Thomas v. Lehighton Emergency Medical Associates, P.C. et al
MEMORANDUM re 12 MOTION to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint filed by Lehighton Emergency Medical Associates, P.C., Palmerton Emergency Medical Assocates, P.C. Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 8/15/12. (jam, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
JAMES THOMAS, M.D.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:12-0655
LEHIGHTON EMERGENCY MEDICAL
ASSOCIATES, P.C., and PALMERTON
EMERGENCY MEDICAL ASSOCIATES,
Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint
(Doc. 12) filed by Defendants Lehighton Emergency Medical Associates, P.C. (“LEMA”) and
Palmerton Emergency Medical Associates, P.C. (“PEMA”). Plaintiff James Thomas, M.D.,
alleges that he was unlawfully terminated from his employment as an Emergency Room
Physician at Palmerton Hospital on account of his age, because he had cancer, and due
to his race/national origin. Plaintiff also asserts supplemental state law claims. Defendants
have moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s age discrimination claims (Counts I and II), his
race/national origin discrimination claim (Count IV), and his quantum meruit claim (Count
VI). Because Plaintiff has adequately stated claims for age and race/national origin
discrimination, Defendants’ motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and IV will be denied. However,
because Plaintiff fails to adequately state a quantum meruit claim, Count VI of the Amended
Complaint will be dismissed.
The facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint are as follows:
Plaintiff James Thomas, M.D., (“Dr. Thomas”) was born on July 17, 1949. (Am.
Compl., ¶¶ 1, 16.) Dr. Thomas is an American citizen of Asian origin who is a native of the
country of India and who suffers from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (Id. at ¶ 48, 63.)
Defendants PEMA and LEMA are business organizations organized under the laws
of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶¶ 2-3.) At all relevant times, PEMA and
LEMA were joint employers of Plaintiff or the alter ego of each other. (Id. at ¶ 4.)
Dr. Thomas was hired to work for LEMA as an Emergency Room Physician on March
1, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Pursuant to the terms of a written contract, Dr. Thomas was hired
solely to work at the Palmerton Hospital in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶¶ 6, 8.)
LEMA took over operating and staffing the emergency room at Palmerton Hospital in or
about January 2010. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Although the contract was between Dr. Thomas and
LEMA, the parties had an arrangement where his paychecks would come from PEMA. (Id.
at ¶ 9.)
Despite always receiving positive reviews, Dr. Thomas was terminated by Sharon
Penetar on July 27, 2010. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.) Ms. Penetar refused to give Dr. Thomas an
explanation for his termination. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Yet, during his employment, Dr. Thomas was
professional and diligent with an excellent performance and attendance record. (Id. at ¶ 20.)
Prior to his termination, Dr. Thomas complained to his supervisors about a younger
white nurse who almost killed a patient. (Id. at ¶ 65.) Defendants objected to an Indian
doctor complaining about a white nurse and Dr. Thomas was thereafter terminated. (Id. at
At the time of his termination, Dr. Thomas was known to have Non-Hodgkin’s
Lymphoma and was sixty-one (61) years old. (Id. at ¶ 17, 48, 51.) And, at this time, Dr.
Thomas was qualified for the Emergency Room Physician position. (Id. at ¶ 23.) After he
was terminated, Dr. Thomas was replaced by a substantially younger worker that was not
Indian or dark-skinned. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-24, 63.)
As a result of the foregoing events, Dr. Thomas commenced this action against
LEMA and PEMA on April 9, 2012. After Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, Dr. Thomas
filed an Amended Complaint on May 18, 2012. The Amended Complaint asserts the
following claims: violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C.
§§ 621 et seq. (Counts I and II); violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42
U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., against LEMA (Count III); violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e, et seq., against LEMA (Count IV); breach of contract
against LEMA (Count V); and quantum meruit against PEMA (Count VI). Now, Defendants
seek dismissal of the ADEA claims, the Title VII claim, and the quantum meruit claim. (Doc.
12.) As Defendants’ motion has been fully briefed, it is ripe for disposition.
Legal Standard for a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint,
in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to
determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See
Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not
consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of
establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United
States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
“A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The statement
required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 167 L.
Ed. 2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127
S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. However, mere conclusory statements will not do; “a complaint
must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside,
578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must “show” this entitlement by
alleging sufficient facts. Id. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a
complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).
As such, the inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is “normally broken into three
parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike
conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the
complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are
sufficiently alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the
complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face,” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, meaning enough factual allegations “‘to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’“ each necessary element.
Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting 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.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.
at 1949. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.”
Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the
complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension
Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The
Court may also consider “undisputedly authentic” documents when the plaintiff's claims are
based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the
motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were
not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256,
263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's “‘bald assertions'” or “‘legal conclusions.’”
Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington
Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429–30 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
Defendants seek dismissal of Dr. Thomas’ ADEA claims (Counts I and II), the Title
VII claim (Count IV), and the quantum meruit claim.
Age Discrimination Claims (Counts I and II)
Defendants’ motion to dismiss the ADEA claims will be denied. The ADEA makes
it unlawful “to discharge any individual or otherwise discriminate against any individual with
respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of
such individual's age.” 29 U.S.C. § 621(a)(1). The purpose of this statute is to “prohibit age
discrimination in employment” and “to promote employment of older persons based on their
ability rather than age.” 29 U.S.C. § 621(b).
