Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Stewart v. American Association of Physician Specialists, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

January 8, 2015

PATRICIA STEWART, D.O., Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF PHYSICIAN SPECIALISTS, INC.; WILLIAM CARBONE; ROBERT CERRATO; STEPHEN MONTES; SUSAN SLOMINSKI; SVETLANA RUBAKOVIC, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS [152] AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STRIKE [112]

OTIS D. WRIGHT, II, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Patricia Stewart, D.O., is a certified dermatologist. She originally filed suit against 17 Defendants, but only 6 remain in the instant action. Pursuant to the Court's October 14, 2014 Order (ECF No. 147), the remaining Defendants filed a Consolidated Motion to Dismiss, outlining each Defendant's argument for dismissal of each applicable claim. (ECF No. 152.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, and DENIES Defendants' Motion to Strike.[1]

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Patricia Stewart is a licensed physician specializing in dermatology. (Compl. ¶ 3.) The American Association of Physical Specialists, Inc. ("AAPS") is a nonprofit corporation that certifies physicians in various medical specialties. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.) AAPS certification confers the honor, credibility, rights, and privileges of a qualified medical specialist and, consequently, lucrative career opportunities for physicians. (Id. ¶ 5.) AAPS has several subspecialty academies for physicians specializing in different areas of medicine, including the American Academy of Specialists in Dermatology ("AASD"). (Id. ¶ 7.)

Stewart participated in and completed the AAPS training-certification program. (Id. ¶ 31.) While in training, Stewart filed sexual harassment charges against her trainers. (Id. ) Stewart alleges that AAPS retaliated by refusing to recognize her participation in the training program, which left her ineligible to sit for the dermatology certification exam. (Id. ) Stewart filed a charge of discrimination against AAPS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Id. ¶ 33.) After two years, AAPS agreed to allow Stewart to sit for the dermatology certification exam. (Id. ¶ 34.) Stewart passed and became an AAPS member. (Id. )

Stewart alleges that AAPS created a hostile work environment when officers on AAPS's leadership board circulated pornographic and racially biased emails. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) She alleges that the distribution of such inappropriate material, as well as alleged financial misconduct, prompted several physician members to investigate AAPS leadership. (Id. ¶ 54.) She further alleges that AAPS retaliated against these would-be whistleblowers by accessing confidential emails and using this evidence to suspend their memberships. (Id. ¶¶ 55-56.)

Stewart alleges that when she called for the physician whistleblowers' reinstatement, AAPS took adverse actions against her. AAPS allegedly filed a meritless defamation lawsuit against Stewart and another physician in Florida, alleging that Stewart was part of a conspiracy to destroy AAPS.[2] (Case No. 11-00494, Compl. ¶ 61.) On March 26, 2012, AAPS allegedly removed Stewart from her elected position as AAPS Governor. (Id. ¶ 62, Ex. Q.) On March 28, 2012, Stephen Montes, Robert Cerrato, Bart Maggio, and Joseph Gallagher allegedly sent an email falsely accusing Stewart of campaigning to destroy AAPS. (Id. ¶ 63, Ex. S.) On May 30, 2012, Susan Slominski, Svetlana Rubakovic, Thomas Balshi, Lori Honeycutt, Robert Ilowite, and Ken Wallace allegedly sent another similar defamatory email. (Id. ¶ 64, Ex. T.)

That same day, Cerrato and the members of the Disciplinary Committee- Montes, Wallace, and Maggio- allegedly used the defamatory correspondence as a pretext to terminate Stewart's membership in AAPS for participating in "conduct injurious to, and not in the best interests of AAPS, " without notifying her of the meeting or providing her an opportunity to present evidence before the Board of Directors in her defense. (Id. ¶ 66, Ex. V.)

Stewart alleges that the AAPS Board of Directors offered to permit her to present evidence in her defense at a June 9, 2012 meeting-after the Board had already voted to terminate her membership. (Id. ¶ 67.) Stewart further alleges that Cerrato prevented her from attending the annual AAPS meeting held on June 25, 2012 in Marina Del Rey, California. (Id. ¶ 69.) Stewart also alleges that at the AAPS annual meeting, the Board, prompted by Cerrato and Carbone, made a defamatory presentation to the entire AAPS membership. They allegedly falsely stated that Stewart had authored and published a subversive Internet blog. (Id. ¶ 71.) She alleges that the false attribution harmed her reputation within the organization. (Id. ¶ 72.)

