The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge
In this civil action, plaintiff Linda M. Hoffman sues
defendants Verizon New Jersey Inc. ("Verizon") and Verizon
Services Corp. under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
("FMLA"), the New Jersey Family Leave Act ("NJFLA"), and the New
Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"). The complaint
alleges that Verizon violated the aforementioned statutes by
refusing to treat two of Hoffman's absences from work as "medical
leave," disciplining Hoffman for the absences, and retaliating
against her when she hired an attorney. This matter comes before
the Court upon (1) Verizon's motion to dismiss Hoffman's
substantive claims on grounds of (a) mootness and (b) failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and (2) Hoffman's cross-motion for attorney's fees. For the reasons expressed
below, Verizon's motion to dismiss will be granted and Hoffman's
cross-motion for attorney's fees will be denied.
At all times relevant to this case, Hoffman was employed by
Verizon New Jersey, Inc. as a facilities technician. She was
absent from work on two relevant occasions. During her first
absence November 7-12, 2003 Hoffman had the flu. During
her second absence March 25-26, 2004 she was caring for
her sick daughter.
Regarding the November 2003 absence, Hoffman originally
submitted an FMLA certification form that referred to her first
day of absence as being October 29, 2003. (Hoffman had also been
absent from work from October 29, 2003 to November 1, 2003, again
with the flu, and was accorded FMLA leave for that period.)
Verizon initially denied this request for medical leave because
it was unclear that Hoffman's certification form also related to
the November 7-12 absence.
Regarding the March 2004 absence, Hoffman originally submitted
an FMLA certification form in which her daughter's physician
stated that the daughter had been incapacitated for two days.
However, FMLA regulations provided that Hoffman was not eligible
for medical leave unless her daughter's incapacity had lasted three consecutive days or more. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.114.
After its Physician Advisor called the daughter's doctor on April
20, 2004 "to confirm the contents of the form," and after the
doctor confirmed that the incapacity had lasted two days, Verizon
denied Hoffman's request for medical leave as to the March 2004
Because Hoffman's November 2003 and March 2004 absences were
not originally approved as FMLA leave, those absences were
treated by Verizon as "chargeable" under Verizon's attendance
policy and guidelines. Those guidelines provided for five
disciplinary "steps" upon which an employee could be placed,
depending on that employee's number of chargeable absences. With
two chargeable absences, Hoffman was placed on Step 2 and
suspended from May 24, 2004 until June 4, 2004.
On May 11, 2004, Hoffman's attorney wrote to Verizon's Absence
Reporting Center ("ARC"), requesting reconsideration of the
denials of medical leave. Lynne A. Sousa, a member of Verizon's
Legal Department, received the letter on May 20, 2004. On June
30, 2004, Sousa informed Hoffman's attorney that the information
submitted by Hoffman regarding her November 2003 absence had been
overlooked, that Verizon's decision regarding that absence would
be reversed, and that the absence would be treated as FMLA leave.
Consequently, Hoffman was moved to Step 1 and, on July 30, 2004,
paid for the time she was suspended. Hoffman did not communicate further with Verizon following her
May 11, 2004 letter. Rather, she filed her Complaint, along with
a proposed Order to Show Cause, in the Superior Court of New
Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County on July 7, 2004. In a
cover letter accompanying the proposed order, Hoffman's attorney
acknowledged that Sousa's June 30, 2004 letter "apparently moots
certain factual issues raised in this litigation."
Verizon removed the action to this Court on July 26, 2004.
On July 28, 2004, Verizon sent Hoffman an FMLA certification
package "to permit her a second opportunity to provide a
correctly completed certification form" as to her March 2004
absence. Hoffman submitted to Verizon a second FMLA certification
form, dated August 13, 2004, in which her daughter's doctor
clarified that the daughter's March 2004 incapacity had lasted
for eight days, not two. On September 10, 2004, the ARC informed
Hoffman that her request for FMLA leave for her March 2004
absence had been approved. Consequently, Hoffman was removed from
Step 1, and all remaining disciplinary action against her,
i.e., a disciplinary letter in lieu of a five-day suspension,
reversed. II. ANALYSIS
"Article III's `case or controversy' requirement prevents
federal courts from deciding cases that are moot."*fn1
Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 698 (3d Cir.
1996). "If developments occur during the course of adjudication
that eliminate a plaintiff's personal stake in the outcome of a
suit or prevent a court from being able to grant the requested
relief, the case must be dismissed as moot." Blanciak,
77 F.3d at 698-99.
Having presented evidence that it has already reversed all
disciplinary action taken against Hoffman, Verizon argues that
this action should be dismissed as moot. Hoffman, whose brief
does not oppose Verizon's motion to dismiss, presents no evidence
to the contrary; rather, Hoffman acknowledges that a
determination with respect to attorney fees "will resolve this
litigation in entirety." Because Hoffman thus admits that her
"personal stake" in the outcome of this suit has been eliminated as to her claims for declaratory judgment, equitable relief, and
compensatory and punitive damages, those ...