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Williams v. MMO Behavioral Health Systems, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 9, 2018

JANICE WILLIAMS
v.
MMO BEHAVIORAL HEALTH SYSTEMS, LLC, ET AL.

         SECTION: “J” (4)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 23) filed by Defendant MMO Behavioral Health Systems, LLC (“MMO”) and a Motion to Dismiss (Rec. Doc. 36) filed by Defendant Greenbrier Hospital, LLC (“Greenbrier”). Plaintiff, Janice Williams (“Plaintiff”), opposes both motions (Rec. Docs. 24, 44). Greenbrier filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 48) to Plaintiff's opposition to its motion to dismiss. Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion for Summary Judgment should be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and the Motion to Dismiss should be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This litigation derives from alleged discriminatory employment practices by Plaintiff's former employer, Greenbrier, and Greenbrier's former parent company, MMO. On July 29, 2015, Plaintiff was terminated from her position as a cook at Greenbrier after she allegedly falsified time and received compensation for time that she had not worked.

         Following her termination, Plaintiff filed a claim against Greenbrier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission for unemployment insurance benefits. MMO's HR Director, Unnati Umarvadia, represented Greenbrier throughout those proceedings. Months later and after the proceedings before the Louisiana Workforce Commission had concluded, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the EEOC against MMO, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her race, age, and disability. Plaintiff neither named nor referred to Greenbrier in her EEOC complaint.

         On June 24, 2016, after receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC, Plaintiff filed a complaint against MMO in this Court, asserting causes of action under the Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law, La. R.S. 23:301, et seq. (“LEDL”). After obtaining leave of court, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on February 6, 2017, naming Greenbrier as a defendant. As amended, Plaintiff's complaint states federal and state law causes of action for discrimination under the FMLA, ADA, ADEA, and LEDL against MMO and Greenbrier. In addition, Plaintiff alleges a state law defamation claim against both defendants for allegedly defamatory statements made to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. On August 17, 2017, over six months after filing her amended complaint, Plaintiff requested issuance of summons upon Greenbrier. On August 24, 2017, Plaintiff served Greenbrier with a summons and its amended complaint. (Rec. Doc. 30).

         On July 14, 2017, MMO filed a motion for summary judgment, which Plaintiff opposed. On September 6, 2017, the Court denied the motion without prejudice to be re-urged at a later date. MMO re-urged its motion for summary judgment on October 13, 2017, and this Court granted the motion to re-urge. On September 30, 2017, Greenbrier filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against it. Plaintiff filed an opposition, and Greenbrier filed a reply.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         I. MMO's Motion for Summary Judgment

         The movant argues that Plaintiff has no right of action against MMO because Plaintiff was employed by Greenbrier at the time she was discharged from employment, Plaintiff has never been an employee of MMO, and MMO is a distinct legal entity from Greenbrier. (Rec. Doc. 23, at 2). For these and additional reasons, MMO argues that Plaintiff's FMLA, ADA, ADEA, LADEA, and defamation claims against MMO must fail. Specifically, MMO argues that summary judgment is proper as to Plaintiff's FMLA claim because MMO does not qualify as an “employer” within the meaning of the FMLA because it does not employ fifty or more employees. (Rec. Doc. 23-2, at 2). Likewise, MMO argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's ADA claim because Plaintiff fails to state in her complaint why she was in the protected group or how she was disabled (Rec. Doc. 23-2, at 3) and on Plaintiff's ADEA claim because the amended complaint fails to assert Plaintiff's age. (Rec. Doc. 23-2, at 3-4). MMO argues that summary judgment is also proper as to Plaintiff's claim under the LADEA because Plaintiff fails to provide the specific basis for discrimination, noting only that she was discriminated against on account of her disability, which is not a basis under the statute. (Rec. Doc. 23-2, at 4-5). Finally, MMO asserts that Plaintiff has no right of action for defamation against MMO because the alleged defamatory statements made to the Louisiana Workforce Commission regarding Plaintiff were made by Greenbrier only. (Rec. Doc. 23-2, at 5). Based on the foregoing, MMO seeks summary judgment and dismissal from this lawsuit. (Rec. Doc. 23-2, at 6).

