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Doerr v. Easter Seal of New Jersey

March 27, 2001


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



Before this Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment in the present matter. In a complaint filed on June 18, 1999, plaintiff Fred Doerr, appearing pro se, alleged that defendants National Easter Seal Society, Inc. ("National"), James E. Williams, Jr. ("Williams"), Easter Seal of New Jersey ("Easter Seal"), Tammy Norris ("Norris"), Alison Recca-Ryan ("Recca-Ryan") and William Waller ("Waller") engaged in discriminatory conduct in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., when they refused to accredit him as an official foster care program participant. Defendants National and Williams filed a motion to dismiss for plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative relief, which the Court granted. The remaining defendants now seek summary judgment on the ground that as a matter of law, Mr. Doerr did not enjoy an employment relationship nor would he have been an employee of the defendants had he been hired, and thus he does not have standing to sue under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For the reasons set forth below, this Court will grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment.


In March 1996, plaintiff sought to participate in the Easter Seal Therapeutic Foster Care Program as a host parent to disturbed children with a history of mental instability and drug or alcohol abuse. On March 1, 1996 he took part in an initial telephone intake interview. (Defs.' Br. Ex. B.) Then on March 6, 1996, he completed a foster parent application form and signed it. (Defs.' Br. Ex. C.) The application form included a statement that stipulated that the signing of the application did not constitute a contract for employment. (Id. at 9.) Rather, the application was a means to determine whether plaintiff was eligible for foster parent training sessions. Plaintiff was approved for the training sessions and on June 10, 1996, he was given a pre-foster parent assessment and began the training. (Defs.' Br. Ex. D and H.) Plaintiff attended ten training sessions altogether, culminating with a post-foster parent assessment on July 22, 1996. (Defs.' Br. Ex. E. and H.) Then on September 10, 1996, plaintiff's house was inspected to determine whether it met the required standards for foster child placement. Easter Seal decided it could not certify the home because of the limited access the plaintiff had to the upstairs bedrooms, which would consequently prevent plaintiff from exercising adequate supervision over the children. (Defs.' Br. Ex. F.) The inspection report concluded:

This home cannot be certified because of reasons listed on the letter attached. This foster father has a very appropriate and enthusiastic attitude toward providing care. Unfortunately, limitations due to the parent's DYFS certification, inability to provide hands on assistance and teaching and the home layout preclude certification. The layout of the home precludes [the] foster father from providing intensive supervision.... An area of concern is potential foster father [is] not able to physically monitor upstairs bedrooms and bath or basement.... Foster father has no physical access to the upstairs youth sleeping quarters, or the basement where heater and laundry area is located. Ricigliano Aff. Ex. 1 at ¶ 19, Ex. F.

In a letter dated October 21, 1996, Easter Seal explained to plaintiff that he was being rejected as a foster parent because the layout of his house did not meet the required standards. (Defs.' Br. Ex. G.)

In response to the rejection by Easter Seal, plaintiff filed a complaint on June 18, 1999, alleging that Easter Seal discriminated against him in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. (ADA) when it denied his participation in its Therapeutic Foster Care Program as a foster parent. Plaintiff claimed that defendants National, Williams, Easter Seal, Norris, Recca-Ryan and Waller conspired to deny his application for certification because he is disabled. He sought compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $2 million.

After the complaint was filed, defendants National and Williams filed a motion to dismiss the action against them because plaintiff had not first filed a complaint with the EEOC. On March 28, 2000, this Court granted National and Williams' motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

The remaining defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint asserting two arguments. The first asserted that plaintiff did not file his complaint within ninety days of his receipt of the right to sue notice from the EEOC as required by 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(f)(1). The second argument asserted that the complaint was deficient because in it plaintiff did not allege, and could not in good faith allege, that he enjoyed a prospective or actual employment relationship with the defendants. This Court denied the remaining defendants' motion to dismiss for plaintiff's failure to file his complaint in a timely manner. On the issue of whether plaintiff was a prospective or current employee the court did not reach the merits for lack of substantive evidence. It asked the parties to continue with discovery until such time as was appropriate to decide on the merits. Subsequently, defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment on August 1, 2001, submitting several documents attesting to their belief that plaintiff never was an actual or prospective employee.


A. Standard of Review in Summary Judgment

A district court may grant summary judgment when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986); Lang v. New York Life Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1983). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 47 ...

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