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Padmanabhan v. Hulka

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 3, 2018

Bharanidharan Padmanabhan, Plaintiff,
Carol Hulka, Rachel Nardin, James Paikos, George Zachos, Debra Stoller, Susan Giordano, Michael Henry, Robin Richman, Brent “Woody” Giessmann, George Abraham, Candace Lapidus Sloane, Robert Bouton, Katie Merrill, Steven Horowitz, Loretta Kish Cooke, Marianne Felice, Adele Audet, Joseph Gesmundo, Barry Levin, Robert Harvey, Gerard Dolan, Chris Cecchini, Nan Browne, Maura Tracy Healey, Lucian Leape and William Kassler, Defendants.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton, United States District Judge

         This case arises from the termination of the employment of Dr. Bharanidharan Padmanabhan (“plaintiff” or “Padmanabhan” or “Dr. Bharani”) and his subsequent sanctioning by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine (“BORIM” or “the Board”). It is not the first lawsuit brought by the doctor in connection with these events. In this case, plaintiff brings a plethora of claims against multiple defendants. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendants 1) violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), 2) conspired to violate RICO, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d), 3) violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1-7, 4) committed fraud, 5) tortiously interfered with contract, 6) committed trespass to chattels and 7) violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition, plaintiff seeks declaratory judgments and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.

         Before the Court are five motions to dismiss filed by various combinations of defendants and plaintiff's motion for entry of default. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motions to dismiss will be allowed and plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Bharanidharan Padmanabhan, MD, PhD, resides in Massachusetts and practiced medicine as a neurologist at the Cambridge Health Aliance (“CHA”) Whidden Hospital. In November, 2010, plaintiff's medical privileges were suspended. The Board revoked them following a January 2011 Fair Hearing at CHA. Plaintiff has unsuccessfully challenged that revocation in state and federal court.

         In October, 2014, Dr. Padmanabhan filed a complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court for Norfolk County. See Padmanabhan v. City of Cambridge et al., Norfolk CA. NO. 1482CV01410 (“Padmanabhan I”). That complaint asserted 12 counts against 73 defendants. The claims included various torts, fraud, violations of Massachusetts state law and violations of plaintiff's Constitutional rights. Padmanabhan accused BORIM of conspiring with CHA and asserted that BORIM's conduct constituted “corrupt collusion and racketeering”. In July, 2017, the Superior Court allowed defendants' motions to dismiss, holding that plaintiff's claims were time-barred. Plaintiff appealed that decision, which is currently pending in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

         In September, 2015, Padmanabhan filed a complaint in this Court against a handful of state officials, alleging that they violated federal law by improperly accessing the Prescription Monitoring Program computer database in order to obtain information about his patients and to accuse him falsely of Medicaid fraud. This session allowed defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Padmanabhan v. Healey, 159 F.Supp.3d 220, 226 (D. Mass. 2016), aff'd, No. 16-1159, 2017 WL 3404402 (1st Cir. Jan. 4, 2017), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 77 (“Padmanabhan II”).

         Plaintiff has also pursued litigation arising from BORIM disciplinary proceedings, which began in 2014. An evidentiary hearing took place before a Division of Administrative Law Appeals (“DALA”) magistrate in early 2015, and the magistrate issued a recommended decision in August, 2015. In January, 2016, BORIM remanded the case to the magistrate with orders to clarify and explain parts of his decision.

         In March, 2016, plaintiff filed a petition for certiorari in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) asserting that the BORIM proceedings violated his constitutional rights and requesting that the August, 2015, decision be deemed final pursuant to 801 C.M.R. § 1.01(1l)(c)(3). After that petition was denied by a single justice of the SJC, plaintiff appealed to the full SJC. While that appeal was pending, the DALA magistrate issued an amended recommended decision in August, 2016. That decision found that plaintiff had acted below the standard of care.

