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Heffner v. LifeStar Response of New Jersey, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 27, 2013

BRIAN HEFFNER, Plaintiff
v.
LIFESTAR RESPONSE OF NEW JERSEY, INC., trading and doing business as, LIFESTAR RESPONSE OF PENNSYLVANIA, Defendant

ALBERT J. EVANS, ESQUIRE ERIC M. PROCK, ESQUIRE JOHN R. KANTNER, ESQUIRE On behalf of Plaintiff

TRISHA M. MAJUMDAR, ESQUIRE On behalf of Defendant

OPINION

James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand filed February 11, 2013. On February 25, 2013, Defendant’s Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion to Remand was filed. Defendant removed this case from the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County on January 10, 2013 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), based upon diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). For the reasons expressed below, I grant the motion and remand this case to the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.

BACKGROUND

The background of this motion as averred in plaintiff’s Complaint is as follows:

Plaintiff Brian Heffner was employed by defendant LifeStar Response of New Jersey, Inc., trading and doing business as LifeStar Response of Pennsylvania (“LifeStar”), as an emergency medical technician (“EMT”) from March 2011 until January 2012. In January 2012 a crew-chief position with LifeStar became available. Mr. Heffner applied for, was offered, and accepted, the crew-chief position in January 2012.[1]

During plaintiff’s employment with LifeStar, his primary duties involved transporting nursing-home patients to and from medical appointments or emergency treatments. Those patients were transported either in a wheelchair, or in a stretcher; and the LifeStar employee doing the transport filled out a form indicating the method of transport.[2]

LifeStar billed the nursing home or the patient for its transportation services. The amount of the bill depended, in part, on whether the patient was transported by wheelchair or stretcher. The charge for a stretcher transport was greater than for a wheelchair transport. Medicare and Medicaid ultimately paid a substantial number of the bills which LifeStar generated for services rendered.[3]

Plaintiff alleges that, in May or June of 2012, he noticed that some of the forms being generated by LifeStar employees for transportation services indicated that patients were bedridden when, in fact, they were not. Mr. Heffner also noticed that patients were being transported by stretcher (the most expensive method) when, in fact, they could have been transported by wheelchair.[4]

Plaintiff considered this conduct to be fraudulent and informed Michelle Seidel, LifeStar’s Vice President of Operations, and Melanie Bell, LifeStar’s Operations Manager, of his concerns. Mr. Heffner was told that this was none of his concern.[5]

Plaintiff alleges that in June 2012 Ms. Seidel, the Vice President of Operations, asked him and others to alter their forms documenting transportation services rendered. Specifically, Mr. Heffner and the others were asked to include more complaints from patients and a longer narrative explaining why the patient needed stretcher transport, even when that patient could have been transported by wheelchair, and in some cases, could walk.[6]

Plaintiff alleges that he refused to alter his reporting forms when asked to do so by Ms. Seidel, and that he continued to refuse when both Ms. Bell, the Operations Manager, and a billing clerk continued to ask him to do so in June and July 2012.[7]

Mr. Heffner subsequently learned that LifeStar was being audited by Medicare and that transportation forms had been lost and needed to be redone.[8]

In “late” July 2012 plaintiff told another LifeStar employee that he was going to inform Medicare that LifeStar was fraudulently altering its forms to justify the inflated bills paid by Medicare. Mr. Heffner was not satisfied with the employee’s response to his stated intention to inform Medicare. Disillusioned by the unreasonable demands he believed LifeStar was imposing, he resigned his position as crew chief on August 7, 2012.[9]

Plaintiff alleges that, three hours after resigning his crew-chief position, he was accused of misusing the gasoline card he had been issued by LifeStar for work-related travel and was taken off duty pending further review. On August 29, 2012 LifeStar fired plaintiff based upon his purported misuse of the gasoline card.[10]

Plaintiff’s Claims In his Complaint, plaintiff asserts two causes of action arising from the foregoing facts.

Count I alleges that the termination of plaintiff’s employment violated Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Law.[11] Mr. Heffner claims that he made good-faith reports to his employer about wrongdoing, waste or abuse (namely, LifeStar’s alleged attempt to defraud Medicare) and was fired by LifeStar in retaliation for making those reports.

Based upon this alleged violation of Pennsylvania’s Whistleblower Law, plaintiff seeks judgment in his favor and against LifeStar in an amount in excess of $50, 000, “inclusive of compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs and fees” and asks the court to award him all other appropriate remedies under the Whistleblower Law.[12]

Count II alleges wrongful discharge. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that termination of his employment by LifeStar violated public policy, was done without legal justification, was intended to harm Mr. Heffner, and was done to prevent or dissuade other LifeStar employees from reporting suspected Medicare fraud.

Based upon his alleged wrongful discharge, plaintiff seeks judgment in his favor and against LifeStar in an amount in excess of $50, 000, “inclusive of compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs and fees.”[13]

Defendant’s Answer and Counterclaims

Defendant LifeStar denies that it engaged in any fraudulent reporting or billing practices, and denies that it fired Mr. Heffner in retaliation for bringing the alleged fraud to the attention of LifeStar’s management, or for ...


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