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Smith v. Donahoe

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 6, 2014

RONALD SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICK R. DONAHOE, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Re: Dkt. No. 52

WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiff Ronald Smith, a former employee of the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), asserts in this lawsuit that he suffered work-related injuries dating from 1988 to 2004 and sues Patrick R. Donahoe, Postmaster General of the United States, for failing to provide him with rehabilitation services to which he claims he is entitled under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. First Amended Complaint ("FAC") ¶ 9. The defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings because Mr. Smith fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted and, in the alternative, for summary judgment because Mr. Smith's claims are either barred by the statute of limitations or because Mr. Smith cannot establish a prima facie case of failure to accommodate a disability. Since Mr. Smith's last claim regarding his injuries was conclusively denied by the Department of Labor on March 25, 2005, and he did not file a petition for review with the Merit Systems Protection Board until September 30, 2010, he waited too long to pursue his claim. The statute of limitations has run and the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. The defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED as moot.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 1988, the United States Postal Service hired Mr. Smith, who was hearing impaired in both ears, under a program for the handicapped. Tseng Decl. Ex. D. ("Smith Depo. Tr.") 26:18-25. Mr. Smith almost always worked at 1300 Evans Street, San Francisco, California, where he had to be physically present to complete his tasks. Smith Depo. Tr. 47:14-48:16. He was a manual distribution clerk during his whole tenure with USPS. Smith Depo. Tr. 34:11-16. His responsibilities included weighing, casing, rounding up, and distributing mail. Smith Depo. Tr. 36:9-16. Casing mail is putting mail into boxes based on their destination. Smith Depo. Tr. 37:2-4. Rounding up mail means taking the mail out of the boxes in preparation for distribution. Smith Depo. Tr. 44:10-23. Distributing mail is physically delivering the boxes to the appropriate clerk. Smith Depo. Tr. 37:25-41:1.

Between December 2, 1988, and March 30, 1989, Mr. Smith suffered an eye infection, for which he claims USPS failed to accommodate him. Smith Depo. Tr. 71:10-13. In 1996, Mr. Smith injured his shoulder. Smith Depo. Tr. 72:15-21. Forms CA-1 and CA-2 are the initial claim forms for on-the-job injuries: Form CA-1 applies to traumatic injuries and Form CA-2 applies to occupational illnesses or injuries that occur over a period of time. Bradley Decl. ¶ 4. Mr. Smith did not submit any injury compensation claim form before 2000. Smith Depo. Tr. 84:21-85:2.

In 2000, Mr. Smith suffered another shoulder injury. Smith Depo. Tr. 112:12-15. On February 14, 2000, he filed a Form CA-1 indicating that his injury occurred on February 1, 2000. Smith Depo. Tr. 120:12-121:16; Tseng. Decl. Ex. E. On March 6, 2001, the Department of Labor disputed his claim as not being a traumatic injury.[1] Tseng Decl. Ex. S at 197. On March 26, 2001, the Department of Labor requested additional information from Mr. Smith to help adjudicate his claim. Tseng Decl. Ex. E; Smith Depo. Tr. 124:5-22. On May 29, 2001, the Department of Labor sent another letter requesting additional information. Tseng Decl. Ex. G. Mr. Smith did not respond to either letter until he was denied because he was awaiting a medical report from the Department of Veterans Affairs and was undergoing treatment. Smith Depo. Tr. 125:11-126:24.

On August 20, 2001, the Department of Labor denied Mr. Smith's claim for compensation because "the evidence was not sufficient to meet the guidelines for establishing that [he] sustained an injury on February 1, 2001, as required by the Federal Employees' Compensation Act." Tseng Decl. Ex. H at 1. Mr. Smith "did not describe the event which occurred, claiming only that [he] had been harassed." Id. The denial letter noted that Mr. Smith was advised by the May 29, 2001, letter that he provided insufficient evidence and was given the opportunity to provide supporting evidence, but did not. Id. The letter also advised Mr. Smith of his right to appeal the decision.[2] Id. at 3-4. After his injury in 2000, Mr. Smith left work and did not return until about May 2002. Smith Depo. Tr. 211:22-214:6.

In 2004, Mr. Smith suffered neck, shoulder, and foot injuries. Smith Depo. Tr. 112:23-113:4. On June 4, 2004, Mr. Smith completed a Form CA-2 complaining of an injury of "pain" and "stress" in his feet and right shoulder. Tseng Decl. Ex. I at Box 14. Mr. Smith listed February 10, 1996, as the date on which he first became aware of the illness and that it was caused or aggravated by his employment. Tseng Decl. Ex. I at Boxes 11-12. On June 8, 2004, USPS disputed Mr. Smith's complaint. Tseng Decl. Ex. S at 144, 147. On June 23, 2004, the Department of Labor requested additional information from Mr. Smith to support his claims. Tseng Decl. Ex. J. Again, Mr. Smith did not respond until he received his final denial because he was still undergoing treatment. Smith Depo. Tr. 134:6-14. On August 27, 2004, the Department of Labor denied Mr. Smith's claim, stating:

The evidence submitted is insufficient to establish that an injury occurred. Furthermore, there is no medical evidence that provides a diagnosis which could be connected to the claimed conditions and an injury.
You were advised of the deficiencies in your claim in a letter dated 06/23/2004, and provided the opportunity to provide the necessary evidence. No further evidence was received.

Tseng Decl. Ex. K at 1. On September 12, 2004, Mr. Smith appealed the decision. Tseng Decl. Ex. M. On March 25, 2005, the decision was upheld, with the hearing representative finding that "there is simply no evidence in the case record to indicate that the incident occurred as alleged" and "there is no medical evidence" connecting any condition to Mr. Smith's employment. Tseng Decl. Ex. L at 3-4.

Aside from one month in either August or September 2004, Mr. Smith stopped going to work in April 2004, believing that he did not need to do so "until the paperwork was processed" by the Department of Labor. Smith Depo. Tr. 66:9-20. Mr. Smith has not worked for USPS since September 2004. Smith Depo. Tr. 50:11-13.

On September 14, 2010, Mr. Smith was removed from employment with the USPS because he had been "absent from duty in a leave without pay status in excess of more than one year (365 days) due to medical reasons." Tseng Decl. Ex. N. On September 30, 2010, Mr. Smith appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Tseng Decl. Ex. P. On November 23, 2010, the USPS rescinded Mr. Smith's removal because it realized that Mr. Smith had actually been on absent-without-leave rather than leave-without-pay status for a majority of the relevant period. Tseng Decl. Ex. O; Dkt. No. 1 at 2. An administrative law judge then dismissed Mr. Smith's appeal as moot. Tseng Decl. Ex. T at US00522-23. The Merit Systems Protection Board denied Mr. Smith's petition for review, concluding that Mr. Smith provided no new, previously unavailable evidence and that the administrative law judge committed no legal error in making the decision. Tseng Decl. Ex. T at US01313.

Mr. Smith appealed the Board's decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which held that it could not hear the case and ...


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