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McNeill v. Steward Health Care, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 31, 2019

BARBARA MCNEILL, Plaintiff,
v.
STEWARD HEALTH CARE, LLC, JOSEPH AMBASH, MASSACHUSETTS NURSES ASSOCIATION, JAMES LAMOND, RICHARD BOULANGER, and HOLY FAMILY HOSPITAL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se Plaintiff Barbara McNeill brings this action against Defendants Steward Health Care, LLC, Holy Family Hospital, Massachusetts Nurses Association (“MNA”), Joseph Ambash (“Ambash”), James Lamond (“Lamond”), and Richard Boulanger (“Boulanger”) (collectively, “Defendants”) following her termination and related arbitration proceedings. [ECF No. 1-1 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”)]. Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [ECF Nos. 12, 17]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions to dismiss [ECF Nos. 12, 17] are GRANTED without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from the Complaint, the well-pleaded allegations of which are taken as true for the purposes of evaluating the motion to dismiss. See Ruivo v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 766 F.3d 87, 90 (1st Cir. 2014). As here, where the Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court “hold[s] pro se pleadings to less demanding standards than those drafted by lawyers and endeavors, within reasonable limits, to guard against the loss of pro se claims due to technical defects.” Santiago v. Action for Bos. Cmty. Dev., Inc., No. 17-cv-12249, 2018 WL 5635014, at *2 (D. Mass. Oct. 31, 2018) (quoting Dutil v. Murphy, 550 F.3d 154, 158 (1st Cir. 2008)). Accordingly, the Court liberally construes the Complaint. Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 772 F.3d 63, 75-76 (1st Cir. 2014) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).

         Plaintiff is a registered nurse and former employee of Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, Massachusetts. [Compl. at 3, 6]. Plaintiff's employment with Holy Family Hospital was terminated on October 13, 2016, and she was thereafter involved in an arbitration proceeding related to the termination.[1] [Id. at 3-4]. Boulanger was the arbitrator. [Id. at 6]. Ambash is the attorney who represented Defendant Steward Health Care, LLC at the arbitration. [Id.]. Lamond is the attorney who represented MNA at the arbitration.[2] [Id.]. The arbitration lasted six days between August 2017 and February 2018, and the arbitrator issued a decision on October 16, 2018. [ECF No. 14 at 165-66 (exhibits to state court complaint)]. Plaintiff alleges that the arbitration proceedings were fraudulent because: contradictory testimony was presented; film evidence was tampered with; Plaintiff's supervisor and a security guard were not allowed to testify; “inappropriate privileges” were invoked that resulted in another defendant to the arbitration being allowed to not attend most of the proceedings; retaliation letters from 2011 were read; and, the arbitrator was negligent. [Compl. at 4, 7]. Plaintiff requests that this Court review the arbitration evidence. [Id. at 7].

         Plaintiff also alleges that all Defendants are guilty of defamation and employment discrimination, that she was not terminated for a just cause, and that she was subjected to a hostile work environment during her tenure at the hospital. [Id. at 4, 7]. The Complaint claims damages of approximately $400, 000 in lost wages and other compensation. [Id. at 10].

         On March 12, 2019, Plaintiff filed this action in Essex County Superior Court (“Superior Court”). [Id. at 8]. On April 11, 2019, MNA and Lamond removed the action to this Court, and the remaining defendants consented to removal. [ECF Nos. 1, 4]. On April 24, 2019, Defendants Boulanger, Lamond, and MNA moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that the Complaint fails to comply with pleading requirements, that certain Defendants are immune from suit, that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred or preempted, and that the allegations otherwise fail to state a claim. [ECF No. 12; ECF No. 12-1 at 1-2]. On May 8, 2019, Plaintiff opposed the motion to dismiss. [ECF Nos. 15, 16]. On May 9, 2019, Defendants Steward Health Care, LLC, Holy Family Hospital, and Ambash moved to dismiss the Complaint and adopted the arguments made by Boulanger, Lamond, and MNA. [ECF No. 17]. Plaintiff opposed this motion as well on May 22, 2019. [ECF Nos. 18, 19].

