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Ferreira v. Child and Family Services of Rhode Island

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Newport

June 13, 2018

JOHN FERREIRA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES OF RHODE ISLAND, and AGENTS THEREOF, Defendants.

          Thomas E. Folcarelli, Esq. For Plaintiff:

          Matthew R. Plain, Esq.; Kristen M. Whittle, Esq. For Defendant:

          DECISION

          VAN COUYGHEN, J.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Child and Family Services of Rhode Island's (CFS) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff John Ferreira's (Mr. Ferreira or Plaintiff) Amended Complaint. CFS argues that Mr. Ferreira's Amended Complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) due to his failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. For the reasons articulated more fully below, CFS's Motion to Dismiss is granted and Mr. Ferreira's Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice. Jurisdiction is pursuant to Super. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

         I BACKGROUND

         On August 3, 2017, Mr. Ferreira filed his original complaint alleging claims purportedly founded in gender-based hostile work environment, age and gender discrimination, defamation, false light and wage theft. Orig. Compl. ¶¶ 22, 24-25. Subsequently, on November 20, 2017, CFS moved to dismiss the original complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) based on jurisdictional grounds and Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. In a written decision issued on February 15, 2018, this Court dismissed Mr. Ferreira's original complaint with leave to amend within twenty days from the date of that decision.[1] The decision set forth the fundamental pleading requirements of the claims alleged by Mr. Ferreira and why his original complaint was deficient. The Court held that, although it had subject matter jurisdiction to consider Mr. Ferreira's discrimination claims arising under G.L. 1956 § 42-112-1, the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act of 1990, [2] the original complaint failed to provide a modicum of facts to support the allegations made as they related to Mr. Ferreira's claims of gender-based hostile work environment, gender and age discrimination, defamation, false light and wage theft.

         Following the Court's decision, Mr. Ferreira filed his Amended Complaint on March 5, 2018. The Amended Complaint alleged claims purportedly founded in defamation, false light, constructive discharge, disparate treatment based on gender and age, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 26-29. CFS again moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. On May 7, 2018, the Court heard oral arguments and granted CFS's motion to dismiss from the bench as it related to Mr. Ferreira's claims of defamation, including libel and slander, false light and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.[3] The Court reserved its judgment as to Mr. Ferreira's claims of gender and age discrimination.

         With the procedural posture of the case in mind, the following facts are derived from the Amended Complaint, the allegations of which are taken as true for the purposes of evaluating the pending motion to dismiss. See Ruivo v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 766 F.3d 87, 90 (1st Cir. 2014). The Amended Complaint alleges that Mr. Ferreira, a male over the age of forty, was employed by CFS for nine years prior to this controversy. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4. Mr. Ferreira alleges that previous to the disciplinary meeting at issue in this case, he never had a negative evaluation during the years he worked at CFS. Id. at ¶ 5. The Amended Complaint also alleges that a "young female clinician" (the Clinician) was hired by CFS in the summer of 2016. Id. at ¶ 6. The Amended Complaint states that the Clinician "was just out of school and not experienced in the care of [CFS] clients." Id. at ¶ 9. Next, the Amended Complaint alleges that the Clinician "undermined the Plaintiff" and "accused the Plaintiff of inappropriate communication and incompetence." Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11.

         Upon receipt of the Clinician's accusations, CFS summoned Mr. Ferreira to a disciplinary meeting where he was presented with the Clinician's statements and where Mr. Ferreira alleges CFS "exaggerated the Plaintiffs [sic] work history and rendered misleading descriptions of long prior work events that the Plaintiff had never been disciplined or warned about." Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14. Mr. Ferreira alleges that he was presented with a "last written warning, " which he refused to sign. Id. at ¶ 15. Subsequently, Mr. Ferreira resigned. He attempted to rescind his resignation within hours of tendering it but the Amended Complaint alleges that CFS refused to accept Mr. Ferreira's rescission, even though, he alleges, CFS received the resignation and rescission at the same time. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 24. Mr. Ferreira alleges that he suffered stress, embarrassment and financial hardship, and sought relief from his physician for the stress related to these incidents. The physician also "placed the Plaintiff on stress leave." Id. at ¶¶ 21- 23. Based upon these allegations, Mr. Ferreira asserts that CFS's actions constituted age and gender discrimination, in violation of G.L. 1956 §§ 28-5-1 et seq., the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act (RIFEPA) and § 42-112-1, the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act of 1990 (RICRA). He also alleges, in a separate count, constructive discharge.[4]

