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Martinez v. Susquehanna

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 12, 2019

ZEFERINO MARTINEZ, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
UPMC SUSQUEHANNA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 30, 2019, Plaintiff, Zeferino Martinez, M.D., (hereinafter “Dr. Martinez”), filed a two-count age discrimination[1] amended complaint against Defendant, UPMC Susquehanna. On June 13, 2019, [2] Defendant filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The motion is now ripe for disposition; for the reasons that follow, it is granted and the case dismissed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court dismisses a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff has failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A motion to dismiss “tests the legal sufficiency of a pleading”[3]and “streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding.”[4]“Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.”[5] This is true of any claim, “without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one.”[6]

         Following the Roberts Court's “civil procedure revival, ”[7] the landmark decisions of Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly[8] and Ashcroft v. Iqbal[9] tightened the standard that district courts must apply to 12(b)(6) motions.[10] These cases “retired” the lenient “no-set-of-facts test” set forth in Conley v. Gibson and replaced it with a more exacting “plausibility” standard.[11]

         Accordingly, after Twombly and Iqbal, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”[12] “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.”[13] “Although the plausibility standard does not impose a probability requirement, it does require a pleading to show more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”[14] Moreover, “[a]sking for plausible grounds . . . calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [wrongdoing].”[15]

         The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[16] No. matter the context, however, “[w]here 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.'”[17]

         When disposing of a motion to dismiss, the Court “accept[s] as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw[s] all inferences from the facts alleged in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff].”[18] However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”[19] “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[20]

         As a matter of procedure, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that:

Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. First, it must tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.[21]

         A plaintiff in an employment discrimination case does not need to establish a prima facie case in his or her complaint. The Third Circuit clarified this point recently, stating: “a complaint need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss.”[22]

         B. Facts Alleged in the amended Complaint

         The facts alleged in the amended complaint, which I must accept as true for the purposes of this motion, are as follows.

         Dr. Martinez was employed by Susquehanna Health System, an organization that was ultimately acquired by, and renamed, UPMC Susquehanna. Seventy-year- old[23] Dr. Martinez has been a board-certified orthopedic surgeon since 1986. Dr. Martinez began his employment with Susquehanna Health System on December 1, 2016 with a thirty-six-month employment contract.

         On October 1, 2017, UPMC Susquehanna acquired Susquehanna Health System. At that time, Dr. Martinez was “informed [] that his contract with Defendant's predecessor would continue with the Defendant.”[24] Shortly thereafter, on November 3, 2017, UPMC Susquehanna “abruptly terminated Plaintiff Martinez's employment allegedly because the Defendant was ‘moving in a different direction and Plaintiff Martinez's services were no longer needed.'”[25] Plaintiff was informed that his termination “had nothing to do with his performance.”[26]

         Dr. Martinez was replaced by “a significantly younger, less qualified, less experienced individual.”[27] Another position for an orthopedic surgeon later opened up with UPMC Susquehanna. Dr. Martinez applied for this position on three separate occasions. Dr. Martinez was qualified for the position, but he never received a response from UPMC Susquehanna to any of his applications. This second position was also filled by “a significantly younger, less qualified, less experienced individual.”[28]

         C. Analysis

         Defendant argues Dr. Martinez's claims are not plausible because he was replaced by a podiatrist, who is not an appropriate comparator, as opposed to an orthopedic surgeon, who would be an appropriate comparator. And for that matter, his replacement was a podiatrist whose age was not alleged in the complaint. Moreover, the failure to ...


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