Smith v. Mount Nittany Medical Center Health Services, Inc. et al
ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that: Plaintiff's deposition speaks for itself, and she is EXCUSED from appearing personally at the Court's 6/8/2017 argument. In addition to the motions listed in this Court's 5/8/2017 Scheduling Order, the Court will also ask Plaintiff's Counsel at the time of the oral argument whether counsel failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the applicable law and factual contentions, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Signed by Honorable Matthew W. Brann on 6/6/2017. (See Order for further details.)(jn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
MOUNT NITTANY MEDICAL
AND NOW, this 6th day of June 2017, the Court having reviewed the
record in light of the applicable law, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s deposition speaks for itself, and she is EXCUSED
from appearing personally at the Court’s June 8, 2017 argument.
In addition to the motions listed in this Court’s May 8, 2017
Scheduling Order, the Court will also ask Plaintiff's Counsel at the
time of the oral argument whether counsel failed to conduct a
reasonable inquiry into the applicable law and factual contentions,
as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, in light of the
Plaintiff’s deposition reveals that she failed to give the
Defendant “fair warning” of a claimed religious
exemption as a matter of law when she supplied
Defendant with a number of possible justifications for an
exemption in a single email and instructed one of
Defendant’s employees to select whichever justification
that employee preferred.
Plaintiff’s deposition reveals that, until after she was
terminated, she failed to respond to all subsequent
communications from Defendant’s employees that
inquired into the justification(s) for her refusal to obtain
the TDAP vaccine.
In fact, Plaintiff’s deposition reveals that, despite
receiving numerous communications indicating that she
would be terminated if she did not received the TDAP
vaccine, she did not email, telephone, or speak with any
of Defendant’s employees to discuss her situation.
Plaintiff’s deposition further reveals that after filing a
“grievance” that omitted any discussion of a religious
exemption with the wrong departments, the Vice
President of Defendant’s Human Resources department
nevertheless contacted her on June 4, 2015.
That communication from Human Resources stated: “I
will be working with you regarding this matter.” In
addition, it expressly requested that Plaintiff reply and
submit certain documentation regarding her
justification(s) for refusing the TDAP vaccine “so that
we may begin our conversation.” It continued: “Once I
receive that information from you and I have a chance to
review your thoughts, we can then plan to continue our
discussion.” The letter concluded as follows: “Thank you
and if you have any questions, please contact my office.”
The letter supplied the contact phone number for that
Plaintiff admits in her deposition that, until after she was
terminated, she did not reply to that communication in
any manner, did not send the requested documentation,
and did not contact the provided telephone number for
Defendant’s Human Resources department.
Instead, Plaintiff’s deposition reveals that she ultimately
waited nearly two months until July 31, 2015 to respond
to the June 4, 2015 Human Resources communication,
which response occurred more than three weeks after her
July 9, 2015 termination.
When she did respond, her letter and supporting
documentation, which she compiled by misappropriating
Defendant’s company resources, totaled 95 pages in
length and omitted any discussion of a religious
exemption request, except to the extent that Plaintiff was
“convinced and convicted . . . as a Christian” that “this
practice . . . clearly violates the laws and principles of
God’s Word the Bible.”
Not only did she fail to give the Defendant “fair
warning” under the law, but Plaintiff’s deposition also
reveals that even after she was offered a reasonable
accommodation, she also failed to communicate with
Defendant and engage in the interactive process in good
In particular, instead of engaging in the interactive
process, Plaintiff immediately filed with the EEOC a
formal charge against the Defendant that alleged
Further, the record reveals that the Defendant, upon
receiving notice of Plaintiff’s charge from the EEOC in
September 2015, offered Plaintiff a reasonable
accommodation, which accommodation consisted of a
departmental transfer. The offer was communicated
through the EEOC official handling Plaintiff’s charge.
Neither the Plaintiff nor the EEOC responded to
The record further reveals that after receiving a copy of
the formal charge in November 2015, the Defendant
again offered its reasonable accommodation to Plaintiff
and the EEOC. For a second time, neither responded.
After the Defendant made its third offer of a reasonable
accommodation in November 2015, Plaintiff accepted
that accommodation and returned to work in February
Counsel for Plaintiff thereafter initiated this action on
June 1, 2016.
In Moore v. CVS Rx Servs., Inc., 142 F. Supp. 3d 321,
342 (M.D. Pa. 2015), a decision affirmed by the United
States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, this Court
granted summary judgment in an accommodation case
where “it was Plaintiff who ultimately failed to maintain
adequate communication with Defendant or submit the
Moreover, Plaintiff’s deposition and her formal
communications with Defendant’s employees reveal that
her aversion to the TDAP vaccine was based upon her
concerns with the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
The Supreme Court of the United States has held that
“the test of belief in a relation to a Supreme Being is
whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful
occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that
filled by the orthodox belief in God.” United States v.
Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 165–66 (1965). It has also held
that “the very concept of ordered liberty precludes
allowing every person to make his own standards on
matters of conduct in which society as a whole has
important interests.” Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205,
Interpreting Seeger and Yoder, the Honorable Arlin M.
Adams, writing for the Third Circuit, held that in
religious discrimination cases, “[a] court’s task is to
decide whether the beliefs avowed are (1) sincerely held,
and (2) religious in nature, in the claimant’s scheme of
things.” Africa v. Com. of Pa., 662 F.2d 1025, 1030 (3d
In August 2016, prior to counsel for Plaintiff opposing
Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, the
Honorable Gerald J. Pappert, writing for the United
States District Court for the Eastern District of
Pennsylvania, applied Africa in granting a medical
center’s motion to dismiss a Title VII religious
discrimination complaint. Judge Pappert held that the
plaintiff’s “sincerely held moral and ethical beliefs
regarding the flu vaccination” were not protected
“religious” beliefs as a matter of law. Fallon v. Mercy
Catholic Med. Ctr. of Se. Pennsylvania, 200 F. Supp. 3d
553, 559 (E.D. Pa. 2016).
Counsel for Plaintiff has not brought any of the above
adverse authorities to the Court’s attention in her papers,
nor has she made any attempt to distinguish them.
Plaintiff further necessitated the June 8, 2017 hearing
when she refused to produce certain medical records
clearly within the scope of discovery in cases like this
one, where religious sincerity is at issue. Counsel for
Plaintiff’s justification that Plaintiff’s religious beliefs
were so narrow that she only developed an objection to
the TDAP vaccine in particular is untenable under the
law and alerted the Court that something was likely amiss
in the allegations underlying this case.
Subsequent discovery responses have revealed that
Plaintiff has in fact taken several antibiotics, inhalers, IV
fluids, and other known and unknown medications, in
addition to having undergone an “intubation” procedure
related to hospitalized childbirth, since forming her
“religious” belief in 2013.
Plaintiff’s deposition further reveals that her “religious”
belief is not one that she has held for the entirety or even
the majority of her life. Rather, she “formed” it after
“studying” the TDAP vaccine in 2013.
Counsel for Defendant put counsel for Plaintiff on notice
of these legal and factual defects by filing a motion for
judgment on the pleadings on October 14, 2016.
Instead of concurring in that motion, counsel for Plaintiff
filed a cross-motion for sanctions in response, because
counsel for Defendant’s motion had allegedly relied upon
information not integral to the Complaint.
Counsel for Plaintiff’s cross-motion for sanctions was
inappropriate, as it was based upon conduct that has
already been approved by the Third Circuit generally and
by the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in a vaccine
refusal case specially. See Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v.
White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
1993) (Cowen, J.) (“We now hold that a court may
consider an undisputedly authentic document that a
defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if
the plaintiff’s claims are based on the document.”);
Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014) (“A
document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the
complaint may be considered without converting the
motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.”);
Fallon, 200 F. Supp. 3d at 558 (“Fallon’s complaint
explicitly cites and relies upon a number of passages
from the essay that he submitted to Mercy. The essay and
letter provide the basis for Fallon’s exemption request
- 10 -
and subsequent termination; they are both ‘integral to’
and ‘explicitly relied upon in the complaint.’”).
The proper course of action was to contest the validity of
such a practice in its opposition brief, not to file a
frivolous motion in an already dubious case.
(bb) This is the second of two matters brought by counsel for
Plaintiff requesting the rather remarkable remedy that
nurses who frequently come in contact with patients,
including neonatal infants and pregnant women, be
permitted to forego standard vaccines.
The first case was dismissed when counsel for Plaintiff
apparently missed the deadline to file an amended
(dd) In light of the foregoing, the Court is of the view that this
litigation is highly questionable, has likely wasted the
resources of the Court and the parties, and may require
the imposition of sanctions to deter future vexatious
- 11 -
Accordingly, at the time of the June 8 argument, counsel for
Plaintiff shall also be prepared to discuss whether this case will
be voluntarily dismissed or whether it warrants further
expenditure of resources.
The Clerk of Court is directed to docket this Order as a
“written opinion,” pursuant to the E-Government Act of 2002.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Matthew W. Brann
Matthew W. Brann
United States District Judge
- 12 -
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?