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Nguyen v. Voorthuis Opticians

March 21, 2007

TINA C. NGUYEN, O.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
VOORTHUIS OPTICIANS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Dr. Tina Nguyen, O.D., brought this action against defendants, Voorthuis Opticians, Inc. and Dr. Rebecca Voorthuis, O.D., asserting claims of fraud, breach of contract, and constructive discharge related to her employment at Voorthuis Opticians, Inc. Plaintiff also asserted several property claims related to certain health records she maintained while employed by defendant. Pending before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's amended complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. Upon consideration of the motion and supporting memorandum, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court determines that plaintiff's claims of breach of contract, constructive discharge, and all claims against Dr. Rebecca Voorthuis have not been sufficiently justified. However, plaintiff has stated sufficient facts to support her property claims related to the health records, as well as her claims of actual fraud, constructive fraud, and fraudulent inducement. Therefore, for the reasons stated herein, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Dr. Nguyen, is an optometrist licensed to practice optometry in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.*fn1 Am. Compl. at ¶ 1. Dr. Nguyen was previously employed as an optometrist by defendant, Voorthuis Opticians, Inc. ("Voorthuis Opticians"). Id. at ¶ 7.

Defendant Voorthuis Opticians is a District of Columbia corporation with offices in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Id. at ¶ 2. Voorthuis Opticians' primary business is selling eyewear for "prescription and sunglass use," but it also has an optometrist on-site at each location to perform eye examinations and contact lens fittings. Id. at ¶ 3. Defendant Dr. Rebecca Voorthuis is an optometrist licensed to practice optometry in Virginia. Id. at ¶ 5. She is an employee of Voorthuis Opticians and her father, Albert Voorthuis, owns the company. Id.

From March 17, 2003 until May 28, 2003, Dr. Nguyen was employed by Voorthuis Opticians on a part-time basis. Id. at ¶ 8. Prior to accepting full-time employment, Dr. Nguyen met with John Morley, General Manager of Voorthuis Opticians. Id. at ¶ 5. During this meeting Dr. Nguyen asked Morley if she was legally permitted to work in the company's Virginia locations in light of a Virginia law prohibiting optometrists from working in "commercial or mercantile" establishments. Id.; see generally Va. Code Ann. 54.1-3205 (2006). Morley told Dr. Nguyen that the statutory prohibition did not apply to Voorthuis Opticians because the company was headquartered in the District of Columbia and was a family-owned business. Id. at ¶ 5. Following this meeting, Dr. Nguyen executed an employment agreement with Voorthuis Opticians. Id. at ¶ 7.

From May 28, 2003 until January 18, 2006, Dr. Nguyen practiced optometry primarily in the company's office in Old Towne Alexandria, Virginia. Id. at ¶ 9. During this time, Dr. Nguyen treated several thousand patients and maintained a separate health record file for each patient (collectively the "Virginia health records"). Id. at ¶ 10.

On January 6, 2006, Dr. Nguyen learned that she was practicing optometry in violation of the Virginia statute which prohibited optometrists from working in commercial or mercantile establishments. Id. at ¶ 11. "[W]hen Dr. Nguyen confronted the Company with this information, the Company, through Rebecca Voorthuis, reiterated its previous position that a 'loophole' in the law allows the Company to hire optometrists because the Company is headquartered in the District of Columbia." Id. On January 7, 2006, Morley spoke with Dr. Nguyen and told her that despite the Virginia law, her employment with Voorthuis was "not a problem and that she should continue as [she had] been for the past 2 and a half years." Id. Despite these assurances, Dr. Nguyen's concerns about the Virginia law led her to quit treating patients at defendant's Virginia locations on January 7, 2006. Id. at ¶ 12. On January 12, 2006, Dr. Nguyen informed Voorthuis Opticians that she also would not work at its District of Columbia location "because the Company could not offer legal assurance that she was protected by the Company's medical malpractice insurance policy." Id. at ¶ 13. On January 18, 2006, a representative of Voorthuis Opticians told Dr. Nguyen that she would be dismissed if she did not report to work at its District of Columbia location on January 19, 2006. Id. at ¶ 14. After receiving this notice, Dr. Nguyen resigned on January 18, 2006. Id. at ¶ 15.

On January 26, 2006, Dr. Nguyen wrote a letter to Voorthuis Opticians requesting that the Virginia health records she maintained during her employment be turned over to her. Id. at ¶ 19.

On February 2, 2006, Voorthuis Opticians rejected this request and informed plaintiff that the records "are and will remain in the custody of Rebecca Voorthuis, O.D." Id. at ¶ 20. Dr. Nguyen filed the instant suit on March 9, 2006, in Superior Court for the District of Columbia. Defendants removed the action to this Court on March 14, 2006, asserting diversity jurisdiction. After plaintiff filed an amended complaint in this Court on April 25, 2006, defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss.

STANDARD of REVIEW

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should be granted when it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1114 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Moreover, a complaint will be liberally construed on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Warren v. District of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 37 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The Court will accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, and give plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be drawn from the facts alleged. See Atchinson v. District of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 422 (D.C. Cir. 1996).

ANALYSIS

I. Virginia Health ...


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