Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Alford v. Genesis Healthcare (Maryland U.S.D.C.) (Not approved for publication)

Signed April 9, 2007. Memorandum Opinion by Judge Richard D. Bennett (not approved for publication)

Upon consideration, the motion by defendant ("Genesis") for summary judgment was GRANTED.

The plaintiff ("Alford") was employed by Genesis as a Registered Nurse in its nursing care facility in Maryland beginning in 2003. When complaints arose about her performance, an investigation determined that Alford had failed to properly handle controlled substances, and she was discharged in 2004. As required by statute, Genesis reported the medication errors to the Maryland State Board of Nursing, and consequently Alford was required to enter a rehabilitation program for nurses to avoid disciplinary action against her by the State Board.

In 2005, Alford filed suit against Genesis in state court, and Genesis subsequently had the case moved to federal court based upon diversity of citizenship. Alford sought relief from Genesis based upon counts sounding in respondeat superior, wrongful termination, civil conspiracy, invasion of privacy false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Genesis moved for summary judgment, and the judge reviewed the evidence in a light most favorable to Alford to determine if there was a genuine issue as to any material fact.

The judge found that the doctrine of respondeat superior was not a separate cause of action, but would only be relevant if a cause of action existed against Alford's direct employer, in order to hold Genesis liable. Since Alford was an at will employee, and no evidence to support a claim of abusive discharge had been submitted, there was no wrongful termination in this case. Since Genesis was under a statutory duty to report Alford's misdeeds to the State Board, it had a qualified immunity sufficient to overcome Alford's allegation of defamation, and Genesis' qualified immunity would also protect it against Alford's false light charge. Finally, civil conspiracy is not a cause of action apart from an underlying tort, and since no tort had been demonstrated in this case, the judge granted Genesis' motion for summary judgment on all counts.

The Memorandum Opinion is available in PDF format.

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