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Sheila Watson Hopkins v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association

December 21, 2010

SHEILA WATSON HOPKINS PLAINTIFF,
v.
BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Sheila Watson Hopkins brings this action against defendant Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association raising four claims related to her employment termination: breach of contract, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, intentional interference with a prospective economic advantage, and negligent supervision. Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted or, in the alternative, moves for summary judgment under Fed.

R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims for breach of contract, intentional interference with a prospective economic advantage, and negligent supervision. As for plaintiff's claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of defendant.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff asserts four claims stemming from her termination of employment on May 15, 2009. Plaintiff was hired as an Executive Secretary at defendant Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association ("BCBSA") in 1988. See Plaintiff's Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 8. She was promoted in 1995 to the position of Congressional Liaison/Coordinator and in 2001 was offered and accepted the position of Assistant to the Executive Director of Political Affairs. Id. ¶ 9-10. In 2004, Ms. Kathy Didawick was promoted to the position of Executive Director of Political Affairs and served as plaintiff's manager for the period covering this suit. Id. ¶ 14, 16. In addition to her role at BCBSA, Ms. Didawick also served as Chairman of the Children's 2009 Hospital Vintage Affair, a Co-Chair of the Finance Committee for the March of Dimes Gourmet Gala, a Board member of the American Red Cross National Capital Area Invitational Golf Tournament Committee, and a Board member at the non-profit organization A Hand Up. Id. ¶ 17.

Beginning in January 2009, plaintiff alleges, Ms. Didawick began assigning her work outside of her role as Assistant to the Executive Director of Political Affairs. Id. ¶¶ 22, 24, 26, 33-36, 38-40, 42-49, 52-54, 76. Specifically, plaintiff asserts that she was required to update Ms. Didawick's BCBSA calender with meetings concerning events for the March of Dimes, update Ms. Didawick's "to do" list and compile an address list concerning the Children's Hospital Vintage Affair, schedule a meeting for the A Hand Up Board, and perform other clerical tasks related to these charity events. Id. ¶¶ 36, 38, 42, 43, 52, 54. Plaintiff states that she had "reservations" concerning these assignments, but ultimately completed the tasks. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25, 35, 37.

In April of 2009, plaintiff applied for a position with Ms. Kimberly Bolton, the Director of Communication. Id. ¶ 70. Plaintiff asserts that Ms. Bolton had been told by Ms. Alissa Fox, Vice President of Policy, that she was prohibited from interviewing plaintiff for any position because of statements made by Ms. Didawick concerning plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 50, 70. On May 15, 2009, BCBSA terminated plaintiff's employment. Id. ¶ 56.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Motion to Dismiss

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions [of unlawful misconduct] devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 21 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (explaining that the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine dispute of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 ...


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