Amputee Gets Job Back, But No Damages

Posted on November 1, 2002
CASE TODD A. PORTER v. ARTHUR A. ELLIS VENUE U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Filed July 10, 2002 SUMMARY A school bus driver whose left leg was amputated below the knee was laid off after the Michigan Department of Education refused to grant him an endorsement to drive a school bus. He filed a civil rights lawsuit against the superintendent of public instruction for the Department of Education, seeking an injunction and monetary damages. The trial court dismissed his action against the superintendent. The driver appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. BACKGROUND Todd Porter, a resident of Kalamazoo, Mich., had his left leg amputated below the knee in 1990 after he was injured in an automobile accident. He uses a prosthetic leg to compensate for his injury. From September 1997 to September 1998, Porter worked as a school bus driver for Kalamazoo Public Schools. From September 1998 to September 1999, he drove a bus for Laidlaw Transit Inc. in Kalamazoo. On March 21, 2000, Laidlaw laid Porter off after the Michigan Department of Education refused to grant him an endorsement to drive a school bus, apparently because of his disability. On Aug. 7, 2000, Porter filed a civil rights lawsuit against Arthur Ellis, superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education. In his complaint, Porter did not allege that Ellis was personally involved in the Department of Education’s decision not to grant him an endorsement. Instead, Porter asked that Ellis write a letter ordering Laidlaw to rehire him. He also sought to collect monetary damages from Ellis. DECISION During the appeal process, a Michigan state court compelled the Michigan Department of Education to inform Laidlaw that Porter was eligible to return to work. Thus, the only issue before the appeals court was Porter’s claim for monetary damages. The court cited a 1982 case that found that liability of supervisory personnel may not stem from their position of authority. To state a supportable claim, the plaintiff must allege that the supervisory official “implicitly authorized, approved or knowingly acquiesced” in the unconstitutional or statutorily violative conduct that is the subject of his claim.” Porter made no such allegations in his claim. Nor did he make any significant connection between Ellis and the adverse action taken by the Michigan Department of Education. Although Porter submitted two letters in Ellis’ name, neither letter actually denied Porter the endorsement he sought. Moreover, it was later shown that Ellis was not the author of either of the letters. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed.
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