         In opposition, Plaintiff argues that summary judgment should not be granted in MMO's favor for two reasons. (Rec. Doc. 24, at 2). First, Plaintiff argues that MMO failed to produce evidence to supports its contention that MMO is not a covered FMLA employer because it does not employ fifty or more employees, noting that “[t]he only support for this premise is a denial contained in paragraph 4 of MMO's answer.” (Rec. Doc. 24, at 2). Second, Plaintiff argues that although “it appears that MMO and Greenbrier are distinct legal entities, ” MMO and Greenbrier operate as a single, integrated enterprise. (Rec. Doc. 24, at 2). In support of this argument, Plaintiff references the following documents in the record:

• The document Unnati Umarvadia sent to the Louisiana Workforce Commission (“LWC”) on August 17, 2015, which contains the heading “MMO Behavioral Health Systems” listing the address 201 Greenbrier Boulevard and identifying Ms. Umarvadia as MMO's HR Director. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 3 and 24-1, at 1).
• The Notice of Claim Filed, which is addressed to Greenbrier Hospital located at 201 Greenbrier Boulevard. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 3 and 24-1, at 2).
• The Notice to Base Period Employers, which Plaintiff states appears to be in the handwriting of Ms. Umarvadia. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 4 and 24-1, at 3).
• The LWC request for information concerning Plaintiff's termination, which is addressed to Greenbrier Hospital and “*Greenbrier Holding Company LL.” (Rec. Docs. 24, at 4 and 24-1, at 4).
• The Separation of Employment Notice, which contains an MMO heading and indicates the program as “MMO Greenbrier Hospital.” (Rec. Docs. 24, at 4 and 24-1, at 5).
• The Time and Attendance Detail Report by Employee for “ALL COMPANIES, ” which Plaintiff assumes is an MMO form. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 4 and 24-1, at 6).
• The MMO fax cover sheet that Ms. Umarvadia sent to LWC on August 25, 2015. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 4 and 24-2, at 1).
• The MMO fax cover sheet that Ms. Umarvadia sent to LWC on August 31, 2015. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 5 and 24-3, at 1).
• A Notice of Claim Determination addressed to Greenbrier Hospital and “*Greenbrier Holding Company LL” containing a checked “I APPEAL” box and signed by Ms. Umarvadia. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 5 and 24-3, at 2).
• The MMO fax cover sheet that Ms. Umarvadia sent to LWC on September 14, 2015. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 5 and 24-4, at 1).
• An email dated September 14, 2015 from Ms. Umarvadia to the LWC appeal clerk confirming that Ms. Umarvadia will appear at the hearing on behalf of the Employer. Ms. Umarvadia's e-mail signature describes her position as HR Director and references both MMO and Greenbrier. (Rec. Docs. 24, at 5 and 24-5, at 1).
• The Decision of the Administrative Law Judge, which describes Plaintiff's employer as “Greenbrier Hospital” and also references “Greenbrier Holding Co., LL.” (Rec. Docs. 24, at 6 and 24-7, at 1).

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff argues that summary judgment should not be granted because there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether MMO and Greenbrier are “sufficiently connected through interrelation of operations, centralized control of labor relations, common management, and common ownership or financial control such that there is essentially no distinction between them for purposes of this lawsuit.” (Rec. Doc. 24, at 6). Plaintiff asserts that the Declaration of MMO's Chief Executive Officer, Robert Miller, that MMO and Greenbrier are distinct legal entities “does not address the issue of whether MMO and Greenbrier operated as a single, integrated enterprise for purposes of the statutes under which these claims arise.” (Rec. Doc. 24, at 7).

         II. Greenbrier's Motion to Dismiss

         The movant argues that the Court should dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) for insufficient service of process and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Rec. Doc. 36, at 1). First, Greenbrier contends that Plaintiff's amended complaint against Greenbrier must be dismissed for insufficient service of process pursuant to Rule 12(b)(5) because Plaintiff failed to serve Greenbrier within the 90-day timeframe required under Rule 4(m). (Rec. Doc. 36, at 1). Greenbrier emphasizes that despite continuing litigation against MMO after amending her complaint, Plaintiff failed to request issuance of summons upon Greenbrier until 200 days after the amendment. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 5-6). Accordingly, Greenbrier concludes that Plaintiff's claims against Greenbrier should be dismissed for insufficient service of process. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 6).

