Smith v. Williams

Docket Number20-CV-2224-EFM-GEB
Decision Date08 February 2022
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Kansas


Plaintiff Kolette Smith filed suit against Defendants Brian Williams and Labette County Medical Center d/b/a Labette Health. Defendants previously filed a motion to dismiss that the Court granted in part and denied in part. The Court dismissed several claims but allowed two claims-a procedural due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a defamation claim related to acts in Missouri-to remain. Defendants are now before the Court with a Motion for Reconsideration (Doc 42) requesting that the Court dismiss the Missouri defamation claim. For the reasons stated in more detail below, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff is a licensed physician in Kansas and formerly worked for Defendant Labette Health, a public hospital in Labette County, Kansas. Plaintiff and Labette Health were unable to reach an agreement regarding Plaintiff's continued employment with Labette Health. After the end of Plaintiff's relationship with Labette Health, she sought employment elsewhere, including in Missouri. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Williams, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Labette Health, falsely informed potential employers that she was breaking a non-compete agreement. She also asserts that Williams falsely told the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts that Plaintiff refused to perform call obligations. Plaintiff asserts that she had to hire an attorney to assist in her obtaining her Missouri license.

Plaintiff filed suit and asserted seven claims against Defendants, including two constitutional claims, three claims under Kansas law, and two claims under Missouri law. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims.[1] While the motion was pending, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss requesting the dismissal of her three claims brought under Kansas law.[2]

This Court granted Plaintiff's motion.[3] With regard to Defendant's motion, the Court granted it in part and denied it in part.[4] Specifically, it dismissed Plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of a liberty interest and her Missouri claim for tortious interference with prospective economic advantage finding that Plaintiff failed to state a claim. It allowed Plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of a property interest without due process of law and her Missouri defamation claim to go forward. The Court did not address whether Plaintiff provided notice of her tort claims and complied with the Kansas Tort Claims Act (“KTCA”), finding that it was unnecessary to address compliance with the KTCA because Plaintiff requested dismissal of her Kansas tort claims.

Defendants contend that the Court erred when it did not address whether Plaintiff complied with the KTCA as to Plaintiff's defamation claim brought under Missouri law.[5] They assert that Plaintiff failed to meet the requirement of pre-lawsuit notice under the KTCA, and even though Plaintiff's claim is governed by Missouri law, Plaintiff still must comply with the procedural requirements of the KTCA prior to bringing this claim. Plaintiff asserts multiple arguments as to why Defendants' contention fails.

II. Legal Standard

Local Rule 7.3 governs motions to reconsider.[6] A motion to reconsider a non-dispositive order must be based on (1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice.”[7] “The standards governing motions to reconsider are well established. A motion to reconsider is appropriate where the court has obviously misapprehended a party's position or the facts or applicable law, or where the party produces new evidence that could not have been obtained through the exercise of due diligence.”[8] A motion to reconsider is not an appropriate method for a party to revisit issues already addressed or to advance new arguments and supporting facts that were originally available.[9] The decision regarding whether to grant or to deny a motion for reconsideration is left within the sound discretion of the district court.[10]

III. Analysis

In this case, the Court previously did not address the applicability of the KTCA to Plaintiff's defamation claim for acts in Missouri. Defendants contend that it was legal error to not do so because it previously asserted that Plaintiff did not comply with the KTCA as to all five of her tort claims. Three tort claims were brought under Kansas law, and two claims were brought under Missouri law. The Court notes that Defendants made this argument, but they did not address Missouri law or principles of comity in their original briefing. Instead, Defendants argued that Kansas law applied to all tort claims because the wrong was felt in Kansas, the place of Plaintiff's residence, and that Plaintiff's state-law tort claims should be dismissed either because of failure to provide notice or because Plaintiff failed to state a claim. Plaintiff did not address choice of law principles other than by stating that she asserted two claims under Missouri law, and she relied on Missouri law.[11]

The Court found that Missouri law applied to Plaintiff's Missouri claims because the wrong was felt in Missouri. In addition, because Plaintiff requested dismissal of her tort claims brought under Kansas law, the Court did not address the applicability of the KTCA to Plaintiff's tort claims brought under Missouri law. Although Defendants previously did not address Missouri comity principles because they argued that Kansas law applied to all claims, the Court will now consider whether the KTCA is applicable to Plaintiff's defamation claim and whether principles of comity should apply here because it would be clear error for the claim to go forward if the Court does not have jurisdiction over this claim.

Pursuant to K.S.A. § 12-105b(d), [a]ny person having a claim against a municipality or against an employee of a municipality which could give rise to an action brought under the Kansas tort claims act shall file a written notice . . . before commencing such action.” [N]o action shall be commenced until after the claimant has received notice from the municipality that it has denied the claim or until after 120 days has passed following the filing of the notice of claim, whichever occurs first.”[12] “Compliance with this provision is jurisdictional in nature under Kansas law, such that ‘if the statutory requirements are not met, the court cannot acquire jurisdiction' over the municipality or the employee on the claim.”[13]

Defendants argue that comity principles dictate that Missouri courts would apply the notice requirement under the KTCA to tort claims against a governmental entity. Defendants further assert that because Plaintiff failed to provide proper notice of her tort claims prior to litigation, Plaintiff's defamation claim should be dismissed. Plaintiff contends that Defendants fail to identify clear error because principles of comity do not require application of the KTCA regarding this intentionally committed tort, notice was not required for the individual capacity claim against Defendant Williams, notice was given as to the official capacity claim against Defendant Labette Health, and Defendant Labette Health should be estopped from arguing failure to receive notice. The Court will address each argument in turn.

A. Comity

Defendants first assert that under Missouri principles of comity, Missouri courts would apply the KTCA's notice requirement to tort claims brought against a governmental entity. In this case, as noted above, Missouri substantive law applies to Plaintiff's defamation claim because the wrong was felt in Missouri. The question then becomes whether Missouri would recognize the procedural notice requirement under the KTCA when a person brings a claim against a Kansas governmental entity for a tort occurring in Missouri.[14]

Comity is a matter of courtesy and respect.[15] The doctrine of comity is an expression of one [s]tate's entirely voluntary decision to defer to the policy of another. Such a decision may be perceived as promoting uniformity of decision, as encouraging harmony among participants in a system of co-operative federalism, or as merely an expression of hope for reciprocal advantage in some future case in which the interests of the forum are more critical.[16] There are at least two cases in which Missouri has extended comity in similar circumstances to this case. In Townsend v. Eastern Chemical Waste Systems, [17] the Missouri Court of Appeals relied on comity principles when it applied District of Columbia law. The Missouri plaintiffs sued two defendants, including the District of Columbia, for negligence and negligent hiring.[18] The District of Columbia has a statutory provision requiring notice to be given to a governmental entity within six months of the incident in order to maintain a cause of action.[19] The appellate court determined that the plaintiffs' failure to plead that they complied with the District of Columbia's notice requirement for a tort claim prior to bringing suit meant that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' tort claims.[20]

In Babbs v. Block, [21] the Western District of Missouri specifically considered whether to apply comity principles with regard to the KTCA, although not with regard to the notice requirement. The Missouri plaintiff asserted several tort claims against two Kansas governmental defendants who filed a ...

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