         On May 11, 2017, BORIM issued a decision that adopted, in large part, the magistrate's findings. On May 15, 2017, plaintiff filed an emergency motion in the SJC to stay the suspension of his license. The SJC denied that stay on May 18, 2017, and issued an opinion on the matter on June 27, 2017. See Padmanabhan v. Bd. of Registration in Med., 77 N.E.3d 312 (Mass. 2017) (“Padmanabhan III”). The court noted that it did not “condone the lengthy disciplinary process to which Padmanabhan has been subjected” and that it had “serious concerns” about the “repeated resettings of the 180-day clock pursuant to 801 C.M.R. § 1.01(11)(c)(2).” Id. at 314. Nonetheless, the Court noted, plaintiff's finality argument was unavailing. The Court concluded that plaintiff

now has the opportunity to pursue judicial review of the final decision [of BORIM] pursuant to M.G.L. c. 112, § 64.

Id. at 315. Plaintiff did not avail himself of that opportunity.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in this session on May 22, 2017, requesting injunctive relief against BORIM. Padmanabhan alleged that ten members or employees of BORIM violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by denying him his Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. He requested that BORIM's decision be stayed

while the en banc SJC opinion is pending [and until] Dr. Bharani can avail of remedies in Federal court for the egregious violations

committed by BORIM.

         In November, 2017, this session denied plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and allowed defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that plaintiff's suit was barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion. See Padmanabhan v. Paikos, 280 F.Supp.3d 248, 253 (D. Mass. 2017) (“Padmanabhan IV”).

         Plaintiff filed the complaint in this action in October, 2017, which was drawn to United States District Judge Saylor. In January, 2018, the case was reassigned to this session pursuant to Local Rule 40.1(g)(5). On February 2, 2018, plaintiff filed an emergency petition for a writ of mandamus in the First Circuit Court of Appeals (“First Circuit”), contesting that reassignment. On February 12, 2018, the First Circuit denied that petition, finding that plaintiff failed to demonstrate “a clear entitlement to the relief requested.” See In re Padmanabhan, No. 16-1159 (1st Cir. Feb. 12, 2018) (“Padmanabhan V”).

         The complaint in the present suit is 180 pages long and consists of approximately 650 paragraphs. Many of those paragraphs recount the same events detailed in plaintiff's previous complaints in other cases. He states ten claims for relief against 26 defendants. Most of the defendants have been sued in prior actions. Two, Maura Tracey Healey and James Paikos, are named defendants in plaintiff's previous cases. See Padmanabhan II; Padmanabhan IV. Pending before the Court are five motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. The Court will address them seriatim.

         II. Analysis

         Defendants have filed motions to dismiss for failure to state claims upon which relief can be granted. To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering the merits of a motion to dismiss, the Court may look only to the facts alleged in the pleadings, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint and matters of which judicial notice can be taken. Nollet v. Justices of Trial Court of Mass., 83 F.Supp.2d 204, 208 (D. Mass. 2000), aff'd, 248 F.3d 1127 (1st Cir. 2000). Furthermore, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Langadinos v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 69 (1st Cir. 2000). If the facts in the complaint are sufficient to state a cause of action, a motion to dismiss the complaint must be denied. See Nollet, 83 F.Supp.2d at 208.

         Although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that doctrine is not applicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Threadbare recitals of the legal elements which are supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice to state a cause of action. Id. Accordingly, a complaint does not state a claim for relief where the well-pled facts fail to warrant an inference of any more than the mere possibility of misconduct. Id. at 1950.

         Defendants contend that plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion. Padmanabhan denies that claim preclusion applies and asserts that the parties are not in privity, that the prior action did not produce a final judgment on the merits and that the state and federal cases have “no overlapping claims”.

