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Dhillon v. Cleveland Clinic Foundation

December 8, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John R. Adams


This matter is before the Court on Defendant Cleveland Clinic Foundation's Motion to Dismiss in Part the Amended Complaint (Doc. 47). The Court has been advised, having reviewed the Amended Complaint and attachments thereto; Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, the Response in Opposition thereto, and Defendant's Reply; and applicable law. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

I. Statement of Facts

The facts set forth herein are as stated in the Amended Complaint. Plaintiff, Dr. Ramandeep K. Dhillon (Plaintiff), was employed in the Family Medicine Department at Defendant's facility in Wooster, Ohio. She was first hired in August 1997 and received a one-year contract each successive year until December 2006.

Plaintiff contends that, as part of the contract, both Plaintiff and Defendant were required to follow professional staff policies, and Plaintiff was entitled to disability benefits and short-term wage continuation. The disability plans were administered by Defendant and provided for review of claims both by the Board of Governors and the Physician Health Committee. Further, Defendant is an employer subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").

According to the Amended Complaint, at all relevant times Plaintiff suffered from "several serious medical conditions" that "substantially affect[ed] her daily life activities." (Compl. at 26.)*fn1 Despite these conditions, Plaintiff contends that she was able to perform her job duties with reasonable accommodations. Plaintiff says that she informed Defendant of her condition, though she does not state when she did so.

In 2002, Plaintiff's employer permitted her to work reduced hours for a commensurate reduction in her compensation, and "[f]or a brief period of time," Plaintiff was relieved of night duty in accordance with her physician's recommendation. (Comp. at 32.) Plaintiff appears to contend that this relief from night duty work was eliminated at some point. She further alleges that she was not permitted to take breaks during the day, as necessary. She informed the administrator at the Wooster facility on March 31, 2006, that she required an accommodation, and specifically that she was unable to work night duty. She spoke with the assistant administrator a few months later. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant continued to assign her to night duties despite these meetings.

On August 10, 2006, Defendant informed Plaintiff that she would be relieved of her duties, but that her wages would continue, though the Amended Complaint does not indicate whether those wages did continue for any length of time and, if so, when Defendant ceased to pay Plaintiff's wages. Plaintiff reiterated her health concerns to Defendant, and she understood that she was being placed on medical leave as a result of those concerns. She contends in her Amended Complaint that she "immediately" sought disability benefits (Compl. at 42), but that Defendant did not assist her in her efforts or provide information to her about its disability benefits plan when her legal representative made an inquiry on her behalf in September 2006.

She contends that she was never provided an application for disability benefits, nor did Defendant initiate action by the Physician Health Committee.

According to Plaintiff, her treating physician certified on October 10, 2006, that she was unable to return to work until the beginning of 2007, and that she was undergoing continued treatment and evaluation. The treating physician further requested accommodations, "including part-time assignment and no night shift duties." (Compl. at 49.) Plaintiff's legal representative again inquired about disability benefits on October 12, 2006, forwarding the treating physician's evaluation and informing Defendant that Plaintiff's rights under the ADA and FMLA were being violated, but Defendant did not provide the requested information. Plaintiff believes that, despite being given her permission to review her records and speak with her physicians, Defendant did not undertake a review of her case to evaluate her entitlement to disability benefits. She provided one additional physician's report in May 2007 that again requested accommodations of limited hours, rest breaks and no night shift duty. She then filed this action in November 2007.

Plaintiff apparently takes issue with Defendant's Administrative Record, certified by Defendant to be the complete Administrative Record regarding Plaintiff's claim for benefits. Plaintiff repeatedly refers to the file as the "claim file," using quotation marks, and noting that there is no evidence in this file that the Board of Governors reviewed the file or considered permitting Plaintiff to continue her employment. She also draws attention to the letter filed by Defendant at the direction of the Court in which Defendant expressly denies Plaintiff's claims for disability benefits. Plaintiff notes that no reasons are given in the letter, nor does the letter refer to any findings made by the Physicians Health Committee.

II. Applicable Legal Standard

As the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stated in Ass'n of Cleveland Fire Fighters v. City of Cleveland, 502 F.3d 545 (6th Cir. 2007):

The Supreme Court has recently clarified the law with respect to what a plaintiff must plead in order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, (2007). The Court stated that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 1964-65 (citations and quotation marks omitted). Additionally, the Court emphasized that even though a complaint need not contain "detailed" factual allegations, its "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true." Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). In so holding, the Court disavowed the oft-quoted Rule 12(b)(6) standard of Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957) (recognizing "the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief"), characterizing that rule as one "best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1969.

Id. at 548.

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, the court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). If an allegation in the complaint is capable of more than one inference, the court must construe it in the plaintiff's favor. Columbia Natural Resources, Inc. v. Tatum, 58 F.3d 1101, 1109 (6th Cir. 1995). The Court may not grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion merely because it may not believe a plaintiff's factual allegations. Id. Although this is a liberal standard of review, the plaintiff still must do more than merely assert bare legal conclusions. Id. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff's complaint must allege either "direct or inferential" ...

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