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Kathleen Hofferica v. St. Mary Medical Center

November 18, 2011

KATHLEEN HOFFERICA
v.
ST. MARY MEDICAL CENTER



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

MEMORANDUM

In a September 20, 2011 Memorandum, we considered the motion to dismiss of defendant St. Mary Medical Center ("St. Mary") as to certain of the claims of plaintiff Kathleen Hofferica ("Hofferica"). Hofferica had alleged violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.,; the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (the "PHRA"), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 951, et seq.; and the Family and Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA" or the "Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. St. Mary moved to dismiss Hofferica's claims for interference and retaliation under the FMLA under Counts II*fn1 and III of the amended complaint.

Concluding that Hofferica had failed to state a claim for interference under the FMLA based on St. Mary's failure to reinstate her to her position, we granted St. Mary's motion as to Count II of the amended complaint in part. See Hofferica v. St. Mary Medical Center, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2011 WL 4374555 (E.D. Pa. 2011). But we also determined that Hofferica had successfully stated a claim for retaliation under the FMLA, and hence denied St. Mary's motion as to Count III.

We were thus left with the remaining component of Count II of Hofferica's amended complaint that St. Mary had challenged, i.e., her claim for interference under the FMLA due to St. Mary's failure to provide notice. We found ourselves in a strange position regarding this claim -- Hofferica had first raised the question of this claim's sufficiency in her response to St. Mary's motion to dismiss, prompting St. Mary to make its first arguments as to this claim's insufficiency in its reply. Because Hofferica had not had the chance to respond to St. Mary's arguments, we gave her time to brief us on the sufficiency of her notice interference claim, though we suggested that, based on our review of the parties' arguments and the law, Hofferica had likely failed to state such a claim under the FMLA.

Hofferica has now briefed us on her notice interference claim, and we have considered her arguments. Since we already reviewed the facts of Hofferica's complaint in our prior Memorandum, see Hofferica, 2011 WL 4374555, at *2-*4, we will not revisit those facts here, though it bears repeating that Hofferica alleges as to notice under Count II, Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 29, that The actions of the Defendant, in (1) failing to sufficiently notify Plaintiff of her right to return to her position and/or a substantially similar position upon return from FMLA leave, [and] (2) failing to sufficiently inform the Plaintiff that she would lose her position if she did not return to work before February of 2009 . . . interfered with Plaintiff's rights under the FMLA.

In support of these claims, Hofferica presents only this allegation in her amended complaint: "[v]ia letter dated April 22, 2008, Defendant specifically informed Plaintiff that her leave request was 'approved from February 5, 2008 through February 4, 2009.'" Id. ¶ 14.

With these claims in mind, we will proceed to a recitation of the standard applicable to motions to dismiss and then to an evaluation of Hofferica's arguments. Since our consideration of these arguments demonstrates that Hofferica has indeed not stated a claim for notice interference under the FMLA, we will dismiss Count II of the amended complaint to the extent it asserts such a claim, though we will permit Hofferica to move to further amend this complaint if she can do so conformably with Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.

I. Analysis

As has been well-rehearsed, the test in ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) "'is whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Kundratic v. Thomas, 407 Fed. Appx. 625, 627 (quoting Holder v. City of Allentown, 220 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993)) (brackets in original). A plaintiff may not pass this test merely by offering "labels and conclusions" in the complaint, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and it is similarly true that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Instead, a complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 -- that is, there must be "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Essentially, a plaintiff must provide "enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" the necessary element. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

In our September 20, 2011 Memorandum, we suggested that Hofferica's notice interference claim under the FMLA was likely insufficient for four reasons: (1) she had failed concretely to allege any deficiencies in the notice St. Mary provided to her, Hofferica, 2011 WL 4374555, at *9; (2) the prior FMLA regulations did not require St. Mary to give Hofferica the types of notice to which she contended she was entitled, id.; (3) she had not pled that St. Mary failed to provide her with prior notice during the relevant period established by the regulations, id. at *10; and (4) she had not pled that she was prejudiced by any failure on St. Mary's part to provide her with notice. Id. at *11. In Hofferica's supplemental brief she presents an array of arguments responsive to each of these points. We will consider them in turn.

A. The Concreteness of Hofferica's Factual Allegations

With respect to her allegations, we explained in our prior Memorandum that "Hofferica has not alleged facts in her complaint to support some of the deficiencies with St. Mary's notice that she asserts, and supports other asserted deficiencies only with conclusory allegations." Id. at *9. While noting "the difficulty a plaintiff may have in alleging concrete facts that suggest a defendant did not do something," we observed that Hofferica "proffers almost no detail as to those communications [received from St. Mary]," so that we could have "little confidence that 'discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'" Id. (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)). In response, Hofferica now proffers two arguments: (1) "Plaintiff needs further discovery of her personnel file and other discovery in relation to these claims, especially the claim that the Defendant failed to provide her appropriate notice of the consequences of not returning to work before exhausting her FMLA leave,"*fn2 Pl.'s Supplemental Br. ("Pl.'s Br.") at 2; and (2) any failure on Hofferica's part to allege concretely a lack of notice "can be directly attributed to the Defendant's persistent failure to contact Plaintiff Hofferica." Id. at 3.

We find neither of these arguments persuasive. Hofferica's first argument appears to misapprehend the relationship between motions to dismiss and discovery. As our Court of Appeals explained in Clark v. Vernon, 228 Fed. Appx. 128, 132-33 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989)) (brackets and internal quotations omitted), "[w]hen reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the District Court considers whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Indeed, the purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to 'streamline litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding.'" As a consequence, Clark "conclud[ed] that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in granting the remaining defendants' motions to dismiss prior to discovery." Id. at 132. Hofferica cannot justify her failure to state a claim of notice interference under the FMLA by asserting the need to first engage in discovery.

Hofferica's second argument seems to us to be a non sequitur. We do not understand how St. Mary's failure to contact Hofferica could prevent her from now alleging concrete facts in support of her claim of inadequate notice. In the end, Hofferica has presented no facts in her complaint that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Instead, she merely identifies a single communication from St. Mary (without making any allegation as to whether this communication contained the requisite notice) and offers the legal conclusions that St. Mary "(1) fail[ed] to sufficiently notify Plaintiff of her right to return to her position and/or a substantially similar position upon return from FMLA leave, [and] (2) fail[ed] to sufficiently inform the Plaintiff that she would lose her position if she did not return to work before February of 2009." Pl.'s Am. Compl. ΒΆ 29. We must ignore the latter statements as the type of "conclusory statements" that Iqbal warns against. 129 S. Ct. at 1940. As for Hofferica's allegation that St. Mary "informed Plaintiff that her leave request was 'approved from February 5, 2008 through February 4, 2009,'" Pl.'s Am. ...


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