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Priddy v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital Operating Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

March 18, 2019

TONDRA PRIDDY, individually, Plaintiff,


          Loretta C. Biggs, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff initiated this action on May 14, 2018, alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2617, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621, et seq. (ECF No. 1.) Before the Court are the following: Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint of Defendant Matrix Absence Management, Inc. (“Matrix”), (ECF No. 10), and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (“Motion to Amend”), (ECF No. 16). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion will be denied and Defendant Matrix's motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was a registered nurse employed by Defendant Cone Health. (ECF No. 7 ¶ 11.)[1] Matrix “was a third-party administrator for defendant Cone [Health]'s medical leave management.” (Id. ¶ 8.) On or about October 18, 2016, Plaintiff alleges that she applied to Matrix for personal medical leave. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges that Matrix sent Plaintiff a letter denying her request for medical leave on or about November 9, 2016. (Id. ¶ 14.) After receipt of the denial, Plaintiff alleges that she notified her doctor, and her doctor sent the completed medical certification to Matrix on November 21, 2016. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff “contends that she used her medical leave for herself on November 15, 2016 and December 16, 2016.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff alleges that she was later subject to discipline and terminated from her position at Cone Health, in part because of the denial of her medical leave. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 21.)

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint set forth three claims: “compensatory damages under the FMLA, ” against both defendants; “declaratory relief for compensatory damages under the FMLA, ” against both defendants; and age discrimination, against Cone Health. (Id. ¶¶ 30-41 (emphasis omitted).) Matrix filed its motion to dismiss, arguing that “Matrix is not Plaintiff's employer under the FMLA, ” and it cannot therefore be liable under the FMLA. (ECF No. 10 ¶¶ 4-5.) Plaintiff then filed her Motion to Amend, in which she proposes adding claims against Matrix for “tortious interference and vicarious liability under respondeat superior.” (ECF No. 16 ¶ 7.)


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint, ” including whether it meets the pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). Rule 8(a)(2) requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), thereby “giv[ing] the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) 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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint may fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted in two ways: first, by failing to state a valid legal cause of action, i.e., a cognizable claim, see Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2012); or second, by failing to allege sufficient facts to support a legal cause of action, see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013).


         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend[2]

         The determination of whether to grant or deny a motion to amend a pleading lies within the sound discretion of the district court. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Deasy v. Hill, 833 F.2d 38, 40 (4th Cir. 1987). Under Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, courts should freely grant leave to amend a pleading “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). “This liberal rule gives effect to the federal policy in favor of resolving cases on their merits instead of disposing of them on technicalities.” Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 426 (4th Cir. 2006). “[L]eave to amend a pleading should be denied only when the amendment would be prejudicial to the opposing party, there has been bad faith on the part of the moving party, or the amendment would be futile.” Johnson v. Oroweat Foods Co., 785 F.2d 503, 509 (4th Cir. 1986) (citing Foman, 371 U.S. at 182).

         A plaintiff's request to amend a complaint is futile if the amended complaint could not satisfy the appropriate requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to include Rule 12(b)(6). United States ex rel. Wilson v. Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc., 525 F.3d 370, 376 (4th Cir. 2008). The Fourth Circuit has cautioned that “[l]eave to amend, however, should only be denied on the ground of futility when the proposed amendment is clearly insufficient or frivolous on its face.” Johnson, 785 F.2d at 510. The Court will therefore address Plaintiff's proposed claims for “tortious interference” and “vicarious liability under respondeat superior, ” (ECF No. 16 ¶ 7), under the same standard as a motion to dismiss.

         1. Tortious Interference

         Plaintiff argues that Matrix tortiously interfered with her employment. (ECF No. 15 at 7-9.) Under North Carolina law, [3] the elements of tortious interference with contract are:

(1) a valid contract between the plaintiff and a third person which confers upon the plaintiff a contractual right against a third person; (2) the defendant knows of the contract; (3) the defendant intentionally induces the third person not to perform the contract; (4) and in doing so ...

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