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Jeremy Fox v. Cheltenham Township Authority

June 18, 2012

JEREMY FOX
v.
CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP AUTHORITY, KEN HELLENDALL, DAVID KRAYNICK, & LEONARD RUBIN



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Jeremy Fox brings a claim for violation of his procedural due process rights, and several state law claims, following his discharge as an EMT. Defendants have moved to dismiss all the claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or alternatively, for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, we grant the Motion insofar as it seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's claims.

I. BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges the following facts. In January 2009, Plaintiff accepted an offer of employment as a paramedic for Cheltenham Township EMS. To work as a paramedic, Plaintiff needed a Medical Command Authorization ("MCA"). Defendant Dr. Leonard Rubin was Cheltenham Township's Medical Command Physician and was responsible for authorizing Plaintiff's MCA. Dr. Rubin completed Plaintiff's MCA, which was valid for the year 2009, and Plaintiff began working as a paramedic. After a leave of absence due to an injury, Plaintiff submitted an MCA form to Dr. Rubin for the calendar year 2010. When Plaintiff returned to work on January 20, 2010, Dr. Rubin had not yet completed Plaintiff's MCA. As a result, Plaintiff was subject to probation and "preceptoring" by other paramedics.

On January 29, 2010, Plaintiff responded to a report of a serious injury with fellow paramedics Mike Riley and Michael Smaltini. Riley was acting as preceptor for Plaintiff on this occasion because Plaintiff still did not have his MCA. The patient eventually died, and the incident was subject to a quality inquiry by a physician at Albert Einstein Medical Center ("AEMC"), where the patient had been taken. The Complaint refers to this incident, as the "Versed Incident," presumably because it involved a controversial or improper administration of the drug Versed.

In response to the AEMC inquiry, Dr. Rubin reported that the care provided by the Cheltenham paramedics had been "good." Dr. Rubin acknowledged that there had been a technical violation of protocol, but stated that the AEMC physician had tacitly approved the EMT's administration of Versed. Defendant Ken Hellendall, the director of Cheltenham EMS, also initiated an investigation into the Versed Incident. Hellendall requested that all three paramedics prepare a report about the incident. Dr. Rubin interviewed Riley and Smaltini but not Plaintiff, and reviewed a report prepared by Plaintiff but not those that Riley and Smaltini prepared. At some point in February 2010, Cheltenham EMS, by and through Defendants Dr. Rubin and Hellendall, took the position that the Versed Incident was entirely Plaintiff's fault, even though Plaintiff was being preceptored at the time. According to the Complaint, Defendants took this position in order to insulate the Township EMS, Smaltini, and Riley from any criticism.

Cheltenham EMS, by and through Defendant Hellendall, encouraged Dr. Rubin to deny/withdraw Plaintiff's MCA, which Dr. Rubin did on February 16, 2010. Dr. Rubin knew or should have known that the denial/withdrawal would result in Plaintiff's termination. On the form provided to the Department of Health, Dr. Rubin provided no reason for denying Plaintiff's MCA. In addition, Plaintiff was not provided with a copy of this form, despite state regulations that require a copy to be provided and Plaintiff's request for a copy.

On February 18, 2010, Plaintiff made a verbal request to Cheltenham EMS for an informal name-clearing hearing with Dr. Rubin to understand the reasons for the denial of his MCA, defend his actions, and urge Dr. Rubin to impose a lesser sanction which would allow him to keep working with Cheltenham EMS. Later that same day, Cheltenham EMS fired Plaintiff because he did not have the required MCA. It did so despite its knowledge that Plaintiff had a right to appeal Dr. Rubin's decision to deny his MCA and had also requested a name-clearing hearing. Defendant David Kraynick, the Township Manager, was the ultimate decision maker as to the termination of Plaintiff. On February 22, 2010, Plaintiff emailed Dr. Rubin and again asked for an informal meeting. This request, as well as the prior February 18, 2010 request, was denied.

Plaintiff filed an appeal of Dr. Rubin's decision in accordance with the Pennsylvania Emergency Medical Services System Act (the "EMS Act"), 35 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8101 et seq. In March 2010, Dr. Rubin met with "certain EMT Medical Command physicians and he learned that the denial/withdrawal that he [had] imposed upon [Plaintiff] was unreasonable and punitive." (Compl. ¶ 41.) On April 8, 2010, Dr. Rubin revised the sanction to a "restriction" with educational requirements, providing the reason for the restriction as being that Plaintiff's actions "impacted patient outcome." This form is a public record and part of Plaintiff's permanent record with the Commonwealth. Plaintiff appealed the restriction as well, and Plaintiff's two appeals were consolidated. Dr. Rubin opposed Plaintiff's appeals. At the time Plaintiff filed the Complaint, the appeals were still pending.

With just an MCA "restriction," Plaintiff was permitted to provide services as a paramedic. He requested reinstatement with Cheltenham EMS, but his request was denied. Eventually, 16 months later, Plaintiff obtained part-time employment as a paramedic, without benefits and for less compensation than he had received when he was with Cheltenham EMS.

The Complaint raises four claims against Defendants Dr. Rubin, Township Manager Kraynick, EMS Director Hellendall, and the Township of Cheltenham. First, Plaintiff brings a claim for violation of his procedural due process rights against all four Defendants, alleging that they defamed him by stating that he was responsible for the Versed Incident, and that due process entitles him to a name-clearing hearing. Second, Plaintiff brings a breach of contract claim against the Township for firing him without following the EMS Act procedures and for not reinstating him after Dr. Rubin revised the sanction to a restriction. Third, Plaintiff brings a claim for intentional interference with contractual relations against Dr. Rubin for denying his MCA under false pretenses, knowing that the denial would result in Plaintiff's termination. Fourth, Plaintiff brings a claim for civil conspiracy against the three individual Defendants, alleging that they conspired to blame him for the Versed Incident and deny him the opportunity to clear his name. Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or alternatively, for summary judgment on all claims.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "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). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not ...


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