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Curland v. Wm. W. Backus Hospital

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New London, New London

August 5, 2015

Carol Curland
v.
Wm. W. Backus Hospital

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT #149 AND #152

Terence A. Zemetis, J.

ISSUES CONSIDERED

The first issue is whether the court should grant defendant William W. Backus Hospital's motion for summary judgment on count one of the plaintiff's amended complaint alleging tortious interference with contractual relations. Backus Hospital moves for summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) Backus Hospital did not interfere with the plaintiff's employment relationship with co-defendant North American Partners in Anesthesia (Connecticut), P.C. (NAPA) because it requested only that she no longer work at the hospital, not that she be terminated from employment with NAPA; (2) Backus Hospital had no knowledge of the plaintiff's employment contract with NAPA; (3) Backus Hospital did not engage in tortious conduct; and (4) the plaintiff did not suffer actual loss.

The second issue is whether the court should grant NAPA's motion for summary judgment on count two of the plaintiff's amended complaint alleging breach of contract. NAPA moves for summary judgment on the ground that it did not breach its employment contract with the plaintiff. In the alternative, NAPA requests that the court limit damages as a matter of law.

FACTS

The plaintiff, Carol Curland, filed a two-count complaint in this action on March 27, 2013. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint on July 15, 2014. Count one of the amended complaint sounds in tortious interference with contractual relations and is directed against Backus Hospital. In count one, the plaintiff alleges the following facts: for approximately twenty-two years, the plaintiff was employed by Norwich Anesthesia Associates as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CNRA); in June 2012, NAPA acquired Norwich Anesthesia Associates; the plaintiff became an employee of NAPA and signed an employment agreement effective June 1, 2012; on August 3, 2012, the plaintiff was falsely accused of taking a salad from the Backus Hospital cafeteria without paying for it; Backus Hospital misrepresented to NAPA that the plaintiff took a salad without paying for it and misrepresented that it maintained a zero tolerance policy for theft; on December 20, 2012, NAPA terminated the plaintiff's employment; NAPA informed the plaintiff that Backus Hospital had demanded that the plaintiff be terminated because she violated their zero tolerance policy for theft; and NAPA further informed the plaintiff that it had to let her go or Backus Hospital would not continue its contract with NAPA.

Count two of the amended complaint sounds in breach of contract and is directed against NAPA. In count two, the plaintiff alleges that NAPA breached its contract by purporting to terminate her contract for cause. The plaintiff further alleges that her actions did not constitute cause under her employment agreement. The essential terms of the employment contract are undisputed. The contract provided that the plaintiff could be terminated without notice for cause, or that the contract could be terminated by either party, without cause, by providing at least ninety days written notice.

On December 1, 2014, Backus Hospital filed a motion for summary judgment on the following grounds: (1) Backus Hospital had no knowledge of the plaintiff's employment contract with NAPA; (2) Backus Hospital did not engage in tortious conduct; and (3) the plaintiff did not suffer actual loss. The motion is accompanied by a memorandum of law and 126 pages of exhibits, including excerpts from the depositions of the plaintiff and multiple hospital employees. On January 15, 2015, the plaintiff filed a memorandum of law in opposition to Backus Hospital's motion for summary judgment with her own exhibits attached. On February 17, 2015, Backus Hospital filed a reply memorandum.

On December 5, 2014, NAPA filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that NAPA did not breach its employment contract with the plaintiff. In the alternative, NAPA requests that the court limit damages as a matter of law. The motion is accompanied by a memorandum of law and several exhibits, including a copy of the plaintiff's employment contract and the affidavit of Sheryl Blumberg, NAPA's Director of Human Resources. On January 15, 2015, the plaintiff filed a memorandum of law in opposition to NAPA's motion for summary judgment, along with her own exhibits, including excerpts from her deposition. On April 21, 2015, NAPA filed a reply memorandum, and on June 15, 2015, NAPA filed a surreply.

DISCUSSION

" Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law . . . In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Vendrella v. Astriab Family Ltd. Partnership, 311 Conn. 301, 313, 87 A.3d 546 (2014). " In seeking summary judgment, it is the movant who has the burden of showing the nonexistence of any issue of fact. The courts are in entire agreement that the moving party for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue as to all the material facts, which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law. The courts hold the movant to a strict standard. To satisfy his burden the movant must make a showing that it is quite clear what the truth is, and that excludes any real doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact . . . As the burden of proof is on the movant, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opponent . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue . . . Once the moving party has met its burden, however, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Romprey v. Safeco Ins. Co. of America, 310 Conn. 304, 319-20, 77 A.3d 726 (2013).

I

BACKUS HOSPITAL'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

" A claim for tortious interference with contractual relations requires the plaintiff to establish (1) the existence of a contractual or beneficial relationship, (2) the defendants' knowledge of that relationship, (3) the defendants' intent to interfere with the relationship, (4) the interference was tortious, and (5) a loss suffered by the plaintiff that was caused by the defendants' tortious conduct." Appleton v. Board of Education of Stonington, 254 Conn. 205, 212-13, 757 A.2d 1059 (2000). Backus Hospital moves for summary judgment on grounds implicating knowledge, intent, tortiousness, and loss.

A

Knowledge

Backus Hospital first argues that it had no knowledge of the plaintiff's employment contract with NAPA. The plaintiff counters that it is an issue of fact whether Backus Hospital knew about the plaintiff's employment contract with NAPA.

" 'To be subject to liability . . . the actor must have knowledge of the contract with which he is interfering and of the fact that he is interfering with the performance of the contract.' 4 Restatement (Second), Torts § 766, comment I [1977]. 'Intentional interference of course presupposes knowledge of the plaintiff's contract or interest, or at least of facts which would lead a reasonable person to believe that such interest exists.'" Tassmer v. McManus, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Docket No. CV-08-5018961-S, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 982 (April 9, 2009, Robinson, J.).

In its memorandum of law, Backus Hospital asserts that there is no evidence that it knew of the plaintiff's employment contract with NAPA. Backus Hospital, however, does not cite any evidence of its own to show that it was ignorant of a contractual relationship between the plaintiff and NAPA. Backus Hospital argues that neither Director of Human Resources Karen James nor Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Peter Shea was aware that the plaintiff had an employment contract with NAPA. Not only is this argument unsupported by the evidence, it is directly contradicted by the excerpted affidavit of James submitted by Backus Hospital. In that deposition, James described investigating a reported theft of a salad and finding out that the plaintiff was a NAPA employee. Dr. Shea, on the other hand, denied in his deposition that he and others at Backus Hospital knew that the plaintiff and other CRNAs had employment agreements with NAPA. It is not necessary, however, that Backus Hospital know of the exact nature of the plaintiff's employment agreement with NAPA. Knowledge can be imputed to Backus Hospital as long as it was aware of facts that would lead it to reasonably believe that a contractual or beneficial relationship existed between the plaintiff and NAPA. Backus Hospital has not met its burden of showing the nonexistence of an issue ...


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