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1738, judicial proceedings of the several states “shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States.” Cf. U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1 (mandating that “Full Faith and Credit be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings” of each other state). Under that full-faith-and-credit mandate, federal courts must “give preclusive effect to a state-court judgment if the state court itself would.” Newman v. Krintzman, 723 F.3d 308, 310 (1st Cir. 2013) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Epstein, 516 U.S. 367, 373 (1996)) (additional citations omitted). Under Massachusetts law, claim preclusion applies when three elements are satisfied:

the parties to the prior and present actions must either be identical or in privity; the causes of action must arise out of the same nucleus of operative fact; and the prior action must have produced a final judgment on the merits.

Goldstein v. Galvin, 719 F.3d 16, 23 (1st Cir. 2013) (citing Kobrin v. Board of Registration in Med., 832 N.E.2d 628 (Mass. 2005)); see also Airframe Sys., Inc. v. Raytheon Co., 601 F.3d 9, 14 (1st Cir. 2010) (describing federal claim preclusion standard in similar terms).

         1. Claim preclusion as to defendants Hulka, Nardin, Paikos, Sloane, Bouton, Cooke, Felice and Leape (“the Padmanabhan I defendants”)

         The Padmanabhan I defendants aver that plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Plaintiff responds that no case filed in any forum has asserted the subject claims and denies that a final decision was reached by a previous court.

         a. Privity of parties

         The Padmanabhan I defendants were all named in the Padmanabhan I complaint. Plaintiff does not deny that fact. The Padmanabhan I defendants are in privity with the defendants from the prior action.

         b. Nucleus of operative fact

         Plaintiff avers that the present action involves a different claim than any brought in a previous case. He emphasizes that these defendants have not faced claims of mail fraud or wire fraud and states that this case “is about the entire universe of unlawful acts these defendants have consciously engaged in” as part of a racketeering enterprise.

         Massachusetts courts require a common nucleus of operative facts because claim preclusion applies even where the claimant “is prepared in a second action to present different evidence or legal theories to support his claim.” Hudson v. MacEachern, 94 F.Supp.3d 59, 66 (D. Mass. 2015) (quoting Heacock v. Heacock, 520 N.E.2d 151, 152-53 (Mass. 1988)). “The statement of a different form of liability is not a different cause of action” if it grows out of the same transaction. Fassas v. First Bank & Trust Co., 353 Mass. 628, 629 (Mass. 1968); Andrew Robinson Int'l, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 48, 52 (1st Cir. 2008) (“Discrete theories of liability may constitute identical causes of action for claim preclusion purposes if they are based on the same nucleus of operative facts.”).

         This case and Padmanabhan I “grow out of the same transaction” and “seek redress for the same wrong.” See Andrew Robinson, 547 F.3d at 52 (quoting Brunson v. Wall, 405 Mass. 446, 451 n. 9 (Mass. 1989)). Plaintiff's contention that this case represents a different nucleus of facts because these defendants have not been confronted by claims of mail or wire fraud misconstrues the doctrine. See Isaac v. Schwartz, 706 F.2d 15, 17 (1st Cir. 1983) (“The issue is not whether the plaintiff in fact argued his claims in the state proceeding, but whether he could have.”) (quoting Lovely v. Laliberte, 498 F.2d 1261, 1263 (1st Cir. 1974) (internal quotation marks omitted). In both cases, plaintiff's claims arise out of the alleged use of a fraudulent report, fraudulent misrepresentations and collusion between BORIM and CHA.

         The causes of action in the two cases arise out of the same nucleus of operative facts.

         c. Final judgment on the merits

         Plaintiff maintains that this Court erred in its decision in Padmanabhan IV, in which this Court held that plaintiff was precluded from challenging the BORIM proceedings because he failed to comply with the Massachusetts administrative appeal procedures. He insists, again, that BORIM's February, 2016, decision and not its May, 2017, decision was the actual “final decision”.

         First, plaintiff is precluded from relitigating that issue, which was already addressed and decided in Padmanabhan IV. See Grella v. Salem Five Cent Sav. Bank, 42 F.3d 26, 30 (1st Cir. 1994) (“The principle of collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, bars relitigation of any ...

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