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Auluck v. The County of Alameda

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 18, 2014

THE COUNTY OF ALAMEDA et al., Defendants.


ELIZABETH D. LAPORTE, Magistrate Judge.

Defendant Aaron Chapman, M.D., moves to strike Plaintiff's second and fifth causes of action under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 and moves to strike Plaintiff's punitive damages allegation under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). Plaintiff opposes the motion to strike and seeks leave to file an amended complaint. Both parties seek attorneys' fees.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendant's motion to strike and the parties' requests for attorneys' fees. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. As stated at the hearing, Plaintiff shall meet and confer with Defendants and file an amended complaint (either the one attached to Plaintiff's opposition or a different one pursuant to a stipulation between the parties) by February 18, 2014.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Harinder Auluck, M.D. is a sixty-nine year old psychiatrist who provided medical care at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center and Valley Adult Community Support Centers for over twenty years. (Compl. ¶ 11; Auluck Decl. ¶ 2.) Defendants are Alameda County, Alameda County's Heath Care Services Agency ("HCSA"), and Aaron Chapman, M.D., the Medical Director for the HCSA's Behavioral Health Care Services ("BHCS") department. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-5; Chapman Decl. ¶ 1.)

From 2010 through March 25, 2011, Plaintiff expressed concern about the poor quality of care provided by Children's Hospital to Juvenile Justice Center patients. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff also complained about lack of a detoxification protocol for children coming off street drugs, poor relations between primary care providers and behavioral health care providers, and the practice of "dual charting" whereby behavioral health care staff lacked ready access to diagnostic notes (including prescriptions) made by primary care providers and vice versa. (Compl. ¶ 12; Auluck Decl. ¶ 4.)

On or about March 28, 2011, Defendants Chapman and Alameda County placed Plaintiff on administrative leave for, among other things, "alleged poor record keeping practices." (Compl. ¶ 13; Chapman Decl. ¶ 2.) According to Plaintiff, this occurred less than a month after Alameda County hired Defendant Chapman as Interim Director of the BHCS. (Compl. ¶ 13; Auluck Decl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff met with Chapman on April 11, 2011 and shared his concerns regarding the care at the Juvenile Justice Center. (Auluck Decl. ¶ 6; 1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 1.) In turn, Chapman mentioned concerns regarding Plaintiff's prescribing decisions and the his record keeping practices. (1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 1.) Plaintiff responded that these charges were untrue. (Auluck Decl. ¶ 6.)

According to Plaintiff, Defendants offered to lift his administrative leave if Plaintiff agreed to cease working at the Juvenile Justice Center, "submit to highly intrusive case monitoring by Dr. Chapman's office, " take a remedial continuing medical course on record keeping, and "update his medical records to Dr. Chapman's subjective satisfaction on pain of losing his job." (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16; Auluck Decl. ¶ 7; Chapman Decl. ¶ 3 (noting that Plaintiff was required to comply with a "Performance Improvement Plan").) Plaintiff accepted Defendants' conditions and was taken off administrative leave on approximately August 19, 2011. (Compl. ¶¶ 17, 19; Chapman Decl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff did so because he feared a report to the Medical Board of California and the National Practitioner's Data Bank. (Auluck Decl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff completed the continuing education course and updated his medical charts. (Compl. ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff alleges that despite his compliance with Defendants' requirements, Defendant Chapman made further unfounded complaints about Plaintiff's record keeping practices and, "unbeknownst to [Plaintiff], Dr. Chapman also started a campaign to brand [Plaintiff] as too old to practice medicine because of alleged memory lapses.'" (Compl. ¶ 19.) In April 2012, Defendants placed Plaintiff on administrative leave until further notice for "unspecified fitness for duty" reasons." (Compl. ¶ 20; Auluck Decl. ¶ 10; Chapman Decl. ¶ 4.) BHCS also began an investigation into Plaintiff's fitness for duty. (Chapman Decl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff avers that the did not learn until February 2013 that one of the reasons he was placed on leave was alleged "memory lapses." (Auluck Decl. ¶¶ 17-19.) He learned this when Advendist Health confronted him with a fax from Defendants that stated that Plaintiff was placed on administrative leave because Plaintiff's supervisors raised issues about his patient care, including "allegations that he had memory lapses and that his charting practices and medication prescription patterns fell below the standard of care." (1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 3; Compl. ¶ 27; Auluck Decl. ¶¶ 17-19.) Plaintiff characterizes this second administrative leave as retaliatory and a constructive discharge.

Plaintiff submitted his resignation on May 14, 2012, to be effective May 28, 2012. (Compl. ¶ 21; 1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 3; Chapman Decl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff avers that he was "forced to resign... because [he] did not want to become the victim of Dr. Chapman and Alameda County's further retaliatory actions and [his] working conditions were intolerable." (Auluck Decl. ¶ 12.) Defendants allegedly assured Plaintiff that they would not take action against his medical license. (Compl. ¶ 21; Auluck Decl. ¶ 13 ("Before I resigned, I obtained Alameda County's promise that it would not report me to the California Medical Board.").) At the time Plaintiff resigned, he was still on administrative leave and the fitness for duty investigation was pending. (1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 3; Chapman Decl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges and avers that a much younger physician was hired to take his place at either the Juvenile Justice Center or the Valley Adult Community Support Centers and that younger psychiatrists "were not subjected to the same harassment that [Plaintiff] endured because of his age. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-23; Auluck Decl. ¶ 9.)

On May 23, 2012, Defendant Chapman filed a complaint, i.e., an "805 report, " against Plaintiff with the Medical Board of California ("MBC") because Plaintiff resigned while on administrative leave and while a fitness for duty investigation was pending. (Compl. ¶ 24; Chapman Decl. ¶ 6.) Chapman also alleged in the 805 report that there were concerns about Plaintiff's prescribing, patient monitoring, and medical documentation. (Compl. ¶ 24; Chapman Decl. Ex. A.) Moreover, "[a] damaging report was also submitted to the National Practitioners Data Bank, a federal information service that is universally checked by employers and hospitals when reviewing a physician's credentials." (Compl. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff first learned of Chapman's MBC complaint in January 2013, when the MBC requested an interview with him. (Compl. ¶ 25, Auluck Decl. ¶ 14; 1/03/04 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 2.) At the interview, Plaintiff reviewed Defendants' evidence against him and learned that his personnel file contained an allegedly "fraudulent" document - a document signed by two individuals who were no longer working for Alameda County on the date the document was allegedly signed. (Compl. ¶ 26; Auluck Decl. ¶ 15.) According to Plaintiff, the MBC investigator was shocked by this fact and disregarded the document while investigating Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 26; Auluck Decl. ¶ 15.) Chapman avers that BHCS turned over records to the MBC pursuant to a subpoena and that he did not review the records provided. (Chapman Decl. ¶ 7.)

On June 23, 2013, the MBC sent Plaintiff a letter stating that it had determined that "there were no departures from the standard of care and there is insufficient evidence to pursue this matter further." (1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 4.) The MBC found "No Violation" and closed the case. (Compl. ¶ 28, 1/03/14 Brinegar Decl. Ex. 4.) Adventist Health, which was reviewing Plaintiff's hospital privileges, dropped its request that Plaintiff undergo a neurological exam. (Auluck Decl. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that he suffered and continues to suffer pecuniary losses, ...

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