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Walker v. Emergency Staffing Solutions, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 2, 2017

WILLIAM WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
EMERGENCY STAFFING SOLUTIONS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 5], filed October 11, 2016. Plaintiff responded on October 25, 2016. [Doc. 10]. Defendant did not reply, and the time for doing so has elapsed. The Court heard oral argument on the motion on January 12, 2017. [Doc. 15]. Having considered the record, briefing, oral argument, and relevant law, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion will be GRANTED as to Plaintiff's claims based on quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, and violation of the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act. The motion will be DENIED as to Plaintiff's claim for breach of contract.

         Background

         Plaintiff is a physician. [Doc. 1-1] at 1. Defendant provides medical staffing to hospitals. Id. at 2. In July 2014, the parties entered into a contract under which Plaintiff agreed to provide his services as a physician to Defendant's clients. Id. The claims in this case stem from Plaintiff's provision of services at Sierra Vista Hospital in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in December 2015 and January 2016. Id. Plaintiff resides in Delaware. Id. at 1.

         Plaintiff first alleges that Defendant failed to secure his flight reservations, thereby causing him to miss scheduled shifts at the hospital on December 24 and 25, 2015. Id. at 2-3. He states that Defendant customarily made his travel arrangements in advance of his scheduled shifts. Id. at 2. He alleges that, in this instance, Defendant failed to book his flight reservation until the day he was scheduled to leave; consequently, he was bumped from his flight. Id. at 3. He further claims that Defendant told him it would rebook his flight, but when he arrived at the airport his ticket had not been paid for and he was unable to secure a flight. Id.

         Plaintiff next alleges that in January 2016, Defendant terminated his contract wrongfully and without the required notice. Id. at 3-4. He claims that Defendant asked him to perform an additional shift on January 21, 2016, although he had worked 60 of the previous 72 hours. Id. at 4. Plaintiff states he was unable to work the shift because he was physically impaired from lack of sleep. Id. He alleges that he was scheduled to work subsequent shifts in January 2016. Id. However, Defendant abruptly terminated his contract. Id. He alleges that Defendant failed to provide the 90-day notice required by the contract. Id.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has failed to pay him for work he performed in December 2015 and January 2016. Id. at 4-5. He states that Defendant stopped payment on two checks he received for work he completed in December 2015 and refused to pay him for work he completed in January 2016. Id. at 4, 14-15. He alleges that Defendant told him it would withhold all pay until he finished his paperwork. Id. at 4. He states that Defendant sent him paperwork in February 2016, which he completed and returned, but Defendant still refused to pay him. Id. at 4-5. He alleges that Defendant sent him additional paperwork later that month. Id. at 5. Plaintiff initially refused to complete the paperwork until Defendant assured him it would pay him for his services, but Defendant declined to make any such assurance. Id. Subsequently, Plaintiff alleges, he completed all the additional paperwork and returned it to Defendant on or around February 21, 2016. Id. He alleges that Defendant continues to withhold payment and falsely claims that Plaintiff has outstanding paperwork to complete. Id.

         Plaintiff filed this action in state court on September 2, 2016, alleging breach of contract, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, and violation of the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act (“UPA”). Id. at 5-7. Defendant removed the action to this Court on October 5, 2016. [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff seeks $155, 400 in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs, and interest. [Doc. 1-1] at 7.

         Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss. [Doc. 5]. Defendant asserts that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the heightened pleading standard required for special damages, and it requests that the Court dismiss Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages or, in the alternative, order Plaintiff to amend his Complaint. Id. at 3-4. Defendant next asserts that Plaintiff has failed to satisfy the heightened pleading standard required for allegations of fraud, and it requests that the Court dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims premised on allegations of fraud or, in the alternative, order Plaintiff to amend his Complaint. Id. at 4-5. Finally, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff has failed to state factual allegations sufficient to support his claim under the UPA, and it asks the Court to dismiss this claim. Id. at 5-6 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Defendant contends that the UPA applies only to parties that have engaged in the sale or lease of “goods or services.” Id. at 5. The contract in question, Defendant argues, does not satisfy this requirement, and Plaintiff therefore has not and cannot allege facts sufficient to state a claim under the UPA. Id. at 6.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that he has met the heightened pleading standard required for special damages. [Doc. 10] at 2-4. Plaintiff further contends that he has made no specific claim based on fraud, and therefore, Defendant's argument with respect to the heightened pleading requirement for allegations of fraud is inapposite. Id. at 4. Finally, Plaintiff challenges Defendant's narrow reading of the UPA. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff argues that a party may bring a claim under the UPA as long as the defendant makes a misrepresentation in connection with the sale of goods or services generally, not only when there has been a transaction between the plaintiff and the defendant. Id. at 6. Plaintiff contends that Defendant's provision of services to the hospitals with which it contracts to provide medical staffing suffices to bring Plaintiff's claims under the umbrella of the UPA. See Id. In the alternative, if the Court finds the Complaint to be deficient, Plaintiff requests that the Court grant him leave to amend it. Id. at 6-7.

         Motions to Dismiss

         A court may dismiss a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The factual allegations in the complaint “‘must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Christy Sports, L.L.C. v. Deer Valley Resort Co., 555 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although a court must accept as true all of the allegations in a complaint, deference is “inapplicable to legal conclusions, ” and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         Analysis

         The Court will address the arguments raised in the motion in order of analytical convenience. First, Defendant's motion will be denied with respect to the breach-of-contract claim. Plaintiff has stated a claim for punitive damages for breach of contract with sufficient specificity, and his breach-of-contract claim does not require Plaintiff to allege fraudulent conduct. Next, Defendant's motion will be granted with respect to the claims based on quantum meruit and unjust enrichment. Plaintiff cannot state a claim for quantum meruit and unjust enrichment where the dispute is governed by a contract. Finally, Defendant's motion will be granted as to the UPA claim. Plaintiff does not have standing to sue under the UPA because Plaintiff is neither a consumer of Defendant's goods or services nor a competitor of Defendant suing to protect its consumers. Nor has Plaintiff asserted that Defendant made a knowing misrepresentation beyond the mere failure to fulfill its contractual obligations.

         Plaintiff has stated a claim for punitive damages with ...


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