WROTEN v. ASSOCIATES FOR WOMEN'S MEDICINE et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE MICHAEL M. BAYLSON ON 9/9/15. 9/9/15 ENTERED AND COPIES EMAILED.(rf, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ASSOCIATES FOR WOMEN’S
MEDICINE, et al.
MEMORANDUM RE DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS
September 9, 2015
Defendants Associates for Women’s Medicine, Professional Partners, and the Chester
County Hospital move to dismiss (ECF 6) this wrongful termination action under Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(1), contending that Plaintiff Edward Wroten has failed to state a claim for wrongful
termination in violation of Pennsylvania public policy. Plaintiff contends that the Pennsylvania
public policy exception to the doctrine of at-will employment incorporates standards set forth in
the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), Pub. L. No. 104191, 110 Stat. 1936, and Defendants violated these HIPAA standards in terminating him.
Because there is no private right of action under HIPAA, Plaintiff’s Complaint amounts to a
wrongful termination claim under Pennsylvania law. Removal to this Court was predicated on
federal question jurisdiction, but Plaintiff’s claim does not state a substantial federal question.
Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss and remand the case because
the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
I. Facts and Procedural History
Plaintiff, who was employed cleaning Defendants’ offices, alleges that Defendants
wrongfully terminated him on May 31, 2013, for filing a grievance with his medical insurer. See
ECF 1, Pl.’s Compl. ¶¶ 3, 8, 12. Plaintiff filed the grievance against Dr. Andrew Sitkoff, who
failed to recertify Plaintiff’s prescription for testosterone. Id. ¶ 6-8. Plaintiff filed the grievance
after trying to obtain his prescription from a different doctor and being advised by his insurer that
he could only switch providers at that time if he filed a grievance against Dr. Sitkoff. Id.
Plaintiff filed the grievance on January 14, 2013. Id. ¶ 9.
Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Christine Ellis, who was associated with Defendants’
practice and is the wife Dr. Sitkoff, confronted Plaintiff about filing the grievance while Plaintiff
was cleaning Defendants’ offices and in the presence of Plaintiff’s son. Id. ¶ 10-11. Plaintiff
alleges his employment was subsequently terminated on May 31, 2013, and Defendants cited
financial reasons as the pretext for terminating him. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Plaintiff contends he was
wrongfully terminated in violation of public policy—HIPAA—for filing the grievance against
Dr. Sitkoff and is entitled to damages. Id. ¶¶ 15-17.
Plaintiff filed his Complaint in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. On April
19, 2015, Defendants removed the action to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), contending
this Court has federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
On May 7, 2015,
Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim (ECF 6). Plaintiff filed a response on May 20, 2015, contending he had pleaded
sufficient facts to state a claim for wrongful termination (ECF 7). Plaintiff did not raise lack of
subject matter jurisdiction or challenge Defendants’ removal to this Court.
In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “we accept all factual allegations
as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Warren Gen.
Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
Pennsylvania recognizes a limited public policy exception to the employment-at-will
doctrine that in some cases qualifies an employer’s ability to discharge any employee with or
without cause. Shick v. Shirey, 716 A.2d 1231, 1233 (Pa. 1998). Plaintiff alleges Defendants
wrongfully terminated him in violation of that public policy exception and that the public policy
violated was HIPAA. Id. ¶ 16. But Plaintiff’s response makes clear that he does not plead a
direct violation of HIPAA. See ECF 7, Pl.’s Resp. Nor could Plaintiff make such a claim,
because HIPAA does not provide a federal private right of action. See, e.g., Baum v. Keystone
Mercy Health Plan, 826 F. Supp. 2d 718, 721 (E.D. Pa. 2011). 1 Instead, Plaintiff argues, in the
alternative, that HIPAA is incorporated into Pennsylvania statutory law or that Defendants
violated the Pennsylvania state law equivalent of HIPAA.
Removal of a state action to federal district court is proper only when the action could
have originally been brought in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). In removing the case to
federal court, Defendants asserted that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over the case
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because of Plaintiff’s allegations that Defendants violated HIPAA. See
ECF 1, Notice of Removal.
Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the Court must resolve any
questions related to its subject matter jurisdiction as a threshold matter, whether or not the parties
raised the issue. See Zambelli Fireworks Mfg. Co, Inc. v. Wood, 592 F.3d 412, 418 (3d Cir.
A federal district court has original jurisdiction over an action “arising under the
Although the Third Circuit has not yet held whether HIPAA provides a private right of action, other Circuits have
held HIPAA does not. See Dodd v. Jones, 623 F.3d 563, 569 (8th Cir. 2010); Seaton v. Mayberg, 610 F.3d 530,
533 (9th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 562 U.S. 1222 (2011); Wilkerson v. Shinseki, 606 F.3d 1256, 1267 n.4 (10th Cir.
2010); Acara v. Banks, 470 F.3d 569, 571-72 (5th Cir. 2006).
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
Although a complaint clearly creates federal question jurisdiction when it pleads a federal
cause of action, federal question jurisdiction is also present when “a state-law claim necessarily
raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may
entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial
responsibilities.” Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng’g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 314
(2005). Accordingly, in a “slim category” of cases, federal question jurisdiction still lies even
where a claim has its origins under state, not federal, law. Gunn v. Minton, 133 S. Ct. 1059,
1064-65 (2013). Although the Supreme Court likened this category of cases to a Jackson
Pollock painting, the Court discerned that the following four elements must be met for federal
question jurisdiction to exist over a state law claim: the federal issue must be (1) necessarily
raised; (2) actually disputed; (3) substantial; and (4) capable of resolution in federal court
without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress. Id. at 1065.
Here, the allegations amount to a wrongful termination claim in violation of Pennsylvania
public policy. The federal issue here is not necessarily raised, actually disputed, or substantial
because adjudication of Plaintiff’s claim does not require this Court to interpret or apply HIPAA.
Rather, the key question presented by Plaintiff’s claim is whether the Pennsylvania public policy
exception to the at-will employment doctrine incorporates some or all of the standards set forth
in HIPAA. That is a question of state law, not federal law. In similar cases involving allegations
of HIPAA violations as part of state law tort claims, other courts have found that the alleged
HIPAA violations provided no basis for federal jurisdiction. See Baum, 826 F. Supp. 2d at 721
(“In spite of the fact that the personal data at the heart of this case is protected by [HIPAA], this
is a fairly straightforward state-law tort case.”); see also Andrews v. Family Dollar Stores of
Okla., Inc., No. 11-0698, 2012 WL 242845, at *3 (N.D. Okla. Jan. 25, 2012) (collecting cases).
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Complaint does not state a substantial federal question, and this Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
Because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claim, the case will be
remanded to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c); Liberty
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ward Trucking Corp., 48 F.3d 742, 750 (3d Cir. 1995) (noting that § 1447(c)
“compels a district court to address the question of jurisdiction, even if the parties do not raise
The Court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s Complaint
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss and
will remand the case to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
An appropriate Order follows.
O:\CIVIL 15\15-2441 wroten v. assoc.women's\15cv2441.memo.mtd.09.09.15.docx
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