The opinion of the court was delivered by: PADOVA
In this diversity action, Plaintiff Mary Corbett alleges that her former psychotherapist, Defendant David Morgenstern, committed malpractice by initiating and continuing a sexual relationship with Plaintiff during the course of her therapy. Plaintiff asserts various state law tort claims against Defendant Morgenstern ("Defendant") and three affiliated business entities: Defendants Associates in Psychological and Human Resources, P.C.; Associates in Psychology; and Humanistic Psychotherapy Studies Center, P.C. (hereinafter "the Corporate Defendants"). Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and for punitive damages.
For the reasons that are discussed below, I shall deny Defendant Morgenstern's motion.
A claim may be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) only if the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle her to relief. ALA v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994). The reviewing court must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of the allegations as true. Id. ; see also Rocks v. Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989) (holding that in deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must "accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party").
The Third Amended Complaint (hereinafter "the Complaint") alleges the following facts. Plaintiff started a course of psychotherapy with Defendant Morgenstern in June 1980 and continue therapy with him until September 1993. Plaintiff sought treatment from Defendant for a personality disorder and other psychological problems. In about December 1980 or January 1981, Defendant began a sexual relationship with Plaintiff which continued throughout the period that Plaintiff was Defendant's patient. In September 1993, Plaintiff ceased her relationship with Defendant and came under the care of another therapist. Her new therapist informed Plaintiff that it was a breach of the professional standard of care for Defendant to conduct a sexual relationship with Plaintiff, and Plaintiff discovered through her therapy that the sexual relationship had severely damaged her psychological condition.
Plaintiff's Complaint raises negligence claims alleging that Defendant was reckless and negligent and violated professional standards of care by initiating, carrying on, and not ending his sexual relationship with Plaintiff, and by failing to refer Plaintiff to another therapist, thereby putting his own needs before that of his patient. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant was negligent in failing to properly treat Plaintiff's borderline personality disorder and other psychological problems caused by Plaintiff's history of childhood sexual abuse. Plaintiff also asserts causes of action against Defendant for both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for assault and battery. With respect to the Corporate Defendants, Plaintiff similarly alleges that they were reckless and negligent in failing to stop Defendant's sexual relationship with Plaintiff when they knew or should have known of the relationship, refer her to another practitioner, and properly treat her psychological problems. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for her injuries, recovery of the monies she paid to Defendants for her therapy, and punitive damages.
A. Negligent and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress2
Defendant first argues that Plaintiff's factual allegations fail to state a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress as that tort is defined in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania allows claims for negligent infliction of emotional distress under two sets of circumstances. Armstrong v. Paoli Memorial Hosp., 430 Pa. Super. 36, 633 A.2d 605, 615 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993) (describing the evolution of the torts of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Pennsylvania and other jurisdictions), app. denied, 430 Pa. Super. 36, 649 A.2d 666 (Pa. 1994). The first and most common situation giving rise to a claim is the so-called "bystander" case in which the plaintiff actually observes the defendant injure a close relative, as in Sinn v. Burd, 486 Pa. 146, 404 A.2d 672 (Pa. 1979). Armstrong, 633 A.2d at 615. Second, Pennsylvania also recognizes recovery in situations in which the defendant owes a plaintiff a pre-existing duty of care, either through contract or a fiduciary duty. Id. (citing Crivellaro v. Pennsylvania Power & Light, 341 Pa. Super. 173, 491 A.2d 207 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1985). Plaintiff's allegations do not fall within the bystander cases, and thus the question presented is whether Plaintiff's Complaint demonstrates that Defendant owed Plaintiff a pre-existing duty of care as a result of a contractual or fiduciary duty.
Defendant argues, without refutation by Plaintiff, that there was no contractual relationship between the parties. Instead, Plaintiff argues, over Defendant's objection, that Defendant owed her a fiduciary duty. Plaintiff asserts that the Complaint pled that a psychologist-patient relationship existed between the parties by which Defendant owed Plaintiff a professional duty of care that was in the nature of a fiduciary duty. In support of her argument, Plaintiff first notes that BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 625 (6th ed. 1990) defines "a fiduciary" as "[a] person having [a] duty, created by his undertaking, to act primarily for another's benefit in matters connected with such undertaking," and when used as an adjective, defines "fiduciary" as "relating to or founded upon a trust or confidence." Plaintiff further points to Crivellaro v. Pennsylvania Power & Light, 341 Pa. Super. 173, 491 A.2d 207 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1985), which was cited by Armstrong as a "non-bystander case" in which the Pennsylvania Superior Court recognized a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Armstrong, 633 A.2d at ...