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Rangarajan v. Johns Hopkins Health System Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 21, 2014

MITRA RANGARAJAN,
v.
JOHNS HOPKINS HEALTH SYSTEM CORP., et al.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM M. NICKERSON, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. ECF No. 27. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. Upon a review of the pleadings and the applicable law, the Court determines that no hearing is necessary, Local Rule 105.6, and that Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Mitra Rangarajan, a former nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins, originally brought this action as a putative relator under the False Claims Act alleging fraudulent Medicare billing and wrongful retaliation by Defendants Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation, Johns Hopkins University, John Hopkins Hospital, and Dr. Anthony Kalloo, Plaintiff's former supervisor, in his individual capacity. Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her fraudulent billing claims and amended her complaint to include additional retaliatory claims concerning Defendants' post-termination conduct. The factual allegations in the First Amended Complaint, however, remained largely unchanged and are as follows.

In November 2007, Plaintiff was hired by Defendants as a nurse practitioner in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Incident to her employment, Plaintiff, and other similarly situated nurse practitioners, routinely handled office visits with patients. Plaintiff alleges, however, that Defendants wrongfully billed for office visits handled by nurse practitioners as if they were handled by physicians. Plaintiff discussed her billing concerns with Dr. Kalloo in December 2007, and raised the issue again in February and March of 2008 with Ms. Boldin, the Senior Administrative Manager for the division. In response, Ms. Boldin allegedly told Plaintiff that if she continued to raise billing concerns she would jeopardize her job.

Plaintiff, however, persisted. She raised the issue to Dr. Kalloo again in May and October of 2008, and to Ms. Boldin in April and July of 2009. Plaintiff also sought help from other divisions. She reported wrongful billing practices to the Human Resources Director in April 2009, a Billing Specialist in November 2009, and an employee of the Office of Institutional Equity in September 2010. Overall, Plaintiff alleges that she reported fraudulent billing practices "on at least eighteen separate occasions" to Defendants' employees. ECF No. 46 at 2. In retaliation for her diligent reporting, Plaintiff alleges that she was constructively terminated on May 6, 2011.

On June 22, 2011, Plaintiff was hired at Franklin Square Hospital ("FSH") contingent on her completion of the hospital's credentialing process. In the ensuing months, Plaintiff successfully passed FSH investigations, rebutted an accusation that Defendants subjected her to disciplinary action, and was set to obtain credentials. At this time, an FSH employee informed Plaintiff that Dr. Kalloo had still not responded to requests for an evaluation and that the credentialing committee would decide Plaintiff's case with or without Dr. Kalloo's feedback. Plaintiff alleges that on the last day before the credentialing committee meeting, Dr. Kalloo provided a false and defamatory evaluation causing FSH to deny her credentials and rescind its offer of employment. After the meeting, Plaintiff alleges that a FSH doctor told her that she would need to "clear her name" and obtain a good recommendation from Dr. Kalloo to procure employment at any hospital. First Am. Compl. ¶ 134, ECF No. 5.

On October 13, 2011, Plaintiff was hired at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center ("GBMC"), again contingent on receiving hospital credentials. Plaintiff alleges that GBMC subjected her application to intense scrutiny including an abnormally high number of background checks, and that her credentialing was again frustrated by a negative reference from Defendants. Plaintiff alleges a GBMC Human Resources employee informed her that "[GBMC] do[es]n't want people like [Plaintiff] working [there]." Id. ¶ 141. Neither FSH nor GBMC would tell Plaintiff the nature of Dr. Kalloo's negative reference.

With the dismissal of Plaintiff's fraudulent billing claims, the following claims remain: a retaliation claim under § 2-607(a) of the Health-General Article of the Maryland Code (Count III); a retaliation claim under the Federal False Claims Act (Count IV); a defamation claim (Count V); a tortious interference with prospective business advantages claim (Count VI); and a false light claim (Count VII). Defendants now move to dismiss Counts III and VII as to all Defendants, and Count IV as against Defendant Kalloo. Not challenged in this motion are Count IV as it relates to non-supervisor Defendants, Count V, and Count VI.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A complaint must be dismissed if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555. Rather, the complaint must be supported by factual allegations, "taken as true, " that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555-56. The Supreme Court has explained that "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to plead a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

The plausibility standard requires that the pleader show more than a sheer possibility of success, although it does not impose a "probability requirement." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Instead, "[a] claim has facial plausibility 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, 556 U.S. at 663. Thus, a court must "draw on its judicial experience and common sense" to determine whether the pleader has stated a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 664; see also Brockington v. Boykins, 637 F.3d 503, 505-06 (4th Cir. 2011).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Count III - Maryland Health Care Worker ...


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