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Woods v. Era Med LLC

January 21, 2009

ROGER WOODS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ERA MED LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.

Memorandum and Order

Roger Woods bring this diversity action against ERA Med LLC, John Hustwit, and Seacor Holdings, Inc.*fn1 for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, negligence, and deceit. Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I-V of the complaint and to dismiss plaintiff's request for punitive damages for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and defendants' motion to strike plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f).*fn2 For the reasons that follow, I will grant the motion to dismiss with respect to Counts II and IV, plaintiff's request for punitive damages in Counts I and III, and plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees. I will deny the balance of defendants' motion.

I. Background

Woods currently lives in the United Kingdom. This case arises from Woods's attempts to obtain an O-1 work visa, which is a type of skill-based visa reserved for individuals with "extraordinary" abilities. See 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(o). Taking the allegations in the complaint to be true, as I must in considering this motion to dismiss, the facts are as follows: Woods is a pilot who has accumulated "more than 24 years of relevant experience" and over "5,600 hours of flight time." (Compl. ¶ 4.) ERA Med LLC ("ERA") is engaged in the "helicopter transport industry." (Id. ¶ 1.) ERA employed John Hustwit*fn3 during the period of time relevant to this case as the principal executive in charge of filing applications and petitions with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS"); Hustwit was responsible for Woods's O-1 visa petition. (Id. ¶ 2.) Seacor "is a holding company" that is "otherwise affiliated with ERA." (Id. ¶ 3.)

From March 2007 to September 2007, defendants attempted to hire Woods under the O-1 designation. (Id. ¶ 5.) During this time, Woods was in constant contact with both ERA and Hustwit concerning his potential employment. (Id.) In a letter dated April 23, 2007, ERA and Hustwit formally offered Woods a position as a helicopter line pilot. (Id. ¶ 6.) After receiving the offer, Woods completed an "FAA ATP" course and hired immigration counsel. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Despite "assurances to the contrary," ERA and Hustwit did not "cooperate and support" Woods's immigration efforts as they promised and agreed. (Id. ¶ 8.) Specifically, ERA and Hustwit failed to provide "critical information for the O-1 petition" and removed "critical statutory-based language" from ERA's testimonial letter, including language relevant to Woods's "extraordinary ability." (Id.) The defendants' failure to cooperate with Woods's immigration efforts continued through September 2007. (Id. ¶ 9.) Woods later learned that the O-1 petition was never filed and that ERA re-advertised the helicopter line pilot position. (Id. ¶ 10.) Defendants' actions caused Woods to forgo other, better-paying employment opportunities. (Id. ¶ 11.) Woods previously sought reimbursement for the costs associated with his FAA coursework and his O-1 petition, and three years of salary that Woods alleges he was promised. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Woods filed his complaint on May 29, 2008, advancing five counts against the named defendants: (1) breach of contract, (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, (3) promissory estoppel, (4) negligence, and (5) deceit. In each count of the complaint, plaintiff demanded attorneys' fees and punitive damages. On August 15, 2008, defendants filed this motion seeking to dismiss Counts I-V, to dismiss plaintiff's request for punitive damages and to strike plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees. Plaintiff responded to defendants' motion on September 2, 2008, challenging the dismissal of Counts I, III, IV, and V, but conceding dismissal of Count II. Defendants filed their reply on September 9, 2008.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint.*fn4 Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). When evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations of fact in the plaintiff's complaint, and must view any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008); Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996).

The complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. 1964-65(citations and alterations omitted). Furthermore, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 1965 (citations and footnote omitted); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232.

Finally, this case is before the court on diversity grounds, and the parties do not dispute that the substantive law of Pennsylvania applies. Chin v. Chrysler LLC, 538 F.3d 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2008).

III. Discussion

A. Woods's Eligibility for an O-1 Visa

Defendants first argue that all five counts asserted against them in the complaint fail because Woods was not eligible to obtain an O-1 visa.*fn5 Woods contends that he was eligible to receive an O-1 visa and that defendants' support of his application would have satisfied the O-1 requirements.

Defendants' argument is without merit. That Woods may not be eligible for an O-1 visa has no bearing on whether defendants entered into and breached a contract with plaintiff, or on whether defendants' statements and actions with respect to plaintiff were negligent or deceitful. If Woods can establish that defendants' actions satisfy the elements for the contract and tort claims raised in the complaint, then defendants are subject to liability absent an applicable defense. Woods's eligibility for an O-1 visa may be relevant to other aspects of this case (e.g., excusing a breach of contract or refuting plaintiff's claim for damages), but his eligibility is irrelevant to this motion to dismiss, which tests only the sufficiency of plaintiff's complaint. Defendants may later be able ...


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