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Border Area Mental Health, Inc. v. United Behavioral Health, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 18, 2019

BORDER AREA MENTAL HEALTH, INC., COUNSELING ASSOCIATES, INC., EASTER SEALS EL MIRADOR, FAMILIES & YOUTH, INC., HOGARES, INC., SOUTHWEST COUNSELING CENTER, INC., SOUTHERN NEW MEXICO HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, INC., TEAMBUILDERS COUNSELING SERVICES, INC., THE COUNSELING CENTER, INC., and VALENCIA COUNSELING, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, INC. and UNITED HEALTHCARE INSURANCE COMPANY, INC., d/b/a OPTUMHEALTH NEW MEXICO, PUBLIC CONSULTING GROUP, INC., ELIZABETH A. MARTIN, ANDREW SEKEL, TIMOTHY S. MILLER, and JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Martha Vázquez United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Rule 54(b) Certification [Doc. 53]. The Court, having considered the motion, briefs, and relevant law, and being otherwise fully informed, finds that the Motion is well-taken and will be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 23, 2016, Plaintiffs commenced this action in the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico, Santa Fe County, against United Behavioral Health, Inc. and United Healthcare Insurance Company, Inc., Elizabeth Martin, Andrew Sekel, and Timothy S. Miller (collectively, the "United Defendants"), and Public Consulting Group, Inc. ("PCG"). Doc. 1-1. On November 3, 2016, United Defendants removed the action to this Court. Doc. 1. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs alleged claims against all Defendants for tortious interference with contractual relations (Count I), prima facie tort (Count II), and civil conspiracy (Count III). Doc. 1-1. Plaintiffs also alleged violations of the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act ("UP A") against United Defendants (Count IV), and PCG (Count V). Id. On July 18, 2017, the Court entered a Stipulated Order dismissing with prejudice Plaintiffs' UPA claim against PCG, which left remaining against PCG claims of tortious interference, prima facie tort, and civil conspiracy. [Doc. 44].

         On November 18, 2016, United Defendants filed a motion to compel Plaintiffs to arbitrate the claims alleged against them. Doc. 6. In support of their motion, United Defendants argued that agreements into which each Plaintiff had entered contained valid and binding arbitration provisions, and that Plaintiffs' claims fell directly within the scope of those provisions. Id. Plaintiffs did not dispute that they entered into valid arbitration agreements, but opposed United Defendants' motion to compel on the basis that their claims did not bear a reasonable relationship to the subject matter of the arbitration agreements and thus did not fall within the scope of those agreements. Doc. 29 at 4-10; Doc. 30 at 3-10.

         In a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered March 28, 2018, the Court granted United Defendants' motion to compel, explaining that, by incorporating the AAA Rules into the arbitration provisions set forth in the relevant agreements, Plaintiffs and United Defendants clearly and unmistakably agreed to arbitrate arbitrability. Doc. 46. Accordingly, the Court further explained, all questions of arbitrability - including the questions Plaintiffs raised as to whether their claims reasonably relate to the subject matter of the parties' agreements to arbitrate - must be resolved by an arbitrator. Id. Under controlling Tenth Circuit precedent, the Court found that it had no discretion to decide whether Plaintiffs' claims were outside the scope of the arbitration provisions in the relevant agreements, but rather was obligated to defer that determination to the arbitrator. Id. Accordingly, the Court found no basis to deny United Defendants' motion compelling arbitration of Plaintiffs' claims against it. Id. Neither United Defendants nor Plaintiffs sought dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against United Defendants, and accordingly, the Court did not entertain whether dismissal was warranted.

         On November 18, 2018, PCG filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims against it pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 7. In its supporting brief, PCG argued that Plaintiffs' claims against it should be dismissed because (1) the Complaint failed to state a claim against PCG for intentional interference with contractual relations; (2) Plaintiffs' prima facie tort claim failed to allege that PCG acted lawfully and with specific intent to harm Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs' claim for civil conspiracy was not actionable. Doc. 8. The Court agreed with PCG, and in a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered August 2, 2018 (the "August 2, 2018 Order"), granted PCG's motion, dismissing Plaintiffs' claims as to PCG in their entirety. Doc. 47. The Court, however, did not enter a final judgment.

         Thereafter, on August 30, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Notice of Appeal to appeal this Court's dismissal of their claims against PCG. Doc. 48. After determining that the August 2, 2018 Order was not a final decision, Plaintiffs moved in the Tenth Circuit to dismiss, without prejudice, their appeal. On October 2, 2018, the Tenth Circuit denied Plaintiffs' motion without prejudice to renewal, stating that the Court could not dismiss an appeal without prejudice.

         Plaintiffs then filed the instant motion, asking this Court to certify its adjudication of Plaintiffs' claims against PCG as final pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 53. The Tenth Circuit abated Plaintiffs' appeal pending this Court's disposition of Plaintiffs' Rule 54(b) motion. PCG opposes Plaintiffs' request for Rule 54(b) certification.

         STANDARD

         Rule 54(b) provides in relevant part that, "[w]hen multiple parties are involved [in an action], the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, . . . parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). "Certification under Rule 54(b) is a two-step process." McKibben v. Chubb, 840 F.2d 1525, 1528 (10th Cir. 1988). First, the court "must determine that the judgment is final." Id. In other words, the judgment must be "an ultimate disposition of an individual claim entered in the course of a multiple claims action." Id. (citation omitted). Next, the court "must determine that there is no cause for delay." Id. In making this second determination, the court must weigh "Rule 54's policy of preventing piecemeal appeals against the hardship or injustice that might be inflicted on a litigant because of the delay." Id. (citation omitted). "The Supreme Court has suggested that the district court should consider such factors as whether the claims under review were separable from the others remaining to be adjudicated and whether the nature of the claims already determined was such that no appellate court would have to decide the same issues more than once even if there were subsequent appeals." Id. (citation omitted). In entering a Rule 54(b) certification, district courts are counseled to "clearly articulate their reasons and make careful statements based on the record supporting their determination of 'finality' and 'no just reason for delay.'" Stockton's Water Co., LLC v. Vaca Partners, L.P., 425 F.3d 1263, 1265 (10th Cir. 2005).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs request that the Court certify its dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims against PCG as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). In support of their request, Plaintiffs argue that both relevant factors, namely finality and just reason for delay, weigh in favor of certification. PCG opposes Plaintiffs' request, arguing that the factors weigh against certification and that the motion is untimely. As set forth herein, ...


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