On September 16, 2013, Stewart filed suit against AAPS and 17 individual defendants. (ECF No. 1.) On May 15, 2014, the Court granted the Motions to Dismiss of Defendants Anthony Durante, Joseph Gallagher, Brian Feaver, Douglas Marciniak, Thomas Balshi, Robert Ilowite, Ken Wallace, and Anthony Russo for lack of personal jurisdiction. (ECF No. 94.) On May 27, 2014, the Court denied AAPS' Motion to Dismiss Stewart's defamation and unfair business practices claims, and granted AAPS' Motion to Dismiss Stewart's declaratory relief, breach of fiduciary duty, and indemnification claims without leave to amend. (ECF No. 95.) The Court also granted AAPS' Motion to Dismiss Stewart's intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claim with leave to amend. (Id. ) The Court denied the individual Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Stewart's defamation claim, and granted Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Stewart's breach of fiduciary duty claim without leave to amend. (Id. ) The Court also granted the individual Defendants' Motions to Dismiss Stewart's intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claim with leave to amend. (Id. )

On July 21, 2014, Stewart filed her First Amended Complaint ("FAC") and, after meeting and conferring with opposing counsel, dismissed Bart Maggio, William Anderson, and Lori Honeycutt. (ECF Nos. 100, 103, 107, 119.) Only Defendants AAPS, William Carbone, Robert Cerrato, Stephen Montes, Susan Slominski, and Svetlana Rubakovic remain in the instant action. (ECF No. 148.)

Stewart alleges: (1) breach of contract, (2) injunctive relief and damages pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000, (3) violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code §§ 51, 52, (4) violations of California Government Code 12940 (h), (5) intentional misrepresentation and false promise, (6) defamation, (7) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and (8) unfair business practices in violation of California Business & Professions Code § 17200. (ECF No. 148.)

On August 25, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Strike Portions of the First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 112.) Pursuant to the Court's October 14, 2014 Order, Defendants filed a Consolidated Motion to Dismiss, outlining each Defendant's argument for dismissal of each applicable claim. (ECF No. 152.) Stewart timely opposed each Motion to Dismiss. (ECF Nos. 122-126.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint for lack of a cognizable legal theory or insufficient facts pleaded to support an otherwise cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). To survive a dismissal motion, a complaint need only satisfy the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)-a short and plain statement of the claim. Porter v. Jones, 319 F.3d 483, 494 (9th Cir. 2003). The factual "allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). That is, the complaint must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

The determination whether a complaint satisfies the plausibility standard is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. A court is generally limited to the pleadings and must construe all "factual allegations set forth in the complaint... as true and... in the light most favorable" to the plaintiff. Lee v. City of L.A., 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). But a court need not blindly accept conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of fact, and unreasonable inferences. Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001).

As a general rule, a court should freely give leave to amend a complaint that has been dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). But a court may deny leave to amend when "the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency." Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir.1986); see Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000).

B. Motion to Strike

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) provides that "[t]he court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). The decision whether to grant a motion to strike is made at the court's discretion. Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1528 (9th Cir. 1993), rev'd on other grounds in Fogerty v. Fantastic, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994)). In using its discretion, the court must view the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. In re 2TheMart.com Sec. Litig., 114 F.Supp.2d 955, 965 (C.D. Cal. 2000).

Courts may grant a motion to strike "to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial...." Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Fantasy, 984 F.2d at 1527 (9th Cir. 1993). Courts may also grant such a motion in order to streamline the resolution of the action and focus the jury's attention on the real issues in the case. Fantasy, 984 F.2d at 1528. Motions to strike are generally disfavored due to the limited role that pleadings play in federal practice, and because they are often used as a delaying tactic. Cal. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control v. Alco Pacific, Inc., 217 F.Supp.2d 1028, 1033 (C.D. Cal. 2002).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Motions to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.