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Care One Management, LLC v. United Healthcare Workers East

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 10, 2013

CARE ONE MANAGEMENT, LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED HEALTHCARE WORKERS EAST, SEIU 1199, et al., Defendant.

OPINION

SUSAN D. WIGENTON, District Judge.

Before the Court is defendants 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East ("UHWE") and New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199's ("NEHCEU") (collectively "Defendants" or "Defendant Unions") motion to dismiss the Complaint of Care One Management, LLC ("Care One"), HealthBridge Management, LLC ("HealthBridge"), the Care One Facilities, [1] and the HealthBridge Facilities[2] (collectively "Plaintiffs") ("Motion to Dismiss").

This Court considers this matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. This Court has jurisdiction to hear this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1337, and 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Venue is appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

For the reasons provided below, this Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 10). The Court will permit Plaintiffs to amend their Complaint within fourteen (14) days from the date of this Opinion. The Court DENIES Plaintiffs' request for a surreply. (Dkt. No. 27.)

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Unions are affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (the "SEIU"). (Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs allege that these groups have ceased with traditional organizing and negotiation tactics in favor of extortion and fraud. ( Id. ) According to Plaintiffs, SEIU produces a "Contract Campaign Manual" (the "Manual"), which Plaintiffs allege the two Defendants follow and that Plaintiffs believe "condones and encourages illegal, immoral and unethical behavior in the pursuit of the unions' goals." ( Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) According to Plaintiffs, the Manual directly opposes the orderly process established under the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. ("NLRA"), and the Manual "instructs SEIU members, and members of its affiliated local unions, to destroy businesses, ruin reputations, and invoke legal process improperly." (Compl. ¶ 3; Ex. A.)

To support their claims, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants engaged in various disruptive and criminal acts to create maximum chaos. ( Id. ¶ 77.) For example, Plaintiffs allege that on July 3, 2012, NEHCEU members at five of the facilities that Plaintiffs manage went on strike and that "at the direction of lead organizers employed by NEHCEU, employees committed numerous criminal acts that jeopardized the lives and safety of the elderly and frail patients of these facilities." ( Id. ¶ 79.) These alleged acts include switching name tags, losing or stealing equipment, placing screwdrivers in ceiling tiles, and removing daily living flow sheets. ( Id. ) At the Danbury Health Care Center, patient identifiers were switched and washing machines were tampered with, and at the Stamford facility a washing machine door was smashed and a call bell cord was removed. ( Id. )

Plaintiffs essentially allege that the acts of sabotage at its facilities were to pressure Plaintiffs to resolve a strike against Plaintiffs and agree to collective bargaining agreements in Connecticut in NEHCEU's favor. ( Id. ¶¶ 70-71.) Further, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants' demands were directly and indirectly communicated by David Pickus (NEHCEU President), Ricky Elliott (UHWE Vice President), and Elisabeth Daley (UHWE official). ( Id. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants disseminated false and misleading information to the public to further extort Plaintiffs. ( Id. ¶ 77.) For example, Plaintiffs contend that despite the fact that they reported the July 3, 2012 incidents to the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Connecticut Attorney General's office on the same day they occurred, a spokesperson for NEHCEU posted on a Connecticut news blog that Plaintiffs "waited two whole weeks'" before reporting the incidents. ( Id. ¶¶ 81-82.)

In 2010, Defendants and others launched the websites entitled, "Care One Watch" and "HealthBridge Watch" (hereinafter "COW"), where Plaintiffs claim they "disseminate false and misleading information about Care One, HealthBridge, and Daniel E. Straus over the Internet", [3] and suggest quality-of-care problems and overbilling issues.[4] ( Id. ¶¶ 101, 103, 104.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants communicated similar statements in advertisements to print and radio media via e-mail, fax, and/or U.S. mail before these publications printed them. ( Id. ¶ 108.) Plaintiffs also allege that Union organizers in Connecticut and New Jersey mailed and gave patients' family members flyers inquiring whether they were "Overbilled at a Care One Facility?" and encouraging them to check for errors in their Care One bills. (Compl. ¶106.)

Further, on November 17, 2011, November 23, 2011, and December 2, 2011, NEHCEU allegedly sponsored advertisements in Boston and Connecticut newspapers directing readers to review their HealthBridge bills for overbilling. ( Id. ¶¶ 107-08.) Between 2011 and 2012, numerous COW billboard trucks parked in front of various Care One sites with similar sentiments regarding billing and quality of care. ( Id. ¶¶ 116-122.)

Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants abused the legal process in order to extort Plaintiffs. ( Id. ¶ 77.) For instance, in fall 2011, UHWE filed three "Ten Taxpayer" petitions in Massachusetts to object to Plaintiffs' Applications for Need. ( Id. ¶ 87.) The Applications for Need, according to Plaintiffs, "were filed [in order] to complete necessary upgrades and renovations to provide better care for the patients in [Plaintiffs'] facilities." ( Id. ) However, allegedly between September 20, 2012 and September 24, 2012, via e-mail and telephone, Elisabeth Daley (UHWE's Senior Research Analyst) admitted to HealthBridge's outside auditor that Defendants' petitions were filed in response to the collective bargaining disputes rather than any concerns relating to Plaintiffs' facility upgrade and renovation plans. ( Id. ¶¶ 89-90.)

With regard to Straus, an "indirect" owner of Plaintiffs' facilities, Plaintiffs claim Defendants have tried to extort him as well. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Straus is a trustee of New York University ("NYU") School of Law, and Plaintiffs allege that "Defendants have enlisted the NYU Student Labor Action Movement to apply pressure to the school's president to remove Daniel Straus as a trustee unless Plaintiffs accede to Defendants' demands." ( Id. ¶¶ 4, 14.) Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants sought to embarrass and disparage Straus to NYU Law School by, for example, having a page entitled "Institute for Injustice" on the COW website with images from September 8, 2011 when Defendants and others demonstrated outside NYU Law School. ( Id. ¶ 127.) According to Plaintiffs, "[a]t the event, performers staged a mock opening of the Straus Institute for Worker Injustice.'" ( Id. )

On September 24, 2011, David Pickus (NEHCEU President) emailed Straus, and then on October 30, 2011, emailed Straus Institute Fellows allegedly to pressure Straus and to gain sympathy. ( Id. ¶ 129.) Further, Defendant Unions allegedly worked with NYU students and organizations, including the Student Labor Action Project, Law Students for Economic Justice and NYU for Occupy Wall Street to advance their union agenda. ( Id. ¶ 132.) Subsequently, NYU students have published "union-friendly" articles and petitioned to get Straus off the NYU board of trustees.[5] ( Id. ¶¶ 132-36.)

On October 10, 2012, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey with the following six causes of action: four claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq. ("RICO") (Counts One through Four), Unfair Trade Practices (Count Five), and Tortious Interference with Contractual and Economic Relationships (Count Six). ( See Compl.) On December 18, 2012, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. On February 15, 2013, Plaintiffs filed opposition, and on March 11, 2013, Defendants filed their reply. On March 15, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a motion for permission to file a surreply.[6]

LEGAL STANDARD

In considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Phillips v. Cnty of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). However, the claims must call "for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Id. at 234 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Similarly, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

Generally, when evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court may consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.1993).

Pursuant to Rule 9(b), "[i]n alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake." Warden v. ...


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