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Payha v. Excela Health

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 30, 2018

RICHARD PAYHA, Plaintiff,
v.
EXCELA HEALTH, Defendant.

          OPINION

          JOY FLOWERS CONTI, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the court in this civil rights action filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff Richard Payha (“Payha”) in the complaint alleges that his former employer defendant Excela Health violated his constitutional rights by terminating his employment, which included the revocation of his hospital privileges, without providing him due process of law. (ECF No. 1.) Excela Health in its motion to dismiss argues, however, that Payha did not set forth factual allegations sufficient to plausibly show that it is a state actor, which is an element of a § 1983 claim. (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons set forth in this opinion, Excela Health is correct; Payha did not set forth factual allegations sufficient to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence that Excela Health is a state actor. The motion to dismiss will be granted on that basis and the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.

         II. Factual Allegations Accepted as True for the Purpose of Deciding the Motion to Dismiss

         Excela Health is a non-profit corporation located in Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 1. ¶ 2.) According to Payha, “Excela Health is classified as a publicly-funded state actor[.]” (Id. ¶ 20.) In December 2010, Payha began employment with Excela Health. (Id. ¶ 5.) Payha's most recent position with Excela Health was as a general surgeon. (Id.) In December 2016, Payha began voicing concerns that were also being made by other surgeons. (Id. ¶ 6.) Payha raised those concerns with Dr. David Richards (“Richards”) and Dr. Robert Rogalski (“Rogalski”) the chief executive officer of Excela Health. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 7.) Payha's opinions, however, were disregarded and dismissed. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         In January 2017, Payha voiced additional concerns with respect to the less experienced partners and was, once again, reprimanded for “not being a team player.” (Id. ¶ 8.) On February 1, 2017, Payha was called into a meeting with Richards, Mark Zelkovic (“Zelkovic”), and Chris Bartels (“Bartels”). (Id. ¶ 9.) They discussed Payha's attitude with respect to his concerns and falsely accused him of having anger issues. (Id. ¶ 10.) Payha was informed that Rogalski wanted to terminate his employment. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 11.)

         On February 3, 2017, Payha was called into another impromptu meeting during which his employment was terminated because of his alleged anger issues. (Id. ¶. 12.) When Payha asked about his due process rights, he was informed that there would be no formal disciplinary hearing or appeal process. (Id. ¶ 13.) Excela Health informed Payha that he could work there until August 2017. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         In May 2017, counsel Excela Health contacted Payha with respect to an upcoming deposition. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 15.) The counsel told Payha: “If you do not cooperate with counsel in this deposition, we will not be able to cooperate with you in the future regarding your malpractice [trial].” (Id. ¶ 16.) A few days later, Payha was told that he was no longer allowed to return to work. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         III. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

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.. . . Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'”

(Id.) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal citations omitted).

         The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that “a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps.” Connelly v. Lane Constr, Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 876-77 (3d Cir. 2016). The court of appeals explained:

First, it must “tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675. Second, it should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.”Id. at 679. See also Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 224 (3d Cir.2011) (“Mere restatements of the elements of a claim are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” (citation and editorial marks omitted)). Finally, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court ...

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