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THOMPSON v. ARCHER DANIELS MIDLAND COMPANY

December 5, 2001

ARRON THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ARCHER DANIELS MIDLAND COMPANY AND ADM TRUCKING, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCUSKEY, District Judge

  ORDER
On September 7, 1999, Plaintiff, Arron Thompson, filed his First Amended Complaint (#16) against Defendants, Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and ADM Trucking, Inc. Plaintiff claimed that he was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.). This case is before the court for ruling on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#50) and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (#52). Following this court's careful and thorough review of the documents presented by the parties and the arguments of the parties, this court concludes that Plaintiff has not presented sufficient evidence to show that he was disabled as defined in the ADA. Accordingly, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (#50) is GRANTED.

FACTS

Plaintiff was hired as an over-the-road truck driver by ADM Trucking on June 9, 1995. On August 14, 1995, approximately seven weeks later, Plaintiff slipped on the steps of the tanker he was hauling. Plaintiff did not fall, but hurt his back. Plaintiff's physician placed him off work because of lumbar strain. On August 19, 1995, Plaintiff's doctor imposed work limitations of one hour of driving per day and no lifting over 30 pounds. On August 29, 1995, Plaintiff's doctor gave Plaintiff a note which stated, "I have advised [Plaintiff] to change vocations due to his back problem." Plaintiff called Jim Davis, who was the terminal manager at that time, and told him he had been released for light duty. Davis told Plaintiff that there was no light duty work available. On September 19, 1995, and on October 26, 1995, Plaintiff's doctor gave Plaintiff light duty releases which required no lifting over 25 pounds and no more than one hour of driving per day. On December 20, 1995, Plaintiff saw a different doctor who imposed a permanent restriction of "[n]o lifting above 35 pounds except in extremely rare occasions with limitation routinely to be set at 35 pounds or less. [Plaintiff] may return to work on 12/27/95."
Plaintiff did not return to work at ADM Trucking. Davis testified that truck drivers generally have to unload the products they haul and often are required to lift a hose which weighs approximately 80 pounds which is used for delivering liquid product. Sam Richardson, ADM Trucking's assistant vice president of operations, testified that ADM Trucking did not return Plaintiff to his job because it determined that the permanent 35-pound lifting restriction was inconsistent with his job duties. Richardson also testified that the other jobs available at ADM Trucking, including wash bay, maintenance and fast lane positions, required lifting more than 35 pounds. Plaintiff was granted a leave of absence with benefits. Plaintiff also received worker's compensation benefits. Plaintiff lost his seniority after 12 months of leave, pursuant to the terms of the applicable labor agreement, and his employment was terminated.
On May 4, 1999, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (#1) in this court against Defendant ADM. Plaintiff alleged that ADM discriminated against him on the basis of his disability, in violation of the ADA. On July 16, 1999, ADM filed a Motion to Dismiss (#8) arguing that Plaintiff was not employed by ADM but was rather employed by ADM Trucking, a wholly owned subsidiary of ADM. On August 20, 1999, this court entered an Order (#15) which denied ADM's Motion to Dismiss and allowed Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint adding ADM Trucking as an additional party. On September 7, 1999, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint (#16) against ADM and ADM Trucking. Plaintiff alleged that ADM is liable because it is the alter ego of ADM Trucking.
As part of discovery in this case, Plaintiff's deposition was taken on August 29, 2000. Plaintiff testified that he had back surgery in 1980 and 1991. He testified that he is limited in bending forward and cannot bend over to tie his shoes. He was asked if there were any other physical activities that he could not perform and responded, "With my activities that I do, that would probably be about it." He testified that he does not know if he still has a lifting restriction and stated that he sometimes lifts more than 35 pounds. He stated that he is able to lift his daughters, who weigh 35 and 50 pounds. Plaintiff testified that he is cautious about what he does, and does not participate in sports because of that caution. However, he stated that he "really [hasn't] given up anything." He testified that he drives and is able to take care of himself. He stated that he takes a walk every evening and rides a bike with his son once or twice a week.
Plaintiff testified that he believed he could have performed his job duties at ADM Trucking "with a reasonable time to heal." He stated that he thought he could have done the job a few weeks after his injury. Plaintiff testified that, after leaving ADM Trucking, he purchased his own semi-truck. In August 1997, he accepted a position as a driver for JMH Trucking. In his position as a driver for JMH Trucking, he drove between Tazewell County and Chicago, Illinois, two times per day. He was employed there until April 1998. In April 1998, Plaintiff went to work as a driver hauling grain and rock for Dan Wetstein, a central Illinois farmer. Plaintiff testified that there was some lifting involved in performing these jobs, but not heavy lifting. In May and June 1998, Plaintiff worked as a truck driver for Don Lefler hauling grain. In August 1998, Plaintiff went to work as a truck driver for Krumholz Trucking in Eureka, Illinois, hauling rock and grain. He drove for Krumholz Trucking for approximately one year.
On October 5, 2000, after the deposition was taken, Plaintiff filed a supplement to his response to Defendants' Interrogatory No. 3 which asked him to identify the major life activities in which he claimed he was substantially impaired. His previous response stated that he "suffered Lumbar strain and was subsequently diagnosed with Degenerative Lumbar Spine Disease, restricting his ability to lift over 35 pounds." In his supplemental response, Plaintiff stated:
Plaintiff's medical condition restricts his ability at times from getting out of bed, having normal sexual relations with his spouse, participating in many physical endeavors including but not limited to those with his children, standing, sitting, walking and performing daily household tasks.
Plaintiff's condition causes him to take longer to dress in the morning because he is not able to bend and move as easily as a normal person. On some occasions he needs assistance in putting his shoes and socks on. His condition also disturbs his sleep as well as his ability to have normal bowel movements on a daily basis.
On November 28, 2000, Defendants took a further deposition of Plaintiff to question him about this supplemental response. Plaintiff testified that there were occasions when he had trouble getting out of bed due to pain. On those occasions, he does stretching exercises before getting up. He testified that there were times when it was difficult for him to get out of bed for a couple of weeks.*fn1 Plaintiff testified that, on the occasions where he had difficulty getting out of bed, it took him "a few minutes" to get out. Plaintiff also testified that there have been a few occasions when it was too painful for him to walk. Plaintiff testified that he does not do household chores such as moving furniture or cleaning that requires him to bend or be on his knees. He testified that he cuts the grass occasionally and has done some painting.
On March 16, 2001, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment (#50). Defendants argued that Plaintiff's ADA claim fails because: (1) Plaintiff did not have a "disability" because his back problems did not substantially limit him in any major life activity; (2) Plaintiff was not a "qualified individual with a disability" because he could not perform the essential functions of an over-the-road driver; and (3) Plaintiff cannot prove that his employer failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation where he received a 12-month medical leave of absence with benefits. Defendants also argued that ADM cannot be liable for any violation of the ADA because ADM never employed Plaintiff. Defendants also filed a Memorandum of Law and Exhibits (#51) in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. Defendants were later allowed to file a Supplemental Statement of Undisputed Facts (#61).
On March 19, 2001, Plaintiff filed his Motion for Summary Judgment (#52). Plaintiff sought summary judgment on the limited issue of whether ADM has joint liability with ADM Trucking for discriminatory conduct under the ADA. Both Motions for ...

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