United States District Court, N.D. New York
JOHN J. HOKE, ESQ., SMITH HOKE, PLLC, Counsel for Plaintiff, Albany, NY.
JUSTIN J. ENGEL, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN Attorney General for the State of New York Counsel for Defendant, The Capitol Albany, New York.
DECISION and ORDER
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently pending before the Court, in this employment civil rights action filed by Jesmain Siddiqua ("Plaintiff") against the New York State Department of Health ("Defendant"), is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 10.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Plaintiff's Claims
Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, between approximately May 20, 2011, and April 5, 2012, Defendant disciplined Plaintiff, an Information Technology Specialist, and improperly terminated her employment, for taking a trip to Bangladesh to care for her sick mother between April 4, 2011, and May 20, 2011, after Plaintiff had requested and obtained prior permission to take such leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). ( See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].) In addition, the Complaint alleges that Plaintiff grieved the discipline and termination under her union, the Public Employees Federation, but that, on April 5, 2012, an arbitrator "inexplicably held that Plaintiff's termination did not violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Public Employees Federation and the New York State Department of Health." (Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 19.) Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts two claims against Defendant: (1) a claim that the "Defendants interfered, restrained and denied Plaintiff her rights under 29 U.S.C. § 2611,  more specifically, interfering with her right to utilize FMLA qualified leave and terminating her as a result of the use of said leave"; and (2) a claim that the "Defendant retaliated against the Plaintiff for her exercise of her rights provided for under the FMLA." ( Id. ) Familiarity with these claims and factual allegations supporting them in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. ( Id. )
B. Parties' Briefing on Defendant's Motion
Generally, in support of its motion to dismiss, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's FMLA claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel for the following four reasons: (1) the Court may consider the arbitration decision in question on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim because (a) the decision is a matter of public record, and (b) in any event, the decision was incorporated by reference into Plaintiff's Complaint; (2) arbitration awards have a preclusive effect in subsequent litigation, even if not judicially confirmed; (3) Plaintiff actively pursued her FMLA claims in arbitration and through an unsuccessful petition to vacate the arbitration award in New York State Supreme Court, and is therefore precluded from re-litigating them in federal court under the doctrine of res judicata and, in the alternative, under the doctrine of collateral estoppel; and (4) the Supreme Court case that barred arbitration of statutory discrimination claims has been abrogated by subsequent Supreme Court cases and no longer applies. (Dkt. No. 10, Attach. 1 [Def.'s Memo. of Law].)
Generally, in response, Plaintiff argues asserts two arguments: (1) the arbitration award has no preclusive effect because (a) under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the arbitrator did not have the power to rule on statutory claims such as Plaintiff's FMLA claims, and (b) in any event, Plaintiff did not rely on the FMLA during the arbitration proceeding; and (2) even if the arbitrator had the power to decide Plaintiff's FMLA claims, he cannot be said to have decided those claims, because he did not conduct a proper FMLA analysis. (Dkt. No. 13.)
Generally, in reply, Defendant asserts three arguments: (1) Plaintiff's argument that the arbitrator did not have the power to rule on her FMLA claims does not address Defendants' reliance on the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which focuses on issues that were necessarily decided, not claims that were or could have been presented; (2) because Plaintiff's argument in arbitration was that Defendant lacked just cause to terminate her because she was exercising her FMLA rights during her absence from work, the primary issue addressed at the arbitration was whether Plaintiff's termination violated the FMLA; and (3) moreover, Plaintiff's argument that the arbitrator did not conduct the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis is flawed because there was no need to conduct such an analysis given that the arbitrator found that Plaintiff never established a prima facie case of interference or retaliation under the FMLA due to the lack of adequate notice of her intent to take FMLA leave (which finding precludes both her interference and retaliation claims). (Dkt. No. 16.)
II. GOVERNING LEGAL STANDARDS
It has long been understood that a defendant may base a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on either or both of two grounds: (1) a challenge to the "sufficiency of the pleading" under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); or (2) a challenge to the legal cognizability of the claim. Jackson v. Onondaga County, 549 F.Supp.2d 204, 211, nn. 15-16 (N.D.N.Y. 2008) (McAvoy, J., adopting Report-Recommendation on de novo review).
Because such motions are often based on the first ground, a few words on that ground are appropriate. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) [emphasis added]. In the Court's view, this tension between permitting a "short and plain statement" and requiring that the statement "show" an entitlement to relief ...