         Greenbrier also moves to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 6). Greenbrier argues that Plaintiff fails to meet the minimum pleading standard for three reasons. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 7). First, Greenbrier asserts that Plaintiff failed to administratively exhaust her discrimination claims against it by failing to name Greenbrier in her EEOC Charge of Discrimination. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 7-8).[1] Second, Greenbrier contends that Plaintiff's ADA, ADEA, LEDL, and defamation claims against it are time-barred. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 8-11). Greenbrier argues that Plaintiff's untimeliness cannot be cured because the amended complaint does not relate back to the date she filed her original complaint. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 11-16). Finally, Greenbrier argues that Plaintiff's conclusory factual allegations are insufficient to state a claim against Greenbrier. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 16-18). Greenbrier emphasizes that Plaintiff's amended complaint asserts no facts from which the Court could plausibly infer that Greenbrier violated the FMLA or took any employment actions based on Plaintiff's age[2] or alleged disability.[3] (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 17-18). Based on the foregoing, Greenbrier concludes that all claims asserted against Greenbrier in the amended complaint must be dismissed as a matter of law. (Rec. Doc. 36-1, at 18).

         Plaintiff raises two arguments in opposition to Greenbrier's motion to dismiss. (Rec. Doc. 44). First, Plaintiff argues that its failure to serve Greenbrier with the amended complaint timely is not fatal to its claims against Greenbrier because this Court failed to notify Plaintiff of her noncompliance with Rule 4(m) “as required” by Local Rule 16.2.[4] (Rec. Doc. 44, at 1-2). Plaintiff also contends that she “reasonably expected MMO to join Greenbrier as a third party defendant pursuant to FRCP 19.” (Rec. Doc. 44, at 3). Without explanation, Plaintiff concludes that she “acted to cure the deficiency promptly.” (Rec. Doc. 44, at 3).

         Next, Plaintiff contests Greenbrier's assertion that it is entitled to dismissal of all claims against it due to Plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies, failure to timely file, and failure to raise more than conclusory allegations. (Rec. Doc. 44, at 4-7). Regarding the failure to name Greenbrier in the EEOC Charge, Plaintiff asserts that she had no information available to her at the time of filing to indicate that MMO and Greenbrier were separate entities. (Rec. Doc. 44, at 5). Without citing any authority, Plaintiff concludes that her failure to include Greenbrier “cannot be laid at the feet of the plaintiff” because MMO was named in the EEOC Charge, MMO “was the only party in a position to know of Greenbrier's involvement, ” and MMO “chose to remain silent.” (Rec. Doc. 44, at 5). Plaintiff next argues that her failure to timely file is cured by her amended complaint, which relates back to the date of filing the original complaint. (Rec. Doc. 44, at 6). Plaintiff contends that the requirements for relation back are satisfied because “Greenbrier actually knew, constructively knew, or should have known that Plaintiff's action would have been brought against it” given that “MMO's interest and Greenbrier's interest were identical at the time the plaintiff was terminated.” (Rec. Doc. 44, at 6). Finally, Plaintiff argues that if the Court concludes the allegations in the amended complaint are conclusory, an opportunity to cure the deficiency in a second amended complaint must be provided. (Rec. Doc. 44, at 7).

         Greenbrier raises two points in its reply to Plaintiff's opposition. (Rec. Doc. 48). First, Greenbrier asserts that the responsibility for effectuating service rests upon Plaintiff, not this Court. (Rec. Doc. 48). Greenbrier notes that Local Rule 16.2 does not toll the 90-day period for service required under Rule 4(m) as Plaintiff appears to suggest. (Rec. Doc. 48, at 2). Nevertheless, Greenbrier points out that “this Court did in fact previously warn [Plaintiff] of non-compliance with Rule 4(m).”[5] (Rec. Doc. 48, at 2).

         Second, Greenbrier argues that Plaintiff's failure to address the elements required for relation back establishes that her amended complaint does not relate back to the original complaint. (Rec. Doc. 48, at 2-6). Greenbrier avers that Plaintiff incorrectly focuses on the “identity of interest” shared by MMO and Greenbrier at the time of Plaintiff's termination, rather than at the time she filed the original complaint. (Rec. Doc. 48, at 3). Greenbrier argues that “[b]ecause MMO and Greenbrier were not affiliated at the time Plaintiff filed her Charge of Discrimination, the original Complaint, and the First Amended Complaint (all of which occurred after November 10, 2015), there is no basis for imputing notice [of the litigation at issue] from MMO to Greenbrier.” (Rec. Doc. 48, at 4-5). Greenbrier goes on to assert that even if Plaintiff could prove there were an identity of interest between MMO and Greenbrier at the time Plaintiff filed her original complaint, dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against Greenbrier is still required because Plaintiff cannot establish that Greenbrier received sufficient notice of this lawsuit given Plaintiff's failure to ...


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