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Benton v. Moreno-Benton

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 18, 2015

ALPHONSO BENTON ET AL
v.
CYNTHIA MORENO-BENTON ET AL

Thomas Brown, IV, Attorneys Present for Plaintiffs.

Scott Goldsmith, Attorneys Present for Defendants.

CIVIL MINUTES - GENERAL

CHRISTINA A. SNYDER, District Judge.

Proceedings: DEFENDANT PRIMECARE'S MOTION TO DISMISS (dkt. 7, filed April 2, 2015) DEFENDANTS CYNTHIA MORENO-BENTON, KRISTI KIEHL, DANA GOODBEAU, AND CHINO HILLS FAMILY MEDICAL GROUP'S MOTION TO SEVER AND REMAND CLAIMS TWO THROUGH TEN (dkt. 13, filed April 16, 2015)

I. INTRODUCTION

On March 4, 2015, plaintiff Alphonso Benton, M.D. ("Benton"), an individual, and Alphonso Benton, M.D., doing business as Compcare Medical, Inc. ("Compcare"), filed this action against defendants Cynthia Moreno-Benton, D.O. ("Moreno-Benton"), Kristi Kiehl, PA-C, MSPA ("Kiehl"), Dana Goodbeau ("Goodbeau"), Moreno Family Medical and Associates, Inc., doing business as Chino Hills Family Medical Group ("Chino Family Medical"), Primecare Medical Group of Chino Valley, Inc. ("Primecare"), and Does 1-20 in San Bernardino County Superior Court. Dkt. 1.[1] Defendant Primecare removed the action to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction on March 26, 2015. Id.

The complaint asserts the following claims: (1) breach of contract in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (2) breach of written contract; (3) misappropriation of trade secrets in violation of California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 3426 et seq. ("CUTSA"); (4) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage; (5) breach of fiduciary duty; (6) breach of duty of loyalty; (7) conspiracy; (8) conversion; (9) defamation; and (10) unfair competition. See Compl. Plaintiffs assert claims one (1) and two (2) solely against Primecare, claim five (5) solely against Moreno-Benton, and claim six (6) solely against Kiehl and Goodbeau. See id. The remaining claims are asserted against all defendants. See id.

On April 2, 2015, defendant Primecare filed a motion to dismiss the claims asserted against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt. 7. Plaintiffs opposed this motion on April 13, 2015, dkt. 11, and Primecare replied on May 4, 2015, dkt. 19.

On April 16, 2015, the Chino Family Medical defendants filed a motion to sever and remand plaintiffs' state law claims (claims 2 through 10). Dkt. 13. Plaintiffs opposed this motion on April 27, 2015, dkt. 17, and defendant Primecare also opposed this motion on April 27, 2015, dkt. 16. The Chino Family Medical defendants replied on May 4, 2015. Dkt. 20. The Court held a hearing on May 18, 2015. Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.

II. BACKGROUND

This action involves a business dispute arising from the dissolution of a marriage between two doctors who, until late 2014, jointly operated a medical practice.

Plaintiff Alphonso Benton, an African-American, is a licensed physician who operates a medical practice, plaintiff Compcare, located in Chino Hills, California. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. Benton and Compcare provide family health and medical services. Id . ¶ 13. Defendant Cynthia Moreno-Benton, a Caucasian-American and licensed physician, was an officer and employee of Compcare until December 1, 2014. Id . ¶ 3. Benton and Moreno-Benton were married for over thirteen years, until Moreno-Benton filed for divorce on or about September 14, 2014. Id . ¶ 14.

Defendant Kristi Kiehl, a Caucasian-American and physician's assistant, was a "key employee" of Compcare until submitting her letter of resignation on October 24, 2014. Id . ¶ 4. Defendant Dana Goodbeau, a Caucasian-American and "medical biller/office floater, " was a "critical employee" of Compcare before submitting her letter of resignation on December 17, 2014. Id . ¶ 5. Defendant Chino Hills Family Medical Group is a California corporation that was incorporated by Moreno-Benton and registered with the California Secretary of State on August 25, 2014. Id . ¶ 6.

Defendant Primecare is an Independent Physician Association ("IPA") with its principal place of business in Chino, California. See id. ¶¶ 6, 23. On or about April 1, 2010, Primecare and Compcare entered into a written Primary Care Physician Services Agreement (the "Agreement"), whereby Primecare agreed to make monetary payments-known as "Capitation Payments"-to Compcare for the provision of medical services to patients under the federal Medicare Advantage program. Id . ¶¶ 8, 37.[2]

Plaintiffs allege that, at all relevant times, Moreno-Benton, Kiehl, Goodbeau, and Primecare were agents of Chino Family Medical. Id . ¶ 9. In the alternative, plaintiffs allege that Moreno-Benton, Kiehl, Goodbeau, and Primecare were engaged in a conspiracy with Chino Family Medical to "misappropriate Plaintiffs' trade secrets, interfere with and destroy Plaintiffs' business relationships, and destroy Plaintiffs' ability to do business." Id . ¶ 10.

Specifically, plaintiffs allege that, while still employed by Compcare, Moreno-Benton and Kiehl secretly incorporated Chino Family Medical and conspired with Primecare "for the solicitation and transfer of as many Primecare patients as possible from Compcare to [Chino Family Medical] as soon as Moreno-Benton and [K]iehl submitted their resignations from Compcare [in October 2014]." Id . ¶ 18. Plaintiffs further allege that, in or about July 2014, Moreno-Benton and unnamed defendants solicited the key employees of Compcare for employment with Chino Family Medical by offering them ...


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