Suit against county dismissed

Published 9:11 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A civil suit filed by a former Lunenburg County employee against county officials was dismissed recently according to court documents and County Attorney Frank Rennie.

During the Aug. 10 Lunenburg County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Rennie read passages of the 18-page court opinion, issued by U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson, citing the court had dismissed the charges brought from Robert L. Matthews.

The court opinion cited that the plaintiff, Matthews, had allegedly failed to state a claim and that the case was dismissed with prejudice.

“Based upon the foregoing (information), the Court will grant Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and will direct the Clerk to file the Plaintiff’s Complaint,” a copy of the court opinion cites.

“However, because Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to state a claim and is largely frivolous, the Court will dismiss it with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915 (e)(2)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2).”

The suit was filed against the county, County Administrator Tracy Gee and Administrative Assistant Nicole Clark and VACORP, the county’s provider of worker’s compensation coverage. VACORP was later removed from the suit.

The suit was filed in response to what Matthews said was wrongful termination of employment, injuries, impairments, pain and suffering and mental anguish allegedly connected with and following a reported dog attack in 2012.

Matthews filed suit against the defendants on Dec. 30 in Lunenburg Circuit Court for alleged wrongful termination, defamation of character and actions that led to prolonged “pain and suffering” after a “near fatal attack” by a dog.

According to the suit, Matthews was hired in June 2007 as a building and grounds technician for Lunenburg County. In 2010, he was named assistant animal control officer (ACO) in addition to continuing to work as building and grounds technician.

The suit alleged that on May 20, 2012 he responded as ACO to a call regarding a dog attack resulting in “severe facial injuries” to the victim. The suit says Matthews was attacked by the same dog upon responding to the call and was placed on Worker’s Compensation. Matthews claims in the suit that a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) and inadequate training led preceded the attack.

Matthews asserted in the suit he received a letter on Dec. 4, 2015 informing him he must return to work on Dec. 7 or it would have been considered he resigned. The suit alleges Matthews returned to work the same day and was informed that his Family and Medical Leave Act coverage had ended, there was no light duty work available and his position was terminated.

On Jan. 10, Matthews filed an addendum to his amended complaint, asserting the defendants delayed in complying with Matthews’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This, Matthews claims, caused “vital information and evidence in support of Plaintiff’s complaint (to be) delayed to Plaintiff, which caused Plaintiff’s Amendment Complaint to be incomplete.” Matthews submitted the addendum “with additional evidence of a prima facie (based on the first impression) case of discrimination and retaliation, breach of state statutes and non-compliance with Lunenburg County policies by Defendants.”

Rennie said during the meeting that Matthews filed the charges in circuit court in Lunenburg County, but because it addressed federal issues the complaint was moved to federal court.

In response to an amended complaint filed by Matthews, on behalf of Gee and Clark, Christopher Dadak, of Guynn & Waddell, requested demurrer, or an objection of Matthew’s complaint stating that the Family and Medical Leave Act Matthews had taken for surgery had not made him a qualified individual with a disability under the American Disability Act.

The demurrer also stated that alleged statements were not published publicly and would not fall under the definition of violations of defamation based from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Matthews’ request for compensation in the case, according to court records, was $100,000 for wrongful termination and $400,000 for pain, suffering, impairment and disabilities.