         II STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 8(a)

         "'[T]he sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint[.]"' Audette v. Poulin, 127 A.3d 908, 911 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Ho-Rath v. R.I. Hosp., 115 A.3d 938, 942 (R.I. 2015)). In testing the complaint's sufficiency, the Court's "review is confined to the four corners of that pleading, " id. at 911 (citation omitted), and the Court "'assumes the allegations contained in the complaint to be true and views the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[]."' R.I. Emp't Sec. Alliance, Local 40, S.E.I.U., AFL-CIO v. State, Dep't of Emp't & Training, 788 A.2d 465, 467 (R.I. 2002) (hereinafter R.I. Emp't) (per curiam) (quoting St. James Condo. Ass'n v. Lokey, 676 A.2d 1343, 1346 (R.I. 1996)). Phrased another way, "'[w]hen ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the [Court] must look no further than the complaint, assume that all allegations in the complaint are true, and resolve any doubts in a plaintiff's favor."' Pellegrino v. R.I. Ethics Comm'n, 788 A.2d 1119, 1123 (R.I. 2002) (quoting R.I. Affiliate, ACLU, Inc. v. Bernasconi, 557 A.2d 1232, 1232 (R.I. 1989)); see also Palazzo v. Alves, 944 A.2d 144, 149 (R.I. 2008). Accordingly, a motion to dismiss "should not be granted 'unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff[] will not be entitled to relief under any set of facts which might be proved in support of [its] claim."' R.I. Emp't, 788 A.2d at 467 (internal alterations omitted) (quoting St. James Condo. Ass'n, 676 A.2d at 1346).

         Rhode Island Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a) sets forth the minimum requirements of a complaint. Our Rhode Island Supreme Court has declared that "[a] pleading need not include 'the ultimate facts that must be proven in order to succeed on the complaint" or "set out the precise legal theory upon which his or her claim is based.'" Gardner v. Baird, 871 A.2d 949, 953 (R.I. 2005) (quoting Haley v. Town of Lincoln, 611 A.2d 845, 848 (R.I. 1992)). Instead, the complaint must set forth a modicum of information to satisfy the requirements of Rule 8. The Court's consideration of a motion to dismiss is as follows:

[The Court] require[s] more than conclusions or subjective characterizations. [Our jurisdiction has] insisted on at least the allegation of a minimal factual setting. It is not enough to allege a general scenario which could be dominated by unpleaded facts . . . . Therefore, although [the Court] must ask whether the 'claim' put forward in the complaint is capable of being supported by any conceivable set of facts, [the Court] insist[s] that the claim at least set forth minimal facts, not subjective characterizations, as to who did what to whom and why. Dewey v. Univ. of N.H., 694 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1982).

         Accordingly, when this Court considers a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, it remains cognizant that "one drafting a compliant [sic] in a civil action is not required to draft the pleading with a high degree of factual specificity." Hyatt v. Vill. House Convalescent Home, Inc., 880 A.2d 821, 824 (R.I. 2005) (citing Bragg v. Warwick Shoppers World, Inc., 102 R.I. 8, 12, 227 A.2d 582, 584 (1967). "That is not to say, however, that the drafter of a complaint has no responsibilities with respect to providing some degree of clarity as to what is alleged." Butera v. Boucher, 798 A.2d 340, 353 (R.I. 2002). Rather, Rule 8(a) requires that ...


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