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Packett v. University of Maryland Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 30, 2017

KATHERINE PACKETT, Plaintiff,
v.
UNVERISTY OF MARYLAND MEDICAL CENTER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Katherine Packett (“Plaintiff” or “Packett”) filed this action against Defendant University of Maryland Medical Center (“UMMC” or “Defendant”), asserting state law claims for unlawful retaliation, disability discrimination and retaliation, and wrongful discharge based on Plaintiff's disclosure of and/or objections to patient safety and wage issues. (Compl., ECF No. 2.) Packett originally filed her Complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland. UMMC removed the case to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C §§ 2601 et seq. (ECF No. 1.) Currently pending before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and Motion for Attorney's Fees. (ECF No. 14.) The parties' submissions have been reviewed, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 14) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, this case will be REMANDED to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, but Plaintiff is not awarded attorney's fees.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Katherine Packett worked for UMMC from July of 2013 to January of 2016. (Compl., ECF No. 2 at ¶ 7.) During this time, her immediate supervisor was Eveena Felder (“Felder”). (Id. at ¶ 7.) On June 16, 2015, she was promoted from Senior Clinical Nurse I to Senior Clinical Nurse II. (Id. at ¶ 10.) This promotion included a salary increase that Packett was told would only take a few weeks to process. (Id. at ¶ 25.) When her salary had not increased by mid-July, she contacted Human Resources and was told that her promotional paperwork had not been submitted. (Id. at ¶ 27.) Plaintiff followed up with Felder who told her that she had properly submitted the paperwork. (Id.) Packett claims that she was subsequently forced to contact numerous individuals before her promotion was finally processed on or around September 11, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 31.) Also during this time, from around February of 2015 through September of 2015, Packett reported violations by a fellow registered nurse to both Felder and the department's Quality Improvement Coordinator, Beth Sherfy (“Sherfy”). (Id. at ¶ 16.) Despite Plaintiff voicing her concerns about patient safety, no one at UMMC took “any meaningful corrective action.” (Id. at ¶¶ 14-23.) Frustrated by the lack of response, in September of 2015 Packett “began escalating patient safety issues her immediate supervisors had been ignoring for several months to UMMC administrators, ” including the Medical Director. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 24.)

         Plaintiff claims that around this same time that her salary increase was processed and she began escalating her patient safety concerns, Felder “seemed to be intentionally making her working conditions intolerable.” (Id. at ¶¶ 32-35.) Given her suspicions of retaliation, on September 27, 2015, Plaintiff contacted the Director of Nursing and PCS, who then shared Plaintiff's concerns with the Interim Director of the Division of Women's and Children's Health. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Three days later, Plaintiff also submitted Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork requesting intermittent leave related to medical conditions. (Id. at ¶ 38.) The paperwork included a request that Plaintiff should not work more than forty (40) hours per week when possible. (Id.) The FMLA request was approved. (Id.) Despite the approval, however, Felder continued to insist that Plaintiff work more than forty hours a week. (Id.) When the situation with Felder continued to worsen, Plaintiff reached out to additional UMMC administrators. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-48). Finally, on December 21, 2015, Packett indicated that she would be leaving her employment on January 11, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 49.) On December 28, 2015, however, Plaintiff was notified that she was being placed on administrative leave and escorted from the building. (Id. at ¶ 49.) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a complaint with UMMC's Corporate Compliance Office and a Charge of Discrimination with the Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). (Id. at ¶¶ 50, 52.)

         On December 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant three-count Complaint in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, alleging: retaliation in violation of the Maryland Health Care Worker Whistleblower Protection Act, Md. Health Occ. Code Ann. § 1-501, et seq. (Count I); discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, Md. State Gov't Code Ann. § 20-101, et seq. (Count II); and wrongful discharge (Count III). (ECF No. 2.) Defendant removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, based on the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C §§ 2601 et seq. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff filed the pending Motion to Remand. (ECF No. 14.)