“To state a claim for age discrimination under the ADEA, a plaintiff must allege that
(1) he is over forty, (2) he is qualified for the position in question, (3) he suffered from an
adverse employment decision, and (4) his replacement was sufficiently younger to permit
a reasonable inference of age discrimination.” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225,
248 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Potence v. Hazleton Area Sch. Dist., 357 F.3d 366, 370 (3d Cir.
Dr. Thomas has adequately stated an age discrimination claim under the ADEA
against PEMA and LEMA. In particular, Dr. Thomas was sixty-one (61) years old when he
was terminated. (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 17, 21.) And, Dr. Thomas has adequately alleged that he
was qualified for the position from which he was terminated at the time of his discharge. (Id.
at ¶¶ 20, 23.) Lastly, Dr. Thomas alleges that he was terminated because of his age and
he was replaced with a substantially younger worker. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-24.) Thus, unlike in the
case relied on by Defendants in support of their motion to dismiss, Santiago v. Brooks
Range Contract Servs., Inc., No. 11-7269, 2012 WL 1019060 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 26, 2010),
where it was “merely pled that Plaintiff was seventy-three years old when not hired,” Dr.
Thomas in this case has specifically alleged that he “was replaced by someone younger
than him.” Id. at *2. Accordingly, Dr. Thomas may proceed on the ADEA claims in Counts
I and II.
Race/National Origin Discrimination Claim (Count IV)
LEMA’s request for dismissal of Dr. Thomas’ Title VII claim will be denied. Title VII
states that “[i]t shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discharge
any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such
individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e–2(a).
To state a claim for discrimination under Title VII, Dr. Thomas must show that: (1)
he belongs to a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position; (3) he was subject to
an adverse employment action despite being qualified; and (4) under circumstances that
raise an inference of discriminatory action. See Sarullo v. U.S. Postal Serv., 352 F.3d 789,
797 (3d Cir. 2003).
Dr. Thomas has sufficiently stated a claim for discrimination based on his race and/or
national origin. In particular, Dr. Thomas has alleged that he belongs to a protected class,
as he “is an American citizen of Asian origin who is a native of the country of India.” (Am.
Compl., ¶ 62.) Furthermore, Dr. Thomas alleges that he was terminated from a position that
he was otherwise qualified for. (Id. at ¶¶ 23, 62.) And, the circumstances giving rise to an
inference of discrimination have been pled, as Dr. Thomas alleges that he was terminated
due to his race/national origin after complaining to his supervisor about a younger white
nurse. (Id. at ¶¶ 65-66.) LEMA’s motion to dismiss the Title VII claim will therefore be
Quantum Meruit Claim (Count VI)
Lastly, PEMA seeks dismissal of Dr. Thomas’ quantum meruit claim. PEMA argues
that the quantum meruit claim fails as a matter of law because Dr. Thomas alleges that a
written contract governs his relationship with LEMA. Furthermore, PEMA asserts that Dr.
Thomas does not allege that PEMA failed to provide payment for services Plaintiff had
Dr. Thomas’ quantum meruit claim will be dismissed. In Pennsylvania, the elements
necessary to prove that a party is entitled to recovery on the basis of the equitable doctrine
of unjust enrichment are: (1) benefits conferred on one party by another; (2) appreciation
of such benefits by the recipient; and (3) acceptance and retention of these benefits in such
circumstances that it would be inequitable for the recipient to retain the benefits without
payment of value. See Allegheny Gen. Hosp. v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 228 F.3d 429, 447 (3d
Cir. 2000). “‘[T]he doctrine of unjust enrichment is inapplicable where the relationship
between the parties is founded upon a written agreement or express contract.’” Leder v.
Shinfeld, 609 F. Supp. 2d 386, 408 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (quoting Wilson Area Sch. Dist. v.
Skepton, 586 Pa. 513, 895 A.2d 1250, 1254 (2006)). Furthermore, “the alleged benefit that
[Defendants] could receive in the future is irrelevant because to establish an unjust
enrichment claim, it must be shown that the benefit has already been conferred.” Bouriez
v. Carnegie Mellon Univ., No. 02-2104, 2005 WL 3006831, at *12 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 9, 2005)
(citing Scaramuzza v. Sciolla, No. 04-1270, 2004 WL 2063062, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 14,
2004) (“it is well established that an unjust enrichment action will fail based on allegations
of future benefits”)).
Although Dr. Thomas’ claim may not be barred by a written contract- his claim is
against PEMA and the contract was with LEMA- the claim fails because Dr. Thomas does
not allege that PEMA accepted and retained benefits without payment of value. And, as
an unjust enrichment or quantum meruit claim cannot be based on allegations of future
benefits PEMA may have received, Dr. Thomas has failed to state a claim for which relief
can be granted in Count VI of the Amended Complaint and PEMA’s motion to dismiss will
be granted. However, because it is not clear from the Amended Complaint whether Plaintiff
is asserting that he was not compensated for services rendered to PEMA, he will be given
the opportunity to amend his quantum meruit claim.
For the above stated reasons, Defendants’ motion to dismiss will be granted in part
and denied in part.
An appropriate order follows.
August 15, 2012
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. Richard Caputo
United States District Judge
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