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Reed v. Missouri Department of Revenue

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 7, 2015

HOMER LEE REED, Plaintiff,
v.
MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Missouri Department of Revenue's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Homer Lee Reed's claims for injunctive relief as moot, and claims for damages as barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. For the reasons set forth below, the motion shall be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges in his complaint, filed in state court on February 4, 2015, that in September 2013, he petitioned for reinstatement of his driver's license after more than ten years had elapsed since his ten-year license revocation for an alcohol-related offense. On November 7, 2013, the state court ordered Plaintiff's driving privileges reinstated "pursuant to § 302.060(9) RSMo (2012), [1] subject to all reinstatement requirements including proof of installation of an ignition interlock device ["IID"]...." (Doc. No. 3 at 3.) An IID is a device into which a driver must exhale to activate a vehicle and which will disable the vehicle upon the detection of alcohol.

Plaintiff alleges that he is 72 years old, and had problems blowing with enough force to satisfy the breath volume requirement of the IID due to his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. As a result, the IID would not read a passing test and would immobilize his vehicle (regardless of his blood alcohol content). After an initial accommodation, lowering the breath volume requirement for Plaintiff's IID, Plaintiff contacted Defendant regarding his ongoing difficulties using the IID and presented a physician's statement documenting Plaintiff's disabilities, but Defendant refused to meet with Plaintiff to discuss further acceptable accommodations.

On April 15, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge with the Missouri Human Rights Commission ("MCHR"). By letter dated October 27, 2014, the MHRC stated that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter because Plaintiff was "subject to a court order, this is not a place of public accommodation." (Doc. No. 14-2.) Plaintiff asserts in his complaint that Defendant has discriminated against him, and others similarly situated, by failing to make reasonable accommodation for persons with respiratory disabilities such as his. Count I of the complaint claims violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; Count II claims violation of the provision of the Missouri Human Rights Act ("MHRA") prohibiting disability discrimination in "any place of public accommodation, " Mo. Rev. Stat. § 213.065; Count III claims violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ("RA"), 29 U.S.C. § 794; and Count IV claims violation of Plaintiff's rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In each count, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, as well as damages and attorney's fees and expenses. In Counts II, III, and IV, he also asks for declaratory relief. It is undisputed that Plaintiff was required to use an IID only through June 21, 2014, and that his driver's license is currently valid with no restrictions.

Defendant removed the action to this Court on April 17, 2015, on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Defendant now moves to dismiss the claims for injunctive relief as moot on the ground that the conduct Plaintiff seeks to enjoin - Defendant's imposition of restricted driving privileges with use of an IID - is no longer imposed on Plaintiff. According to Defendant, Plaintiff can only argue a threat of future harm by proposing that he may once again drive while intoxicated, and be subject again to using an IID; and such a consideration is not a real or immediate threat. Because Plaintiff no longer has standing to assert his own claims for injunctive relief, he cannot bring such claims on behalf of similarly situated citizens with respiratory disabilities.

Defendant next argues that Eleventh Amendment immunity shields it from Plaintiff's claim for damages under the ADA and the RA. Defendant posits that a six-month denial of access to a driver's license does not constitute the denial of a fundamental right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus the ADA and RA do not abrogate Defendant's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Defendant also argues that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring claims under the ADA and RA because he was not a "qualified individual" for reinstatement of his license for the six months in question. Rather, Plaintiff failed to meet an essential eligibility requirement - to properly exhale into the IID - and waiving that requirement would not be a reasonable accommodation, but would undermine the statutory scheme altogether.

Defendant argues that Plaintiff has no viable Fourteenth Amendment due process claim because § 302.060.2 bears a rational relationship to the legitimate state interest of keeping individuals from driving on the roads while intoxicated. Defendant maintains that, to the extent Plaintiff is asserting an equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, such a claim would be subsumed by the ADA and RA claims. Lastly, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has no viable claim under the MHRA because he has not alleged that he was denied "access to the premises of Defendant's office or subject to discrimination on Defendant's premises, " and so has not stated a claim for discrimination in "a place of public accommodation" under the MHRA.

Plaintiff responds that his claims for injunctive relief fall under the exception to the mootness doctrine for claims challenging conduct that will likely repeat itself yet evade review. Because the IID is required to be on a vehicle for only six months, and Missouri law allows the MHRC six months to investigate a charge before a discrimination suit may be brought, it would have been impossible, according to Plaintiff, to bring suit while the action was live.

With respect for his claims for damages under the ADA and RA, Plaintiff acknowledges that driving may be a privilege rather than a fundamental right, but contends that the right to be free from discrimination due to disability, "and to be treated equally, " is a fundamental right, such that the ADA and RA abrogate Defendant's Eleventh Amendment immunity from these claims in this case. (Doc. No. 14 at 5.) Plaintiff argues that because Defendant refused to meet with him, Defendant cannot claim that accommodations requested are unreasonable, a matter that remains a question of fact. He asserts that he has stated valid Fourteenth Amendment claims, and that the failure of Defendant to block Plaintiff's access to its physical premises is irrelevant to the viability of his claim of disability discrimination under the MHRA.

DISCUSSION

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, which, accepted as true, states "a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, " will not pass muster. Id. The reviewing court must accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and construe them in the plaintiff's favor, but is not required to accept the legal conclusions ...


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