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Downs v. Winchester Medical Center

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

May 12, 2014

CHRISTY B. DOWNS, Plaintiffs,

Decided May 9, 2014.

For Christy B. Downs, Plaintiff: Annette Kay Rubin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Office of Annette Kay Rubin, Leesburg, VA.

For Valley Health System, Valley Regional Enterprises, Inc., Defendants: Andrew Baugher, Cathleen P. Welsh, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lenhart Pettit, Harrisonburg, VA.


Page 616


Hon. Michael F. Urbanski, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the court on defendants Valley Health System's and Valley Regional Enterprises, Inc.'s (collectively " Valley Health" )[1] motion to dismiss, in part, plaintiff's second amended complaint. Dkt. No. 33. In the second amended complaint, plaintiff Christy B. Downs (" Downs" ) alleges that Valley Health, her former employer, violated the Family Medical and Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § § 2601 et seq., (" FMLA" ), through both interference (Count I) and retaliation (Count II) as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § § 12101 et seq., (" ADA" ) (Count III). In its motion, Valley Health seeks dismissal of Count I and of the request for punitive damages in Count III. For the reasons stated herein, the court will GRANT in part and DENY in part defendants' motion.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a party to move for dismissal based upon a " failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Here, Valley Health concedes that Downs' allegations of harassment, negative reviews, discipline and, ultimately, termination for her use of FMLA leave establishes a prima facie case of FMLA retaliation. As such, they do not seek dismissal of Count II. But Valley Health asserts that Downs has not alleged that she was actually denied any benefit under the FMLA and has therefore failed to state a claim for FMLA interference. The court agrees.

The Fourth Circuit has interpreted the subsections of 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a) as creating two types of FMLA rights: prescriptive and proscriptive. § 2615(a)(1) claims, known as " interference" or " entitlement" claims, allege violations of prescriptive rights, which set " substantive floors for conduct by employers, and creat[e] entitlements for employees." Yashenko v. Harrah's NC Casino Co., LLC, 446 F.3d 541, 546 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal quotation omitted). In contrast, § 2615(a)(2) claims, known as " retaliation" or " discrimination" claims, relate to proscriptive rights, which serve to " protect employees from discrimination or retaliation for exercising their substantive rights under the FMLA." Id. (citations omitted).

Page 617

" To establish unlawful interference with an entitlement to FMLA benefits, an employee must prove that: (1) she was an eligible employee; (2) her employer was covered by the statute; (3) she was entitled to leave under the FMLA; (4) she gave her employer adequate notice of her intention to take leave; and (5) the employer denied her FMLA benefits to which she was entitled." Rodriguez v. Smithfield Packing Co., Inc., 545 F.Supp.2d 508, 516 (D. Md. 2008) (citing Edgar v. JAC Prods., Inc., 443 F.3d 501, 507 (6th Cir. 2006); 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a)(1)). Importantly, a plaintiff must also show prejudice. Croy v. Blue Ridge Bread, Inc., No. 3:12-CV-00034, 2013 WL 3776802, at *8 (W.D. Va. July 15, 2013) (citing Ragsdale v. Wolverine World Wide, Inc., 535 U.S. 81, 89, 122 S.Ct. 1155, 152 L.Ed.2d 167 (2002)); cf. Reed v. Buckeye Fire Equip., 241 F.App'x 917, 924 (4th Cir. 2007) (unpublished per curiam opinion) (citing Ragsdale, 535 U.S. at 89) (" To state [a FMLA interference] claim, the employee must prove that the employer: (1) interfered with his or her exercise of FMLA rights; and (2) caused prejudice thereby." ).

The crux of Valley Health's argument against Downs' FMLA interference claim is that she was never denied FMLA leave. Downs admits that she not alleged that she was denied FMLA leave. Indeed, when asked at oral argument whether Downs was ever prevented from taking FMLA leave, plaintiff's counsel said she was not. Furthermore, Downs has not alleged that she would have taken additional FMLA leave were it not for her employer's discouragement. Instead, she argues that her " disciple, negative performance reviews, harassment, and [] termination" by Valley Health constitutes FMLA interference. Second Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 30, at ¶ 36. Tellingly, this is precisely the same conduct Downs alleges constitutes FMLA retaliation one paragraph later in her second amended complaint. Id. at ¶ 37.[2]

Granted, Downs' argument that the adverse employment actions Valley Health allegedly took against her constitute FMLA interference does find some support in ...

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