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Kapche v. Holder

September 11, 2009

JEFFREY KAPCHE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Jeffrey Kapche is a Type 1 diabetic. In 2002, he applied for a special agent position with the FBI. He received a conditional offer in 2004, but it was later revoked because the FBI determined that he did not have sufficient control over his diabetes, and that he would be unable to take on certain responsibilities of the position. Kapche sued under the Rehabilitation Act. Earlier this year, a jury awarded him $100,000 in damages. Dkt. 101. The defendant now renews his motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. The motions will be denied.

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

Judgment as a matter of law should be granted only if "the evidence and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are so one-sided that reasonable men and women could not disagree on the verdict." Duncan v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 240 F.3d 1110, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

To find for Kapche, the jury had to conclude that he:

(1) was disabled; (2) was qualified to perform the essential functions of the position to which he applied; and (3) suffered an adverse employment action because of his disability. Desmond v. Mukasey, 530 F.3d 944, 952 (D.C. Cir. 2008). The defendant contends that there was not enough evidence to support the jury's determination that Kapche was disabled.

As I explained in my jury instructions: The term "disability" means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more [] major life activities. Type 1 diabetes is not a disability unless, in the individual case, it substantially limits one or more of a person's major life activities. Mr. Kapche contends that, in his individual case, his Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes substantially limits the manner in which he performs the major life activities of eating and caring for himself when compared to an average person in the general population.

In determining whether a limitation is substantial, you must take into account the effects of any mitigating or corrective measures, both positive and negative, on Mr. Kapche's performance of the major life activities of eating and caring for himself.*fn1

You may also consider these factors: The nature and severity of the restriction, the duration or expected duration of the restriction, and the permanent or long-term impact or expected long-term [] impact of or resulting from the restriction.

Tr. 1022:21-1023:14.

Kapche adduced evidence and argued that, while his diabetes was well-controlled, the measures he took to maintain that control imposed substantial limitations on the way he ate and cared for himself. The defendant submits that Kapche failed to make that showing because he did not prove that his diabetes control regimen differed from that of a typical Type 1 diabetic, and that, in Sutton v. United Air Lines, 527 U.S. 471 (1999), the Supreme Court found that the standard Type 1 diabetes treatment regimen did not impose substantial limitations on any major life activity. See Dkt. 112, at 4.

The defendant's reading of Sutton turns the opinion on its head. Under Sutton, to determine whether a plaintiff is disabled, the fact finder must conduct an "individualized inquiry" into whether the plaintiff's condition -- or the measures he takes to address that condition -- place substantial limitations on his performance of major life activities. Sutton, 527 U.S. at 483. In dicta, to illustrate why the fact finder should evaluate the plaintiff in his corrected state, the Court notes:

[C]courts would almost certainly find all diabetics to be disabled, because if they failed to monitor their blood sugar levels and administer insulin, they would almost certainly be substantially limited in one or more major like activities. A diabetic whose illness does not impair his or her daily activities would therefore be considered disabled simply because he or she has diabetes. Thus, [this] approach would create a system in which persons often must be treated as members of a group of people with similar impairments, rather than as individuals. This is contrary to both the letter and spirit of the ADA.

Id. at 483-84. Mysteriously, the defendant reads this passage as a holding that "the act of treating diabetes with insulin cannot, by itself, constitute a disability absent some evidence of difficulty or complications." Dkt. 112, at 4. But this paragraph is not a holding at all, much less a holding that certain types of treatments can never constitute a disability under federal law. The defendant's interpretation would treat diabetic plaintiffs "as ...


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