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Harris v. UBH of Oregon, LLC

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

December 5, 2017

DAVID HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
UBH OF OREGON, LLC, dba Cedar Hills Hospital, Defendant,

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Ann Aiken United States District Judge

         Plaintiff David Harris filed the initial complaint in this diversity action on August 21, 2017, asserting claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation against his former employer, defendant UBH of Oregon, LLC ("UBH"). He simultaneously moved to proceed in forma pauperis. Upon examination of plaintiff s affidavit, I found that plaintiff was unable to afford the costs of this action and granted plaintiffs motion. However, after reviewing the complaint under the standards set out in, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), I concluded that the complaint did not contain enough factual content to support either of plaintiffs claims. I dismissed but granted plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to include additional facts. I now review the Amended Complaint in order to see if it states a claim for relief.

         STANDARDS

         In federal court, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R, Civ. P. 8(a)(2). That pleading standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell All Corp. v. Twombfy, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)), To state a claim for relief, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff formerly worked as a therapist for UBH. He alleges that on August 18, 2015, his clinical supervisor, Shanna Branham, placed him on administrative leave after a patient accused plaintiff of "vague verbal misconduct . . . during group therapy." Am. Compl. ¶ 3. Branham sent plaintiff two text messages on August 20 telling him to return to work the next day. When he returned to work, she fired him. Branham told plaintiff his termination was based, at least in part, on his being "late to work too often[.]" Id. ¶ 20. It is not clear from the Amended Complaint whether that was UBH's only stated reason for the termination or whether UBH also concluded that the patient's complaint was founded.

         Plaintiff alleges that, while he was on administrative leave, Branham intentionally published false defamatory statements about plaintiff "to the CEO of CHH as well as to other senior administrative personnel and to human resources." Id. ¶ 13. The only allegedly defamatory statement plaintiff identifies with specificity is the statement that plaintiff was late for work too often, Plaintiff suggests that the other defamatory statements could be obtained through the discovery process.

         Plaintiff alleges that frivolous complaints against UBH employees were exceedingly common; that Branham knew the complaint against plaintiff was frivolous because the complaining patient was detoxing from drug use, had a mental illness, and suffered from severe hearing loss; that a contemporaneous, much more serious complaint against another UBH employee (that the employee had groped a patient) was never investigated; and that the same UBH employee told plaintiff UBH had not placed a therapist on administrative leave in the preceding six to seven years. He also denies that he had a punctuality problem. In response to the statements regarding his tardiness, plaintiff asserts that he had been told during training that salaried personnel could clock in at any time during the day; there was no requirement to clock in upon arrival at work.

         Plaintiff posits an alternative theory for his termination. He says that UBH held weekly meetings for therapists at noon on Tuesdays. Plaintiff told Branham when he began working at UBH that he had duties as a lector at noon mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church on Tuesdays, and that he could attend the meetings only once a month. Plaintiff alleges that Branham told him the meetings were "more important than [his] religious obligations" and that the Catholic faith was "just a tradition." Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff alleges that Branham resented plaintiff for missing the Tuesday meetings and was searching for an excuse to fire him; the patient complaint and his time card records, he contends, provided that excuse.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         Plaintiffs first claim is for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Under Oregon law, to state such a claim, a plaintiff "must plead that (1) the defendant intended to inflict severe emotional distress on the plaintiff, (2) the defendant's acts were the cause of plaintiffs severe emotional distress, and (3) the defendant's acts constituted an extraordinary transgression of the bounds of socially tolerable conduct, " McGanty v. Staudenraus, 901 P.2d 841, 849 (Or. 1995) (citing Sheets v. Knight, 779 P.2d 1000, 1010 (Or. 1989)). The Oregon Court of Appeals has explained that a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress requires "conduct that is outrageous in the extreme. Conduct that is merely rude, boorish, tyrannical, churlish and mean does not satisfy that standard, nor do insults, harsh or intimidating words, or rude behavior ordinarily result in liability even when intended to cause distress." Watte v. Edgar Maeyens, Jr., M.D., P.C., 828 P.2d 479, 481 (Or. Ct. App. 1992) (citations and quotation marks omitted). The conduct must be so severe "that no reasonable person in plaintiffs position could be expected to endure it." Wilson v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 2004 WL 1381209, *4 (D. Or. June 21, 2004). "Oregon cases that have allowed claims for IIED to proceed typically involve acts of psychological and physical intimidation, racism, or sexual harassment." Id.

         In the prior dismissal order, I concluded that the complaint met the first two requirements by adequately alleging intent and causation, but failed to allege conduct amounting to an "extraordinary transgression of the bounds of socially tolerable conduct." McGanty, 901 P.2d at 849. The amendments to the complaint do not cure that deficiency. Plaintiff asserts that Branham sent the texts "not to be merely rude, but to inflict as much emotional distress upon Plaintiff as she could for being Catholic and worshiping his faith." Am. Compl. ¶ 11. But plaintiff does not allege that the text messages actually said anything about plaintiffs religion. Even if they were part of a plot to fire plaintiff because he was Catholic, the two text messages- which apparently only directed plaintiff to return to work-simply "do not sink to the actionable level" with respect to a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Watte, 828 P.2d at 481. Similarly, even if Branham lied to management about ...


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