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Dr. Mohamed Elnadi v. Upinder Singh

April 30, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge


This case arises out of an employment dispute between a dentist, Dr. Mohamed Elnadi, plaintiff and counterclaim defendant, and his former employer, Upinder Singh, P.C. ("Singh"), defendant and counterclaimant, a dentistry practice.*fn1 Dr. Elnadi filed a six-count Complaint (ECF 1) against defendant, seeking to recover damages based on breach of contract; "loss of collection," under Md. Code (2008 Repl. Vol., 2012 Supp.), Labor & Empl. §§ 3-501, et seq.; unjust enrichment; "fraud-intentional misrepresentation"; negligent misrepresentation; and promissory estoppel. He claims, inter alia, that Singh failed to compensate him fully under the terms of his employment agreement, and that Singh wrongfully declined to renew his employment agreement, despite promising to do so. Defendant filed an Answer and Counterclaim ("Counterclaim") (ECF 7), alleging that plaintiff breached his employment agreement by, inter alia, "failing to offer competent care to ... patients and adhere to ethical practices," and "exhibiting unprofessional behavior in the workplace." Counterclaim ¶¶ 4-5.

Defendant claims that, as a result of plaintiff's inadequate dental care, defendant has had to repair dental work for affected patients, at no cost to the patients, and thus Singh has suffered damages in excess of $100,000. See id. ¶¶ 6-12.*fn2

Plaintiff has filed a motion dismiss the Counterclaim for lack of jurisdiction, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), and for failure to state a claim, under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). See Motion to Dismiss Counterclaim ("Motion," ECF 18). His Motion is supported by a memorandum of law ("Memo," ECF 18-1). In particular, plaintiff maintains that the Counterclaim is a "dental malpractice action," and is thus subject to the Maryland Health Care Malpractice Claims Act ("HCMCA" or "Act"), Md. Code (2013 Repl. Vol.), Cts. & Jud. Proc. ("C.J."), §§ 3-2A-01 et seq. See Motion ¶ 3. According to plaintiff, the Counterclaim "was improperly filed in this action as it was not previously filed in the Health Care Alternative Dispute Resolution Office" ("HCADRO"), as required by the Act. See Motion ¶ 4. Defendant opposes the Motion ("Opposition" or "Opp.," ECF 21), maintaining that the Counterclaim does not fall within the scope of the HCMCA.

The issues have been fully briefed, and no hearing is necessary to resolve them. See Local Rule 105.6. For reasons that follow, I will grant the Motion, without prejudice.

Factual Background*fn3

Dr. Elnadi and Singh entered into a Professional Employment Agreement (the "Agreement," ECF 7-1), for the period of August 1, 2010 through February 1, 2012.

Counterclaim ¶ 2. "Pursuant to the Agreement, [Dr. Elnadi] was charged with rendering professional services as a dentist to the very best of his ability and complying with all requirements, directions, requests, rules, and regulations made by [Singh]." Id. ¶ 3; see Agreement ¶ 3 ("Duties"). "Following the expiration of the Agreement, patients of [Dr. Elnadi] have presented to [Singh] with complaints about [Dr. Elnadi] and his dental work . . . ." Counterclaim ¶ 6. Singh avers: "The pain and sensitivity complained of by [Singh's] patients was caused by [Dr. Elnadi's] lack of patient care." Id. ¶ 7.

As a result, Singh contends that it "has had to fix and repair dental work performed by [Dr. Elnadi] . . . at no cost to the patient and at a substantial loss to [Singh]." Id. ¶ 8. For example, Singh avers that Dr. Elnadi "installed crowns on . . . patients without first removing tooth decay." Id. ¶ 9. Similarly, Singh contends that it "was forced to perform a root canal in one particular case" that it "would not have had to perform . . . had [Dr. Elnadi] adhered to the standard of care expected to [sic] dentists." Id. ¶ 10. Singh also contends that it "has incurred laboratory and other costs in treating patients for pain and sensitivity caused by [Dr. Elnadi's] lack of patient care." Id. ¶ 11. According to defendant, it "has been damaged in excess of $100,000." Id. ¶ 12.

Standard of Review

Dr. Elnadi filed his motion under Rule 12(b)(1), arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. He has also moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. I will construe the motion as one under Rule 12(b)(6), because plaintiff errs in asserting that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

Subject matter jurisdiction pertains to "a court's adjudicatory authority." Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 455 (2004); see also Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) ("subject-matter jurisdiction" refers to "the courts' statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case") (emphasis in original); Landgraf v. USI Film Prods., 511 U.S. 244, 274 (1994) ("[J]urisdictional statutes 'speak to the power of the court rather than to the rights or obligations of the parties.'") (Citation omitted). "It is well established that before a federal court can decide the merits of a claim, the claim must invoke the jurisdiction of the court." Miller v. Brown, 462 F.3d 312, 316 (4th Cir. 2006). However, "[a] statutory condition that requires a party to take some action before filing a lawsuit is not automatically 'a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit.'" Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 559 U.S. 154, 130. S Ct. 1237, 1246 (2010) (quoting Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393 (1982)); see also Rice v. Rivera, 617 F.3d 802, 810-11 (4th Cir. 2010) (distinguishing "jurisdictional rules" from "claims-processing rules," which "'merely prescribe the method by which the jurisdiction granted the courts by Congress is to be exercised'") (quoting United States v. Hartwell, 448 F.3d 707, 717 (4th Cir. 2006)).

The Maryland Court of Appeals has made clear that certain requirements under the HCMCA, discussed in more detail, infra, are conditions precedent to the filing of a medical malpractice suit in court, but do not constitute a jurisdictional limitation. See Carroll v. Konits, 400 Md. 167, 172, 929 A.2d 19, 22 (2006) (holding that, under the Act, the filing of a certificate of expert is a "condition precedent" to filing suit); Witte v. Azarian, 369 Md. 518, 527, 801 A.2d 160, 166 (2002) (recognizing that the arbitration process under the Act was intended as a condition precedent to filing a suit in court); Crawford v. Leahy, 326 Md. 160, 165, 604 A.2d 73, 75 (1992) ("The mandatory arbitration requirement does not divest courts of subject matter jurisdiction over health claims, but rather creates a condition precedent to the institution of a court action."); Oxtoby v. McGowan, 294 Md. 83, 91, 447 A.2d 860, 864-65 (1982) ("The Act . does not take away the subject matter jurisdiction of a circuit court to hear and render judgments in cases involving claims which fall within the Act."); see also Brooks v. Md. Gen. Hosp., Inc., 996 F.2d 708, 711-12 (4th Cir. 1993 (stating that the Act "requires, as a condition precedent to filing a malpractice claim in court, that the claimant pursue arbitration"). Further, 28 U.S.C. § 1332 vests this Court with the authority, in general, to adjudicate a dental malpractice claim when the criteria for diversity of citizenship are satisfied.

Therefore, I will consider plaintiff's motion under Rule 12(b)(6). See, e.g., Hawes v. Network Solutions, Inc., 337 F.3d 377, 383 (4th Cir. 2003) (explaining that a district court should consider a motion to dismiss improperly filed under Rule 12(b)(1), when predicated on non-jurisdictional grounds, as a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6)); Miller v. Herman, 600 F.3d 726, 732 (7th Cir. 2010) (construing motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) as motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), where movant conflated non-jurisdictional precondition to suit with jurisdictional limitations); see also Montana-Dakota Utils. Co. v. Nw. Pub. Serv. Co., 341 U.S. 246, 249 (1951) ("As frequently happens where jurisdiction depends on subject matter, the question whether ...

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