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Deborah Ehling v. Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp.

May 30, 2012

DEBORAH EHLING,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MONMOUTH-OCEAN HOSPITAL SERVICE CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.:

OPINION

Plaintiff Deborah Ehling brings this action against Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corp. ("MONOC"), Vincent Robbins, and Stacy Quagliana (collectively "Defendants"), alleging violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and various state laws. This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

I.BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the Amended Complaint and the documents that form the basis of Plaintiff's claims.

Plaintiff Deborah Ehling is a registered nurse and paramedic. Defendant Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corporation ("MONOC") is a non-profit hospital service corporation dedicated to providing emergency medical services to the citizens of the State of New Jersey. Defendant Vincent Robbins is the President and CEO of MONOC. Defendant Stacy Quagliana is the Executive Director of Administration at MONOC.

Plaintiff was hired by MONOC in 2004 as a registered nurse and paramedic. In July of 2008, Plaintiff took over as the Acting President of the local union for Professional Emergency Medical Services Association -- New Jersey (the "Union"). As President, Plaintiff was "very proactive in attempting to protect the rights and safety of her union members" and filed numerous complaints and charges against MONOC to that end. Am. Compl. 8. Plaintiff alleges that, as soon as she became President of the Union, Defendants began engaging in a pattern of retaliatory conduct against her, eventually culminating in her termination in July 2011. Although the Amended Complaint contains allegations regarding a wide range of conduct, the Court will discuss only those allegations that are relevant to the motion to dismiss.

During the 2008-2009 timeframe, Plaintiff maintained an account on Facebook, a social networking website. According to Plaintiff, if someone was not invited to be her Facebook "friend," he or she could not access and view postings on Plaintiff's Facebook "wall." Many of Plaintiff's co-workers were invited to be Plaintiff's Facebook friends. Plaintiff did not invite any members of MONOC management as friends.

Plaintiff alleges that MONOC "[s]ubsequently . . . gained access to Ms. Ehling's Facebook account by having a supervisor(s) summon a MONOC employee, who was also one of Ms. Ehling's Facebook friends, into an office" and "coerc[ing], strong-arrn[ing], and/or threaten[ing] the employee into accessing his Facebook account on the work computer in the supervisor's presence." Am. Compl. 20. Plaintiff claims that the supervisor viewed and copied Plaintiff's Facebook postings. One such posting was a comment that Plaintiff made regarding a shooting that took place at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, stating:

An 88 yr old sociopath white supremacist opened fire in the Wash D.C. Holocaust Museum this morning and killed an innocent guard (leaving children). Other guards opened fire. The 88 yr old was shot. He survived. I blame the DC paramedics. I want to say 2 things to the DC medics. 1. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? and 2. This was your opportunity to really make a difference! WTF!!!! And to the other guards..go to target practice.

Certification of Elizabeth Duffy ("Duffy Cert.") Ex. C, ECF No. 11.*fn1 On June 17, 2009, MONOC sent letters regarding Plaintiff's Facebook posting to the New Jersey Board of Nursing and the New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Emergency Medical Services. The letters state that MONOC was concerned that Plaintiff's Facebook posting showed a disregard for patient safety. See Duffy Cert. Ex. A, ECF No. 11. Plaintiff alleges that these letters were sent in a "malicious" attempt to attack Plaintiff, damage her reputation and employment opportunities, and potentially risk losing her nursing license and paramedic certification status. Am. Compl. 21-22.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).

Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, "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." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 ...


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