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Estacion v. Kaumana Drive Partners, LLC

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

October 18, 2019

ARLENE M. ESTACION, Plaintiff,
v.
KAUMANA DRIVE PARTNERS, LLC, dba LEGACY HILO REHABILITATION & NURSING CENTER, a limited liability company; ANDRE HURST, an individual; and BENJAMIN MEEKER, an individual, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS HURST'S AND MEEKER'S MOTION TO DISMISS, ECF NO. 19

          J. Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff M. Arlene Estacion filed the instant action, naming as Defendants Kaumana Drive Partners, LLC dba Legacy Hilo Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, a limited liability company (“Legacy Hilo”); and members of the limited liability company (“LLC”), Andre Hurst (“Hurst”) and Benjamin Meeker (“Meeker”), alleging that she was wrongfully terminated for reporting alleged wrongdoing to the United States Department of Labor (“U.S. DOL”). Compl., ECF No. 1, at Page ID# 8. Before the court is Hurst's and Meeker's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint against them, arguing that the Complaint fails to state a claim, and, in any event, the LLC shields them from liability. For the reasons discussed below, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Motion to Dismiss.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background [1]

         Plaintiff was employed at Legacy Hilo, starting June 1, 2016, as Human Resources Director. Id. Meeker is “an owner/officer” of Legacy Hilo, id., and “was involved in the oversight of [Legacy Hilo's] payroll.” Id. Hurst is also “an owner/officer” of Legacy Hilo, id., and was “responsible for the day-to-day management” of Legacy Hilo. Id. Johnalyn K. Rodrigues Nosaka (“Nosaka”) was the Administrator of Legacy Hilo, who reported directly to Hurst. Id. Plaintiff reported directly to both Nosaka and Hurst. Id.

         During her time at Legacy Hilo, Plaintiff “had no performance issues and did not receive any disciplinary actions or write-ups.” Id. Her “performance evaluations consistently rated her performance as excellent.” Id. On or around June 2017, Plaintiff was also assigned the title of “Compliance Officer” at Legacy Hilo. Id. “As Compliance Officer, she was responsible for planning, implement[ing], and maint[aining] the corporate-wide compliance program at [Legacy Hilo].” Id. On or around December 15, 2017, Hurst assigned Plaintiff “additional responsibilities in the business office, which included managing all facility deposits, resident trust funds, petty cash, writing of facility checks and other duties as assigned” by Hurst. Id. Plaintiff obtained the title “Business Office Manager” on March 23, 2018. Id.

         Around March 2018, Plaintiff, in her capacity as Human Resources Director, received a call from Jose Reyna, an investigator from the Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) of the U.S. DOL, id., informing her that the WHD would be conducting an investigation of Legacy Hilo. Id. Around April 2018, Plaintiff received an e-mail letter from Reyna indicating that the WHD would be conducting an investigation on April 27, 2018 to determine Legacy Hilo's compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Id. Plaintiff forwarded this e-mail to Hurst, Meeker, Nosaka, and Robert Pumphrey, Legacy Hilo's accountant. Id.

         On Friday April 27, 2018, Reyna conducted WHD's investigation of Legacy Hilo. Id. at PageID# 9. Plaintiff participated in the investigation, responding to Reyna's questions. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff informed Reyna that “each Tuesday prior to the Friday payday, all department heads were summoned to the Conference room regarding the department's overtime and were directed by . . . Hurst to ‘shave' overtime even though the employee worked it. For example, if an individual worked 30.82 hours, the .82 would be shaved off.” Id. Reyna requested additional information, which Plaintiff said she would supply the upcoming Monday or Tuesday (i.e., April 30 or May 1). Id.

         On Sunday, April 29, 2018, Legacy Hilo terminated Plaintiff, “falsely assert[ing] that [she] . . . had instructed employees to lie during a compliance investigation, acted insubordinately, and had poor performance.” Id. After Plaintiff's termination, Hurst “told several employees at [Legacy Hilo]” that Plaintiff “was a ‘thief' and that she had ‘embezzled money from Legacy [Hilo].'” Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         On May 16, 2019, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants Legacy Hilo, Hurst, and Meeker, asserting five claims against all three Defendants: a federal claim of retaliation in violation of the FLSA § 15(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3); and state law claims of retaliation in violation of the Hawaii Whistleblower's Protection Act (“HWPA”), Haw. Rev. Stat. (“HRS”) § 378-62 et seq.; wrongful termination in violation of public policy; intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”); and defamation. See ECF No. 1 at PageID #9-11. Defendant Legacy Hilo filed its Answer on July 8, 2019. ECF No. 15. Defendants Hurst and Meeker filed their Motion to Dismiss on July 15, 2019, arguing that the claims against them should be dismissed for failure to allege any facts against them as to Plaintiff's termination.[2] ECF No. 19. Defendants further argue, in any event, they are shielded from liability as members of Legacy Hilo. Id. Estacion filed her Opposition on September 16, 2019. ECF No. 27. On September 23, 2019, Hurst and Meeker filed their Reply. ECF No. 28. A hearing was held on October 7, 2019.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper when there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged.” UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners, LLC, 718 F.3d 1006, 1014 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Weber v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 521 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2008). This tenet-that the court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint-“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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Rather, “[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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Factual allegations that only permit the court to infer “the mere possibility of misconduct” do not show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 679.

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court liberally construes her Complaint.[3] See Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94; Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). A liberal construction of a pro se complaint, however, does not mean that the court will supply essential elements of a claim that are absent from the complaint. See Litmon v. Harris, 768 F.3d 1237, 1241 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). The court must grant leave to amend if it appears that Plaintiff can correct the defects in her Complaint, Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc), but if a claim or complaint cannot be saved by amendment, dismissal with prejudice is appropriate. Sylvia Landfield Tr. v. City of L.A., 729 F.3d 1189, 1196 (9th Cir. 2013); see also Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Pub., 512 F.3d 522, 532 (9th Cir. 2008) (reiterating that a district court may deny leave to amend for, among other reasons “repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed . . . [and] futility of amendment”) (citation omitted).

         IV. ...


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