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Capriotti v. Rockwell

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 7, 2020

LUCIA CAPRIOTTI
v.
RICHARD D. ROCKWELL, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          JUAN R. SÁNCHEZ, C.J.

         Plaintiff Lucia Capriotti brings this action alleging her boss, Defendant Richard D. Rockwell, asked her to commit perjury, and after she refused, he, and the entities he represents, fired her. Capriotti's claims include wrongful discharge in Count I and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Count II. Defendants move to dismiss the entire action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and argue this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under both the Colorado River doctrine and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because of a pending state court action arising from the same set of events as this action. Defendants also move to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because they argue Capriotti has failed to state a claim for wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Because the Court declines to abstain under the Colorado River or Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court will deny Defendants' motion in part, insofar as Defendants seek to dismiss the entire action. Nonetheless, because Capriotti has failed to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the Court will grant in part Defendants' motion and dismiss Count II of the Complaint.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Capriotti was an employee of Defendant Professional Security Broadband Inc. (PSB) beginning in 2014 until her termination on October 10, 2017. Rockwell is the Chairman of PSB's Board of Directors and the majority shareholder in PSB. Defendants Insperity, Inc., Insperity Holdings, Inc., and Insperity PEO Services, Inc. (collectively, Insperity) became co-employers of Capriotti and other employees of PSB and its subsidiaries in 2015.

         In 2017, PSB filed a lawsuit against a former employee, Richard Leighton, because he left PSB and started his own company. Capriotti was a witness in the Leighton case and was set to be deposed. PSB's attorneys therefore met with Capriotti on September 28, 2017, to discuss her deposition testimony. During this meeting, Capriotti truthfully answered all questions.

         Later that evening, Rockwell called Capriotti and spoke to her for a total of 82 minutes over two separate calls. During these two calls, Rockwell berated Capriotti for her answers regarding her deposition testimony. Rockwell was frustrated that the answers she provided “were not incriminating of Leighton.” Compl. ¶ 23. Rockwell used profanity and threatened Capriotti with litigation if she did not say what he wanted her to say. Rockwell also threatened to remove Capriotti from her position at PSB. Rockwell made several other threats and insults, and informed Capriotti that she needed to “fix it.” Id. ¶¶ 30, 32, 35.

         The following day, Rockwell called Capriotti again with PSB's attorney. Rockwell asked how Capriotti intended to fix the problem she had created. Capriotti stated she hoped to contact Leighton and encourage him to settle the matter with PSB. Rockwell was dissatisfied and asked Capriotti to write down everything she could remember regarding the issues with Leighton. Rockwell's request was allegedly to intimidate and threaten Capriotti into giving false information and perjuring herself in her deposition. During the conversation, Rockwell again used profanity and insulted Capriotti. Nonetheless, Capriotti complied with the request to write down the facts regarding Leighton and sent it to Rockwell around 3:00 p.m. that day.

         Two days later, on October 1, 2017, Capriotti called Insperity's human resources specialist and reported the harassment and threats from Rockwell. She also reported she suffered extreme anxiety and stress as a result. After Capriotti reported Rockwell, the harassment intensified.

         A few days later, Capriotti again answered questions from PSB's attorney regarding the litigation with Leighton and her deposition testimony. Rockwell again called Capriotti and threatened her. He specifically said at one point, “I'm going to go kill your children in their sleep.” Compl. ¶ 46. Capriotti ultimately stated she would not perjure herself for PSB's benefit and she was ultimately terminated on October 10, 2017. Capriotti alleges she was fired in retaliation for her refusal to perjure herself in her deposition.

         After Capriotti was fired, on October 25, 2017, Unlimited Technologies, Inc.-a wholly-owned subsidiary of PSB-filed suit against Capriotti in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. Unlimited asserted claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, and civil conspiracy. In response to these claims, Capriotti asserted claims for wrongful termination, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She also attempted to join the Defendants in this case to the Chester County case.

         The Chester County Court dismissed Capriotti's claims against the Defendants in this case, for failure to properly join them in compliance with Pennsylvania rules of civil procedure, but allowed her counterclaims against Unlimited to remain. Defs.' Ex. B (August 3, 2018, Order). The counterclaims against Unlimited are still pending and the Chester County case is set for trial on January 20, 2020.

         After Defendants were dismissed from the Chester County case, Capriotti filed this action on July 18, 2019. She alleges one count for wrongful discharge, and a second count for intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants. Defendants then moved to dismiss the Complaint. Defendants argue (1) this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Colorado River doctrine because of the pending Chester County case; (2) this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because this case is just an appeal of the Chester County Court's dismissal of Defendants; and (3) Capriotti has failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants first move to dismiss Capriotti's Complaint on the basis of abstention pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Under this rule, a court must grant a motion to dismiss if it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear a claim. See Nat. Collegiate Athletic Ass'n v. Corbett, 25 F.Supp.3d 557, 563 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)). The Court, however, has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1332.

         Rather than dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), and as the Third Circuit recognizes, “dismissal without retention of jurisdiction on abstention grounds is in the nature of a dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” See Heritage Farms, Inc. v. Solebury Twp., 671 F.2d 743, 745 (3d Cir. 1982). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court relies on the Complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record, including those of other judicial proceedings. See Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2008).

         Defendants first argue the Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Colorado River doctrine because the pending Chester County case is a “parallel proceeding.” Defendants argue the cases are parallel because the claims in this action are identical to the claims against Unlimited in the Chester County case. The Court, however, will not abstain under the Colorado River doctrine because this case and the Chester County case are not parallel and no extraordinary circumstances merit abstention.

         The Colorado River doctrine allows a federal court to abstain, either by staying or dismissing a pending federal action, when there is a parallel ongoing state court proceeding. See Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800 (1976). The doctrine is narrowly applied because the “federal courts have a strict duty to exercise the jurisdiction that is conferred to them by Congress.” Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. George V. Hamilton, Inc., 571 F.3d 299, 307 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706 (1996)). Whether abstention is appropriate is a two-part inquiry: (1) whether there is a parallel state proceeding that raises substantially identical claims and nearly identical allegations and issues, and (2) whether extraordinary circumstances exist to merit abstention. See Blank River Servs. Inc. v. Towline River Serv., Inc., 395 F.Supp.3d 589, 596 (E.D. Pa. 2019) (citing Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 571 F.3d at 307-08).

         This case and the Chester County case are not parallel because they do not involve the same parties, even though they do involve essentially the same claims. Under the parallel state proceedings inquiry, the Third Circuit has stated, “cases are parallel when they involve the same parties and claims.” Kelly v. Maxum Specialty Ins. Grp., 868 F.3d 274, 285 (3d Cir. 2017). “Parallel proceedings are those that are truly duplicative, that is, when the parties and the claims are identical, or at least effectively the same.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). While the parties and the claims need not be strictly identical, “the parties involved [must be] closely related and that the resolution of an issue in one [case must] necessarily settle the matter in the other [case].” Id. at 284 n. 8.

         Capriotti asserts essentially the same claims here as she does in the Chester County case. In the Chester County case, Capriotti asserts three counterclaims: wrongful discharge, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In this case, Capriotti asserts two claims: wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The ...


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