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Innella v. Lenape Valley Foundation

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 29, 2014

RAFAELLA INNELLA
v.
LENAPE VALLEY FOUNDATION, et al.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDE COMPLAINT

MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

In an amended complaint, Plaintiff brings claims against her former employer, Lenape for FMLA violations (Count I), Lenape and the Doylestown hospital for false light invasion of privacy (Count II), and Doylestown and one of its employees, Jeremy Motley, for defamation (Count III). Defendants move to dismiss Count II charging false light invasion of privacy against Lenape and Doylestown, and Count III charging defamation against Doylestown and Motley.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was employed as a crisis worker from March 6, 2006 to May 17, 2013 at the Lenape Valley Foundation. Amend. Compl. ¶13. Lenape provides mental health services at various facilities including Doylestown Hospital. Amend. Compl. ¶5. Defendants are Lenape, Doylestown Hospital, and Jeremy Motley, an emergency room nurse at Doylestown Hospital. Amend. Compl. ¶¶6-7.

On or about May 8, 2013, Plaintiff applied for and was granted FMLA leave to care for her ill daughter. Amend. Compl. ¶17. Plaintiff alleges Lenape "embarked on a campaign of retaliation against Plaintiff in an effort to terminate her employment and deny and interfere with her FMLA rights." Amend. Compl. ¶19. On May 14 Defendant Motley, a nurse at Doylestown hospital, told Lenape that Plaintiff never met with a patient at Doylestown, contrary to what she wrote in the patients' records. Amend. Compl. ¶22.

On May 17, 2013, Lenape called Plaintiff to "a public area" of the Doylestown Hospital and terminated her for falsifying patient records. Amend. Compl. ¶¶23 & 38. Security guards and two of Plaintiff's co-workers overheard the termination. Amend. Compl. ¶38. Lenape told Scott Urbinati, a supervisor at Doylestown, and Plaintiff's co-worker Laura Lee Devenuto that Plaintiff was terminated and they needed to identify incidents that supported her termination. Amend. Compl. ¶26. After Plaintiff was terminated, Lenape inserted a memo dated November 6, 2013 into her employee file to make it appear Plaintiff had received a written warning before her termination. Amend. Compl. ¶30. Lenape also falsely told Doylestown security that Plaintiff had threatened co-workers, and directed co-workers not to speak to Plaintiff. Amend. Compl. ¶42. Plaintiff also alleged Defendant Motley bragged to a co-worker that he caused Plaintiff's termination on our around May 21, 2013. Amend. Compl. at ¶25.

Plaintiff appealed her termination, and pointed to video surveillance showing she did in fact meet with the patient on May 14 and did not falsify the patient's records. Amend. Compl. ¶46. On May 28, Lenape issued a revised termination letter with new grounds for termination not previously mentioned in any of Plaintiff's employment evaluations. Amend. Compl. ¶47. Plaintiff alleges these reasons were "trumped up charges" and were pretext for FMLA retaliation. Amend. Compl. ¶¶47-48.

On May 20, 2014, Plaintiff brought claims against Lenape for sex discrimination under Title VII; age discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA); age and sex discrimination under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA); retaliation under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); and false light invasion of privacy. (ECF 1). Lenape moved to dismiss[1] Plaintiff's claims for discrimination and false light invasion of privacy, which this Court granted with with leave to amend. Innella v. Lenape Valley Found., No. 14-2862, 2014 WL 3109973 (E.D. Pa. July 8, 2014). Plaintiff subsequently amended her complaint, but did not re-plead her claims for discrimination. (ECF 20). The Amended Complaint claims interference and retaliation for exercising FMLA rights against Lenape (Count I); false light invasion of privacy against Lenape and Doylestown (Count II); and defamation against Doylestown and Motley (Count III). (ECF 20).

Lenape again moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claim in Count II for false light invasion of privacy for failure to state a claim. (ECF 21). Doylestown also moves to dismiss Count II for false light invasion of privacy and Doylestown and Motley both move to dismiss Plaintiff's Count III for defamation for failure to state a claim. (ECF 22).

II. THE PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

Defendants Doylestown and Motley contend Plaintiff's claims for false light invasion of privacy and defamation are time-barred by the one-year statute of limitations because Plaintiff did not file her complaint until May 20, 2014, more than one year after the allegedly defamatory statements were made on May 14, 2013. Plaintiff responds that the discovery rule applies to toll her claims because she did not learn of the defamatory statements until her appeal hearing on May 28, 2013. Plaintiff also asserts Motley's statements of May 21, 2013 are the basis of her claim for false light invasion of privacy.

Defendant Lenape contends Plaintiff cannot state a claim for false light invasion of privacy because the Amended Complaint does not allege that Lenape communicated the matter to the public at large, but only to "a small handful" of employees at Lenape and Doylestown. Lenape's Br. at 6. Plaintiff responds that the allegation the statements were made in a public place of the hospital, within earshot of security guards and two co-workers is sufficient to meet the publication requirement.

III. ANALYSIS

When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court may look only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel , 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). The court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable ...


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