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A defendant in a state civil action may remove the case to federal court only if the federal court can exercise original jurisdiction over at least one of the asserted claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(c). Once an action is removed to federal court, the plaintiff may file a motion to remand the case to state court if there is a contention that jurisdiction is defective. 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The party seeking removal, and not the party seeking remand, bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction in the federal court. Johnson v. Advance America, 549 F.3d 932, 935 (4th Cir. 2008). On a motion to remand, this Court must “strictly construe the removal statute and resolve all doubts in favor of remanding the case to state court.” Richardson v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 950 F.Supp. 700, 701-02 (D. Md. 1997) (citation omitted). “If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary.” Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., Inc., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994); see also Dixon v. Coburg Dairy, Inc., 369 F.3d 811, 815-16 (4th Cir. 2004).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Motion to Remand

         Defendant UMMC argues that this Court may properly exercise subject matter jurisdiction over this case because Packett's claims arise under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C §§ 2601 et seq. (“FMLA”). Specifically, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's claims under the Maryland Health Care Worker Whistleblower Protection Act and Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act “includ[e] retaliatory denial of her rights under the [FMLA].” (ECF No. 17 at 1-2.) Accordingly, Defendant asserts that removal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 was proper and this Court exercises jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In her Motion to Remand, Packett argues that the Complaint “does not allege that UMMC violated or unlawfully interfered with her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, nor does she seek any damages for any alleged violations of her FMLA rights.” (ECF No. 14 at 2, 4.) Rather, Plaintiff brought her claims under Maryland statutory and common law, alleging that “after she informed UMMC administrators of patient safety concerns and wage payment issues her immediate supervisor had been ignoring for months, her supervisor began treating her more harshly than her coworkers and subjected her to various adverse employment actions” that forced Plaintiff to resign. (Id.)

         The “well-pleaded complaint rule” governs the presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425 (1987). Under this rule, courts “‘‘ordinarily . . . look no further than the plaintiff's [properly pleaded] complaint in determining whether a lawsuit raises issues of federal law capable of creating federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.'” Pinney v. Nokia, Inc., 402 F.3d 430, 442 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Custer v. Sweeney, 89 F.3d 1156, 1165 (4th Cir. 1996)). A complaint raises a federal question in one of two ways. The more common is when a plaintiff's cause of action is itself created by federal law. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 809 (1986). The second, narrower way of establishing federal jurisdiction is often referred to as the “substantial federal question doctrine.” Pinney, 402 F.3d at 442. This doctrine permits a federal court to exercise jurisdiction over a plaintiff's state law cause of action when the state claim “necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983); see also Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue, 545 U.S. 308, 312 (2005) (stating that federal courts may exercise federal question jurisdiction over “state-law claims that implicate significant federal issues” and “turn on substantial questions of federal law, ” as such claims “justify resort to the experience, solicitude, and hope of uniformity that a federal forum offers on federal issues”).

         The Defendant UMMC opposes a remand in this case on the grounds that this is a case of “artful pleading.” Pursuant to this argument, the Defendant argues that a plaintiff cannot avoid federal jurisdiction by attempting to artfully allege a state cause of action. Artful pleading is a doctrine that “allows removal where federal law completely preempts a plaintiff's state law claim.” Rivet v. Regions Bank of Louisiana, 522 U.S. 470, 475, 118 S.Ct. 921, 925 (1998) (emphasis added).[1] “Once an area of state law has been completely preempted, any claim purportedly based on that preempted state-law claim is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 2430 (1987). Accordingly, this doctrine prevents a plaintiff from “seek[ing] to avoid the effect of preemption by pleading only state causes of action.” Woods v. Nissan North America, No. CCB-04-2898, 2005 WL 1000089, at *2 (D. Md. Apr. 29, 2005).

         The artful pleading doctrine does not apply, however, where state law causes of action are not completely preempted by federal law. The Family and Medical Leave Act specifically states, “[n]othing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to supersede any provision of any State or local law that provides greater family or medical leave rights than the rights established under this Act or any amendment made by this Act.” 29 U.S.C. § 2651. While the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has not yet addressed whether the FMLA preempts state law claims, this Court and other district courts in the Fourth Circuit have held that the FMLA unambiguously does not preempt state law claims. See Danfelt v. Bd. of County. Com'rs of Washigton County, 998 F.Supp. 606, 611 (D. Md. 1998) (explaining that the FMLA did not preempt Plaintiff's wrongful discharge claim under Maryland law); see also Vandevander v. Verizon Wireless, LLC, 149 F.Supp.3d 724, 728 (S.D. W.Va. 2016) (“The FMLA, by its terms, does not preempt state law claims, and the Act's terms reveal Congress' general intent to prevent the FMLA from preempting state law claims.”); Davis v. Cabela's ...


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