The First Circuit affirms that, in an ADA case, it is often not necessary to present expert medical testimony to prove a disability. Nevertheless, the panel affirms summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff – a police sergeant with a knee injury – failed to prove that his impairment substantially limited him in the major life activities of standing, walking, and bending.
Mancini v. City of Providence, RI, No. 18-1011 (1st Cir. Nov. 21, 2018): “On November 15, 2010, Mancini (then a sergeant) sustained a knee injury while in pursuit of a suspect. Mancini received medical treatment, including arthroscopic surgery. He was placed on injured on duty (IOD) status and remained out of work until May of 2011 … Thereafter, the City refused to allow Mancini to return to work on light duty.” He applied for disability benefits, but was denied because the majority of independent medical examiners found him capable of working.
The plaintiff, in the intervening time, sat for a promotional examination to lieutenant. Based on his test score, seniority and education level, Mancini was within range to obtain a promotion but was denied because his superior officer awarded him zero points for “service,” taking him out of the running. Contending that the superior’s decision was motivated by disability discrimination, Mancini sued under the ADA and state law. The district court granted summary judgment to the city.
The First Circuit affirms, although it rejects the district court’s analysis that the plaintiff failed to prove a “physical impairment,” an element of proving that he was disabled within the meaning of the ADA. The court below held this was so “because [Mancini] failed to supply any medical evidence of the claimed impairment.”
The panel notes that this is one area where the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), Pub. L. No. 110-325, 122 Stat. 3553, makes a difference. While the Supreme Court had previously held that an impairment must be “permanent or long term” in order to qualify as a disability (Toyota Motor Mfg., Ky., Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184, 198 (2002)), the ADAAA amended the ADA to protect even those with temporary impairments.
The panel holds that the district court erred in requiring medical evidence of the impairment. It allows that “[m]edical evidence is more likely to be necessary to show an impairment when a condition would be unfamiliar to a lay jury and only an expert could diagnose that condition.” Here the plaintiff described the condition as “chondromalacia,” which might appear to need more in the way of expert elaboration. Yet the record in “the vast majority” of instances refers simply to a knee injury, and a jury – even unaided by medical evidence – a lay jury could find … that Mancini had a physical impairment – a knee injury – within the meaning of the ADA.” The panel also holds that the plaintiff identified relevant major life activities, as enumerated in the ADAAA (i.e., standing, walking, and bending, all of which appear at 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A)).
Nevertheless, the panel affirms on the ground that there was no record evidence that the knee injury “substantially limited” one or more major life activities. The panel recognizes that since the ADAAA, whether an impairment meets the “substantially limits” requirement “calls for a comparison between the plaintiff’s limitations and those of the majority of people in the general population.” It also recognizes that a jury could find that a knee injury would “limit to some degree activities to which Mancini’s use of his leg was integral,” even absent medical evidence.
Yet the plaintiff presented no evidence of a substantial limitation. In his summary judgment motion, Mancini stated only that his “knee injury substantially limited his ability to stand, walk, [and] bend . . . such that he could not perform the essential functions of [his] position.” Holds the panel, “[i]t does not suffice merely to allege in a wholly conclusory fashion, without any further details or supporting documentation, that an impairment substantially limits one’s major life activities.”
While the plaintiff proffered that he was placed on IOD and light-duty status as some evidence on this point, the panel holds that it is not probative:
“The application for disability benefits was denied and, at any rate, says nothing about limitations (substantial or otherwise) on major life activities. By the same token, Mancini’s placement on IOD status tells us only that he sustained some sort of injury while on duty (roughly a year and a half before the allegedly discriminatory action occurred).”
The panel also holds that Mancini waived an ADA “regarded as” claim by not presenting it clearly in the district court, and was not entitled to post-judgment relief under Rule 59 where he only presented evidence that he could have offered on the original summary judgment motion.