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To evaluate a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, analyze those facts in the light most hospitable to the plaintiff's theory, and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff. U.S. ex rel. Hutcheson v. Blackstone Med., Inc., 647 F.3d 377, 383 (1st Cir. 2011). To avoid dismissal, a complaint must set forth “factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.” Gagliardi v. Sullivan, 513 F.3d 301, 305 (1st Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and citation omitted). The plaintiff's obligation to articulate the basis of her claims “requires more than labels and conclusions.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The facts alleged, when taken together, must be sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted).

         A complaint does not need to provide an exhaustive factual account, only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Further, “[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). “The purpose of a clear and distinct pleading is to give defendants fair notice of the claims and their basis as well as to provide an opportunity for a cogent answer and defense.” See Belanger v. BNY Mellon Asset Mgmt., No. 15-cv-10198, 2015 WL 3407827, at *1 (D. Mass. May 27, 2015). In addition, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b), which provides for a heightened pleading standard in fraud cases, requires that a party alleging fraud “must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). “This standard means that a complaint must specify the time, place, and content of an alleged false representation.” U.S. ex rel. Gagne v. City of Worcester, 565 F.3d 40, 45 (1st Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Pro se plaintiffs are obliged to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including the requirements of Rule 8 and 9. See Kruskall v. Sallie Mae Serv., Inc., No. 15-cv-11780, 2016 WL 1056973, at *1, *5-6 (D. Mass. Mar. 14, 2016) (dismissing pro se claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation for failing to comply with Rule 9); Koplow v. Watson, 751 F.Supp.2d 317, 320-21 (D. Mass. 2010) (dismissing pro se complaint for failing to comply with Rule 8).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Here, the Complaint consists of a form complaint to which the Plaintiff has attached a typed narrative in the form of a letter (together “the Complaint”). See [Compl. at 3-4, 6-7]. Even liberally construing the Complaint, the Court cannot find that Plaintiff has met the pleading requirements of Rules 8 or 9. Taken together, the facts included on the form and the attached narrative portion do not contain “simple, concise and direct” allegations, sufficient to allow the defendants to understand and respond to the charges levied against them. See [Compl. at 3-4, 7]. Both the form complaint and the attached narrative are meandering, and at times incoherent, discussions of Plaintiff's concerns and views about her termination and the related arbitration. See [id.]. Further, the fraud allegations, which are subject to a heightened pleading standard, do not “specify the time, place, and content” of the alleged fraud. See Gagne, 565 F.3d at 45 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         The “Facts” section on the form states that Plaintiff was wrongfully terminated, that she is bringing claims for employment discrimination and defamation, and that she believes that her arbitration was fraudulent. [Compl. at 3-4]. It then lists instances of alleged “fraud” at the arbitration without discussion of who engaged in the frauds and without specific details as to what was fraudulent about the conduct. [Id. at 4]. For example, one of the stated instances of fraud is the “reading of 2011 retaliation letters.” [Id.]. It is not clear from the form or the attached narrative who read the letters, what the letters are, or how a person reading the letters rendered the arbitration proceedings fraudulent. See [id.]. Beyond the lack of detail related to alleged fraud, the “Facts” section also does not describe the circumstances of the allegedly wrongful termination, identify the alleged defamatory statement(s), or explain how Plaintiff was discriminated against. See [id. at 3-4].

         The attached narrative letter is a longer form version of similar grievances with somewhat more detail, but even taken together with the information on the form is not enough to meet the pleading requirements of the Federal Rules or to fill in the gaps described above. See [id. at 6-7]. The narrative references a “hostile work environment” over several years but does not detail what made the work environment hostile during that time period. See [id. at 7]. It makes oblique references to Plaintiff's age, but is unclear as to whether Plaintiff is alleging age or another type of discrimination. See [id.]. Plaintiff states in the narrative that evidence from the arbitration ...


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