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Marx v. Richland County

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

July 20, 2018

ROBERT J. MARX, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHLAND COUNTY, WI, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Robert J. Marx is a disabled veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). His lawsuit was previously screened to go forward against Richland County under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Rehabilitation Act related to his failed attempt to obtain veterans benefits through Richland County's Veterans Service Office (“RCVSO”). (Dkt. #19.) Marx specifically claims that the RCVSO officer Karen Knock discriminated against him in violation of both Acts by refusing to provide him with benefits because he would not meet with her in person. Now before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. #20.) As the undisputed evidence of record does not support a finding that Marx has been denied benefits because of his PTSD, defendant's motion will be granted and judgment entered in its favor.[1]

         UNDISPUTED FACTS[2]

         I. Background

         The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) has concluded that Marx's PTSD has rendered him completely disabled. Marx suffers from numerous symptoms related to his PTSD that limit his ability to participate in society, including anxiety, trouble concentrating, paranoia, sweating, shaking, vomiting, suicidal thoughts, and angry, emotional outbursts. These symptoms are easily triggered by a variety of environmental factors, including loud noises, interacting with other people (who he testified to hating generally), and reading news articles.

         According to Marx's wife, Olena Marx, PTSD does not prohibit Marx from leaving his home completely, but his PTSD does prevent him from leaving when his symptoms are severe. (Olena Marx Aff. (dkt. #35) ¶¶ 9-10.) As a result, Marx and his family live a very isolated life. Marx testified that when he does leave the house he is accompanied by Olena.

         II. Marx's interactions with the RCVSO

         On February 6, 2015, Marx, Olena and their 19-month-old daughter attempted to appear for an in-person meeting with an RCVSO officer, but because of an anxiety attack Marx could not complete that meeting. Instead, Marx got very uncomfortable when he was asked to sit down because the chair faced away from the doorway. At that point, Marx and his family left without arranging for the RCVSO to provide him with benefits. As a result, it appears that no one at the RCVSO took any action to obtain benefits for Marx from February 6, 2015, until shortly after Karen Knock started as the Veterans Service Officer in May of 2015.

         On May 22, 2015, Knock called Marx to follow up regarding his benefits, leaving him a long telephone message, explaining that she was new to the office and wanted to help him with his benefits. At multiple points during her recorded message, Knock explained that she was “there for [him]” and that he was welcome to stop by the office at his convenience. Knock did not offer to visit his house, but Marx does not dispute that her statements were non-confrontational. Unfortunately, neither Robert nor Olena Marx returned Knock's phone call or responded in any other fashion.

         On July 15, Marx did send a lengthy email to a number of Richland County representatives and employees, complaining about a variety of issues unrelated to his attempt to obtain benefits from the RCVSO. Of relevance, Marx described his military service in that email, reporting that despite suffering from PTSD, he has been unable to receive veterans benefits. Marx also noted that the suicide rate among veterans was 20 per day. While Marx did not send a copy to Knock, or refer to her in his email, he ended it with a request that the recipients forward his letter to the Richland County Sheriff and RCVSO because he did not have contact information for those entities.

         The email was apparently forwarded to Knock that day, because she promptly responded with an email to Marx. In her July 15 email, she wrote:

I am available to you on a daily basis. However, I will be out of the office from 19 July, 2015 to 30July. I have reached out to you, left you my phone numbers, we have our own facebook page, we have our own page on the government web site, or you can google and find my contact information in about 65 places.
I do not judge you on anything that may have happened in the past in this office, however you not calling me back after 4 weeks gave me the message that you didn't want my help.
I say again, I am here to help and I want to help. You may want to recheck you[r] stats, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. I am here to make sure that doesn't happen on my watch.
I say again, walk ins are welcome or you can make an ...

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