United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on Defendant Sedgwick Claims
Management Services Inc.'s (“Sedgwick”) and
Lowe's Home Centers, LLC's (“Lowe's”)
(collectively, the “Defendants”) motion to
dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 4).
Plaintiff Sarah Brown brought a workers' compensation
claim (Count I) in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County,
Alabama. Brown later amended her complaint with claims of
retaliatory discharge (Count II) and outrage (Count III). The
state court severed Brown's outrage claim. Defendants
then removed the new action with the sole count of tort of
outrage to this court. Concurrently, Defendants filed the
instant motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6),
arguing that Brown fails to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted. For the following reasons, Defendants'
motion to dismiss is due to be GRANTED.
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of
the complaint. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure require only that the complaint provide
“‘a short and plain statement of the claim'
that will give the defendant fair notice of what the
plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47
(1957) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A plaintiff must provide
the grounds of his entitlement, but Rule 8 generally does not
require “detailed factual allegations.” Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting
Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however,
“demand[ ] more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not
meet Rule 8 standards nor do pleadings suffice that are based
merely upon “labels or conclusions” or
“naked assertions” without supporting factual
allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.
Supreme Court explained that “[t]o 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.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its
face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow[
] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. If the court determines that
well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim
that is plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.
worked at Lowe's unloading trucks and moving merchandise,
among other duties. Brown injured her back while moving a
heavy piece of merchandise in May 2014. She left work and
went to see a chiropractor that day and three times the
following week. The treatment was ineffective. Brown also
returned to the Lowe's store on the day of her injury and
filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits.
Lowe's declined to pay the chiropractor from whom Brown
sought treatment because he was an “unauthorized
doctor.” Four days after Brown's injury, defendant
Sedgwick, a claims management company, took a statement from
Brown. Soon thereafter, Sedgwick informed Brown that her
workers' compensation claim would be closed because,
according to Sedgwick, Brown had previously complained to
another Lowe's employee about her back. Brown disputed
Sedgwick's finding and continued to seek workers'
compensation benefits from Defendants.
began pursuing her claim in Alabama state courts. According
to Brown, Defendants continued to sandbag her attempts to
obtain compensation and were aware that the evidence they
relied on in denying her claim was not credible. In 2015,
Brown won her state-court suit. Defendants appealed and,
later, petitioned for a writ of mandamus, losing both.
addition, Brown alleges in her amended complaint that the
Defendants “continued their physical and mental assault
on the plaintiff by refusing medical benefits, contesting
physicians, and relying upon ‘insurance' doctors to
thwart treatment of the plaintiff.” Brown notes that
one “insurance doctor, ” relied upon by
Defendants, permitted Brown to return to work despite failing
to provide her medical treatment. The amended complaint is
unclear whether these alleged events occurred before, during,
or after the proceedings before the state court. Regardless,
Brown concludes that Defendants have still failed to provide
her the necessary medical care for her injury. Brown states
that the passage of time has exacerbated her injury and
“[s]he lives a medicated life replete with mental and
physical anxiety and suffering.” According to Brown,
Defendants' goal has been to coerce her into settling for
a lower payment than she is entitled.
Alabama, to prevail on a claim for the tort of outrage, a
plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's conduct
“(1) was intentional and reckless; (2) was extreme and
outrageous; and (3) caused emotional distress so severe that
no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.”
Thomas v. BSE Indus. Contractors, Inc., 624 So.2d
1041, 1043 (Ala. 1993). It is a “very limited cause of
action that is available only in the most egregious
circumstances.” Id. at 1044. That is,
“the tort of outrage is viable only when the conduct is
‘so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as
to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be
regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized
society.'” Little v. Robinson, 72 So.3d
1168, 1172-73 (Ala. 2011) (quoting Horne v. TGM Assocs.,
L.P., 56 So.3d 615, 631 (Ala. 2010)).
Alabama Supreme Court has only recognized the tort of outrage
for three kinds of conduct: “(1) wrongful conduct in
the family-burial context; (2) barbaric methods employed to
coerce an insurance settlement; and (3) egregious sexual
harassment.” Little, 72 So.3d at 1172-73
(citations omitted) (quoting Potts v. Hayes, 771
So.2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000)). The tort of outrage can be
viable for other conduct, but only if the conduct shocks the
conscience. See id. (citing O'Rear v.
B.H., 69 So.3d 106 (Ala. 2011), which affirmed judgment
on tort-of-outrage claim asserted against family physician
who exchanged prescription drugs for sex with teenage
court finds that the conduct alleged against Defendants does
not fall within the very limited Alabama tort of outrage.
This case does not involve the family-burial context, nor
does Brown allege egregious sexual harassment. And Defendants
did not employ the type of “barbaric methods” to
coerce Brown into a settlement sufficient to satisfy Alabama
law. In National Sec. Fire & Cas. Co. v. Bowen,
the only successful insurance outrage case, the Alabama
Supreme Court concluded that the defendant insurer's
conduct “was so horrible, so atrocious, so barbaric,
” that a jury could find that the plaintiff suffered
the requisite severe emotional distress for the tort of
outrage. 447 So.2d 133, 141 (Ala. 1983). To avoid liability,
that insurer framed the plaintiff for arson, threatened to
murder his children, and kidnapped him at gunpoint.
Id. at 136-37. Here, Brown says that Defendants
abused the judicial process to delay her receipt of
workers' compensation benefits. The filing of a frivolous
appeal, while bad form, is not conduct that is
“atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized
society.” See Little, 72 So.3d at 1172-73.
Brown's other allegations, such as Defendants'
apparent requirement that she visit an insurance-approved
physician and that physician's determination that she was
fit to work, do not come near to conduct that “go[es]
beyond all possible bounds of decency.” See
id. Although the withholding of medical benefits to
coerce a settlement can give rise to the tort of outrage in
extreme circumstances, Brown makes only a conclusory
allegation that Defendants withheld medical benefits with
that goal. See Continental Cas. Ins. Co. v.
McDonald, 567 So.2d 1208, 1210, 1221 (Ala. 1990)
(concluding that plaintiff who was denied medical benefits by
workers' compensation carrier with goal of forcing
settlement had presented a triable issue for tort of
outrage). Here, Brown was able to see a chiropractor and
“insurance doctors, ” and she does not allege
that Defendants ...