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Hundley v. Autism Services Center, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

October 12, 2017




         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 4. Defendant moves to dismiss Counts II and III of Plaintiff's complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Def.'s Partial Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 4. In Count II, Plaintiff claims that Defendant tortuously interfered with her employment and prospective business advantage; and in Count III, Plaintiff claims that Defendant fired Plaintiff in violation of West Virginia public policy, constituting a retaliatory discharge. Compl., ECF No. 1-1, at ¶ 56-76. The parties have fully briefed the issues and the motion is now ripe for adjudication. As explained below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Whitley Hundley, by counsel, filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Cabell County, West Virginia, on July 20, 2017, alleging several claims against Defendant, Autism Services Center, Inc. See generally Compl. Plaintiff's complaint had three claims: (1) interference with rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act; (2) tortious interference with employment and prospective business advantage; and (3) retaliatory discharge. Compl., at ¶ 41-76. On August 14, 2017, Defendant removed the case to this Court. Def.'s Notice of Removal, ECF 1, at 1.

         Defendant operates a series of residences in the Huntington area that care for individuals with autism. Mem. in Supp. of Def s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 6, at 1. Plaintiff had been an employee at one of the residences operated by Defendant. Compl., at ¶ 4-6. She started working for Defendant on October 19, 2014. Id. at ¶ 4. After becoming pregnant, Plaintiff voluntarily left her employment with Defendant on or around January 18, 2015. Id. at ¶ 8-9; Answer, ECF No. 5, at ¶ 10. Plaintiff left her employment with Defendant on what appeared to be friendly terms. Compl., at ¶ 9. After an eight-month hiatus, Plaintiff resumed her employment with Defendant on or about October 27, 2015. Id. at ¶ 10-11; Answer, at ¶ 10.

         During her second period of employment with Defendant, Plaintiff discovered that her daughter had multiple serious health conditions. Compl., at ¶ 12. Plaintiff notified Defendant of her daughter's illnesses, and would periodically request time off to tend to her sick daughter. Id. at ¶ 15-16.

         Roughly a year into her second period of employment, in the late summer or early fall of 2016, Plaintiff obtained a second job working for Autism Management in Cabell County, West Virginia. Id. at ¶ 18. Autism Management is a competitor of Defendant. Pl.'s Resp., ECF No. 8, at 1. On or about October 5, 2016, after Plaintiff had notified Defendant of her second job, Plaintiffs supervisor, an employee of Defendant, allegedly told Plaintiff that “he did not care if she had another job, [but said] that she was ‘unloyal, ' and that she ‘needed to figure it out.'” Compl. at ¶ 21. Plaintiff believed these comments constituted a threat that if she maintained her second job, she would be fired. Id. at ¶ 22.

         On November 26, 2016, Plaintiff, although not scheduled to work, was called to one of the Defendant's residences by her co-workers. Id. at ¶ 23. They needed Plaintiff's assistance in caring for one of Defendant's clients who was upset. Id. at ¶ 23-25. This particular client supposedly cooperated better with Plaintiff than he or she did with others. Id. Eventually, Plaintiff calmed down the client. Id. at ¶ 27. However, during the situation, Plaintiff, apparently, was forced to raise her voice to speak over the loud yelling of the client. Id. at ¶ 34-35.

         While at work during her next scheduled shift on November 28, 2016, Plaintiff's supervisor called Plaintiff into her office and alleged that Plaintiff had verbally abused the agitated client two days prior. Id. at ¶ 28-29. The next day, Defendant terminated Plaintiff based upon the allegation of “inappropriate interaction with her client and/or verbal abuse.” Id. at ¶ 30 (internal quotations omitted). Defendant filed a report with Adult Protective Services (“APS”), against Plaintiff, in which Defendant claimed that Plaintiff had used curse words and yelled at the agitated client. Id. at ¶ 32; Answer, at ¶ 35. As a result of Defendant's allegations regarding the incident for which she was fired, Plaintiff claims that she “struggled to find suitable gainful employment following her termination.” Compl., at ¶ 36.

         At some point after her termination, Plaintiff's Certified Nursing Assistant (“CNA”) license became due for renewal. Id. at ¶ 37. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant was obligated to “provide timely and accurate documentation to the Office of Health Facility Licensure & Certification, ” but that Defendant failed meet this obligation. Id. at ¶ 37-38. Further, Plaintiff alleges that as a result, her CNA license was suspended on or about February 28, 2017, pending investigation. Id. After an apparently brief investigation, Plaintiff's license was reinstated on March 8, 2017. Id. at ¶ 39. Plaintiff claims that Defendant's conduct caused her to suffer “lost wages and other benefits of employment, emotional distress, and damage to her reputation. Id. at ¶ 40.

         On August 21, 2017, Defendant filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) with an accompanying Memorandum in Support of the Motion (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff responded on September 5, 2017 (ECF No. 7); and Defendant replied on September 12, 2017 (ECF No. 8).


         Federal Rule 8(a) requires a complaint to include “a short and plain statement of the claim … showing entitle[ment] to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To overcome a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must also be plausible. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 546 (2007). This standard requires a plaintiff to set forth the “grounds” for an “entitle[ment] to relief” that is more than mere “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555 (internal quotations and citations omitted). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Facial plausibility exists when a claim contains “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted).

         Accepting the factual allegations in the complaint as true (even when doubtful), the allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ….” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). If the allegations in the complaint, assuming their truth, do “not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, this basic deficiency should … be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.” Id. at 558 (internal quotations and citations omitted). “Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal quotations and citation omitted). Finally, a court must also “draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences from those facts [alleged] in the plaintiff's favor . . . .” Martin v. Duffy, 858 F.3d 239, 248 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted)).


         As Defendant has moved to dismiss two of Plaintiff's claims, the Court will address each in turn.

         A. Count II: ...

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