First we must decide whether, as a matter of statutory construction, [the federal statute] permits [plaintiffs] to pursue federal remedies under such circumstances. Second, if [the statute] permits simultaneous recovery under federal and state law, we must determine whether, under preemption principles, [the statute] precludes ...

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