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Brailsford v. Fresenius Medical Center CNA Kidney Centers LLC

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

March 31, 2017




         This matter is before the court on defendants Fresenius Medical Center CNA Kidney Centers, LLC (“Fresnius”) and Biomedical Applications of South Carolina, Inc.'s (“Biomedical”) (collectively, “defendants”) motion to dismiss, ECF No. 5, and plaintiff Margaret Ann Brailsford's (“Brailsford”) motion to remand. ECF No. 6. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Brailsford's motion to remand and grants defendants' motion to dismiss all of Brailsford's causes of action.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendants operate a therapeutic renal patient care treatment center in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Compl. ¶ 6. Defendants hired Brailsford as a patient care technician in 2003. Id. ¶ 7. Her duties included monitoring the vital signs of patients and initiating and monitoring the dialysis treatment process for patients. Id. In or about 2010, Brailsford became a certified hemodialysis technician, although her job duties remained the same. Id. ¶ 8.

         On April 2, 2014, Brailsford called one of the clinic's patients, identified in her complaint as “Patient M, ” out of the waiting area for his weekly dialysis treatment. Id. ¶ 11. Patient M, who had arrived two hours early for his appointment, became agitated and hostile towards Brailsford because he had to wait for his treatment. Id. ¶ 12. Patient M used profane language and complained that the dialysis chair he was supposed to use was not clean. Id. Patient M sought out Cheryl Blackwell (“Blackwell”), clinical manager and area director of nursing, to complain about his chair. Id. ¶ 13. Brailsford asked Blackwell if she could switch patients with another hemodialysis technician and Blackwell agreed. Id.

         Once Patient M had been escorted from the waiting room by the other technician, he was positioned behind Brailsford's work station. Id. ¶ 14. Patient M then told Brailsford that she “picked the right one to f*ck with today” and stood behind her in a physically threatening manner. Id. As Brailsford walked away, Patient M stated, “you better walk off before I put my foot up your ass.” Id. ¶ 15. Brailsford went to nurse Lori Hodge (“Hodge”), who was the team leader on duty at the time, to report the incident. Id. Hodge told Brailsford to speak with Blackwell. Id. However, Brailsford could not find Blackwell in the facility. Id. Brailsford continued to perform her job duties amid intermittent snide and threatening comments from Patient M. Id.

         At the conclusion of Patient M's treatment, it became apparent that he had defecated on himself and his chair, leaving bodily fluids and waste in the area he had been sitting. Id. ¶ 16. While Brailsford and two other technicians were cleaning Patient M's station, Brailsford informed her coworkers that Patient M had AIDS. Id. ¶ 17. Brailsford claims that no patients were in the vicinity when she made this comment. Id. While cleaning, Patient M reentered the area, speaking in a loud and threatening manner. Id. ¶ 18. Another nurse asked Patient M to leave and, when he did not, picked up the phone to call 911. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Patient M stated, “y'all don't know who ya'll f*cking with” and turned and fled before the police arrived. Id. ¶ 19.

         The next day, Brailsford reported the entire incident to Blackwell, her supervisor. Id. ¶ 20. Blackwell responded with a “complete and utter lack of concern.” Id. Later the same day, Blackwell informed Brailsford that Patient M had filed a complaint against her. Id. ¶ 21. During a meeting that day, Leslie Shutz (“Shutz”), a human resources representative, berated Brailsford for having told her fellow staff that Patient M had AIDS. Id. When Brailsford asked if defendants intended to investigate Patient M's physical threats, Shutz stated that she would “get back in touch with her.” Id. ¶ 22. Brailsford was ultimately suspended without pay. Id. ¶ 23. On April 15, 2015, Shutz informed Brailsford that she was being terminated for violating HIPPA and PHI. Id. ¶ 24. Brailsford contends that her termination was in retaliation for attempting to avail herself of defendants' problem resolution procedure and for a letter sent by another employee a year earlier outlining health and safety complaints. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         The court notes that it has addressed this dispute before, in Brailsford v. Fresenius Medicial Care CAN Kidney Centers LLC, et. al., 2:15-cv-0239-DCN (“Brailsford I”). Brailsford filed the Brailsford I complaint in state court on November 7, 2014, bringing causes of action for: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of contract accompanied by a fraudulent act; (3) violation of public policy; and (4) failure to protect. Defendants removed Brailsford I to this court, and on January 23, 2015, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The court dismissed the Brailsford I claims without prejudice on July 21, 2015, reasoning that Brailsford had failed to allege that she entered into a contract which “‘impose[d] a limitation on [defendants'] right to terminate [her] at any time for any reason.'” Brailsford I, 2015 WL 4459032, at *1 (D.S.C. July 21, 2015) (alterations in original) (quoting Grant v. Mount Vernon Mills, Inc., 634 S.E.2d 15, 20 (S.C. Ct. App. 2006)).

         On August 17, 2015, Brailsford filed the instant complaint in state court, alleging the following causes of action: (1) breach of contract and (2) breach of contract with fraudulent intent.[1] On September 28, 2015, defendants removed the case to this court and on October 5, 2015, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 5. Brailsford filed a motion to remand on October 8, 2015. ECF No. 6. On October 14, 2015, Brailsford filed a response in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss, ECF No. 7, and defendants replied on October 26, 2015. ECF No. 8. Defendants filed a response in opposition to Brailsford's motion to remand on October 26, 2015, ECF No. 9, and Brailsford replied on November 3, 2015. ECF No. 10. Both motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for the court's review.

         Brailsford's most recent complaint differs very little from her complaint in Brailsford I, with the exception of the following additional paragraph:

Defendant's policies and procedures contained in its employment handbook is [sic] couched in mandatory language which limits Defendant from terminating Plaintiff's employment for reasons relating to her making reports of abusive, threatening, or violent behavior.

Compl. ¶ 29. The complaint also contains a paragraph which states that “Defendant's Employment Handbook does not contain a conspicuous disclaimer.” Id. ¶ 30. Other than these two paragraphs, and the omission of two causes of action, the complaints are identical.

         II. STANDARDS

         A. Motion to Remand

         The right to remove a case from state court to federal court is derived from 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides that “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The party seeking to remove a case from state court to federal court bears the burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction is proper at the time the petition for removal is filed. Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 73 (1996). If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, remand is necessary. Mulcahey v. Columbia Organic Chems. Co., 29 F.3d 148, 151 (4th Cir. 1994); Pohto v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 10-2654, 2011 WL 2670000, at *1 (D.S.C. July 7, 2011) (“Because federal courts are forums of limited jurisdiction, any doubt as to whether a case belongs in federal or state court should be resolved in favor of state court.”).

         District courts have diversity jurisdiction over a case “where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different states.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). When removal is based solely on diversity jurisdiction, however, an otherwise-removable case “may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2). Federal law also requires that “[a] motion to remand the case on the basis ...

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