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Medical Diagnostic Laboratories, LLC v. Health Care Services Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

July 10, 2017

MEDICAL DIAGNOSTIC LABORATORIES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
HEALTH CARE SERVICES CORP., a Mutual Legal Reserve Company d/b/a BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF OKLAHOMA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 16] and Brief in Support [Doc. No. 17], filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff has responded in opposition [Doc. No. 20], and Defendant has replied [Doc. No. 21].

         Background

         Plaintiff brings suit alleging Defendant sent false and threatening response letters (“Response Letters”)[1] to roughly fifty in-network medical providers (“Providers”) intending to intimidate Providers from referring patient samples to Plaintiff for testing. Plaintiff alleges Defendant's Response Letters were defamatory and tortiously interfered with Plaintiff's prospective contractual relationships with Providers, other in-network providers, and patients. Plaintiff requests injunctive relief prohibiting Defendant from making any further false or defamatory assertions about Plaintiff and requiring Defendant to issue a retraction.

         By its Motion, Defendant contends Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for relief. Specifically, Defendant contends that (1) Plaintiff's tortious interference claim fails because Plaintiff did not plead the required elements; (2) Plaintiff's defamation claim fails because Plaintiff did not identify any actionable statements by Defendant; and (3) Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief is unconstitutionally broad and vague, and therefore, seeks to unlawfully restrict Defendant's freedom of speech, and is otherwise infirm.

         Standard

         “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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. The “plausibility” standard announced in Twombly and Iqbal is not considered a “heightened” standard of pleading, but rather a “refined standard, ” which the Tenth Circuit has defined as “refer[ring] to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiff [has] not nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (citing Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC. v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011); see also Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008).

         The Tenth Circuit has further noted that “[t]he nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context.” Id. (quoting Kan. Penn Gaming, 656 F.3d at 1215). “Thus . . . the Twombly/Iqbal standard is ‘a middle ground between heightened fact pleading, which is expressly rejected, [2] and allowing complaints that are no more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, which the Court stated will not do.'” Id. (quoting Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247). Although it remains true that “[s]pecific facts are not necessary [and] the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), “the complaint must still provide enough factual allegations for a court to infer potential victory.” Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1104 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted).[3]

         Discussion

         In this case, Plaintiff submits exhibits and includes by reference outside materials in support of its claims, and both parties reference those exhibits and other materials in their briefs. See Compl. [Doc. No. 1] at 5-6; Ex. 1 [Doc. No. 1-1]; Ex. 2 [Doc. No. 1-2]. Because Plaintiff's claims rely on the exhibits and other materials, it is proper to consider them as part of the Complaint without converting Defendant's Motion to one for summary judgment. See Richardson v. Cigna Corp., No. CIV-10-1238-D, 2011 WL 2443684, at *2 (W.D. Okla. June 14, 2011) (unreported opinion) (“Where documents are central to a plaintiffs claims, they may be properly considered in connection with a motion to dismiss, and conversion to summary judgment is not required.”) (citing Jacobsen v. Deseret Book Co., 287 F.3d 936, 941 (10th Cir. 2002)). Accordingly, the Court will consider Defendant's Motion under the standards applicable to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.

         To summarize, Plaintiffs Complaint alleges the following:[4]

. Plaintiff is the only clinical laboratory in the United States that provides specialized laboratory testing services designed to identify the presence of certain types of gynecological and sexually transmitted diseases and disorders in female patients, including (1) a test designed to determine whether a patient has Gonorrhea and if so, whether the patient's particular strain of the disease is resistant to certain antibiotic drugs, (2) unique reflex antibiotic resistance and susceptibility testing of Trichomonas Vaginalis, the most prevalent curable sexually transmitted disease in the world, and (3) unique diagnostic and treatment options for Bacterial Vaginosis, the imbalance of vaginal microflora;
. Defendant maintains a network of healthcare providers with whom it enters into provider agreements allowing Defendant to pay discounted rates for services provided to patients insured through Defendant's plan. In this way, Defendant controls approximately 61% of the private health care market in Oklahoma and currently does not consider Plaintiff a preferred in-network laboratory;
. Based upon their experiences using Plaintiffs unique testing services, Providers recently wrote Recommendation Letters to ...

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