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Dr. Farrah Horowitz v. Animal Emergency and Treatment Centers of Chicago

August 20, 2012

DR. FARRAH HOROWITZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANIMAL EMERGENCY AND TREATMENT CENTERS OF CHICAGO, LLC, ET AL., DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On April 6, 2012, Plaintiff Dr. Farrah Horowitz, a veterinarian, brought the present four-count Complaint against her former employers Defendants Animal Emergency and Treatment Centers of Chicago, LLC and Animal Emergency Treatment Center of Grayslake, LLC (collectively "AETC"), along with individual Defendants Dr. Matt Tompkins, Dr. Kristi Sandman, and Dr. Anthony Coronado based on the Court's diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendants' motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Put differently, 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, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "In evaluating the sufficiency of the complaint, [courts] view it in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, taking as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and making all possible inferences from the allegations in the plaintiff's favor." AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011).

BACKGROUND

After completing her surgical residency at Virginia/Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Horowitz signed an Employment Agreement (the "Agreement") with AETC on September 21, 2009, that was for a term of 18 months -- ending on February 28, 2011 -- with an annual salary of $155,000. (R. 1, Compl. ¶ 10, Ex. A.) Section 9.A. of the Agreement states that if either party wanted to renew the Agreement, they would have to inform the other party in writing "no later than ninety (90) days prior" to the expiration of the Agreement, which was November 30, 2010. (Id. ¶ 11.) Dr. Horowitz alleges that because neither party so informed the other by November 30, 2010, her employment with AETC was scheduled to end on February 28, 2011. (Id.) On December 13, 2010, Dr. Horowitz emailed Defendant Dr. Coronado to ask about renewing her contract. (Id. ¶ 12.) Dr. Horowitz maintains that Dr. Coronado ignored her emails and so she wrote to Bob Renault, who was the Chief Operating Officer of AETC, to ask with whom she should speak concerning this matter. (Id. ¶ 13.) Renault then reported that Dr. Coronado would follow-up with her. (Id.)

Drs. Coronado and Horowitz met on or around December 28, 2010, at which time Dr. Coronado told Dr. Horowitz that AETC would not pay her the same amount after her contract expired. (Id. ¶ 14.) Instead, Dr. Coronado explained that if Dr. Horowitz wanted to renew her contract, she would have to take a cut in salary from $155,000 to $115,000. (Id.) In response, Dr. Horowitz told Dr. Coronado that she was not open to a pay cut and that she would leave AETC when her contract expired. (Id. ¶ 15.) On January 6, 2011, Dr. Coronado gave Dr. Horowitz a written offer sheet and, under the terms of that offer, AETC would either pay Dr. Horowitz a fixed amount of $125,000 annually or pay her a percentage of the revenue her work generated for AETC. (Id. ¶ 16.) Dr. Horowitz further alleges that Dr. Coronado and she met on or around January 13, 2011 to discuss the January 6, 2011 offer, at which time Dr. Coronado made it clear that AETC would not offer a guaranteed salary of more than $125,000. (Id. ¶ 18.) In addition, Dr. Horowitz alleges that Dr. Coronado refused to give her information about the second option of the January 6, 2011 offer based on production, but he did tell Dr. Horowitz that there was no chance that this option would enable her to make more than $125,000 a year. (Id.) At that time, Dr. Horowitz told Dr. Coronado that she would not stay at AETC at the reduced salary and that she intended to leave AETC when her contract expired. (Id.)

Dr. Horowitz further alleges that over the next several weeks, Dr. Coronado repeatedly tried to asked Dr. Horowitz for information about her job search and made it clear that she could stay at AETC beyond the Agreement's expiration date of February 28, 2011 if she wanted. (Id. ¶ 19.) Dr. Horowitz agreed that staying on would be possible if she did not secure new employment by the time the contract expired, but she also alleges that at no time was there any agreement that she would continue to work at AETC at a reduced salary. (Id.) In February 2011, Dr. Coronado raised the possibility of Dr. Horowitz signing a 6-month contract. (Id. ¶ 20.) On February 23, 2011, Dr. Coronado sent Dr. Horowitz a 6-month contract that included the same compensation package that Dr. Horowitz had already rejected. (Id.) When they met to discuss the contract offer, Dr. Coronado offered to insert a clause giving Dr. Horowitz an out from the contract if she found a new job. (Id.) Dr. Horowitz asserts that she informed Dr. Coronado that there would be no need for a contract under that scenario. (Id.) According to Dr. Horowitz, this exchange effectively ended the discussion of a new contract. (Id.)

After February 23, 2011, Dr. Coronado told Dr. Horowitz that AETC did not want her to feel like she had to leave AETC as soon as her contract expired and that they wanted her to stay. (Id. ¶ 21.) Dr. Horowitz replied that she was happy to remain there until she found a new job. (Id.) In addition, Dr. Horowitz alleges that at no point did she ever agree to work at AETC at a reduced salary nor did Dr. Coronado or anyone else at AETC tell her that the offer for her to remain beyond February 28, 2011 was contingent on her accepting a salary lower than what she had received for the previous year and a half. (Id. ¶ 22.)

On or around March 3, 2011, Dr. Horowitz accepted a position with WestVet Surgical Center of Chicago ("WestVet") and asserts that she gave Dr. Coronado notice that she intended to leave AETC in the beginning of April 2011. (Id. ¶ 23.) Dr. Horowitz alleges that on or around March 14, 2011, she gave Dr. Coronado formal notice that April 3, 2011 would be her last day at AETC. (Id. ¶ 27.) At that time, Dr. Coronado informed Dr. Horowitz that she was subject to a non-compete agreement. (Id.) Shortly thereafter, Dr. Horowitz emailed Dr. Coronado to explain that -- according to the Agreement -- her new position did not violate any restrictive covenant limiting the geographical area where should could practice because AETC refused to renew her contract on terms that are "the same or better" than the original contract. (Id. ¶ 29.) In addition, Dr. Horowitz alleges that on or around March 16, 2011, Dr. Coronado assured her that AETC would not seek to enforce the restrictive covenant as long as Dr. Horowitz did not solicit nurses or clients from AETC. (Id. ¶ 30.) On April 4, 2011, Dr. Horowitz signed a contract to begin working at WestVet, which is in the Chicago area. (Id. ¶ 31.)

Dr. Horowitz further alleges that four days after she began working at WestVet, AETC, through its counsel, contacted WestVet by letter and knowingly made the false claim that Dr. Horowitz was in violation of the restrictive covenants in her contract with AETC. (Id. ¶ 33.) In particular, Dr. Horowitz alleges that AETC accused her of violating the provision of her contract that forbade her from working within 20 miles of either the Chicago or Grayslake, Illinois AETC office. (Id. ¶ 34.) Second, Dr. Horowitz alleges that AETC also accused her of violating the non-solicitation provision of the Agreement. (Id. ¶ 35.) Upon receiving the letter on or around April 13, 2011, Dr. Jeff Brourman, the owner of WestVet, showed the letter to Dr. Horowitz and expressed his concern. (Id. ¶ 39.) On or around April 16, 2011, Dr. Brourman told Dr. Horowitz that because of the letter, she would have to resign from WestVet, which she did. (Id.)

In her Complaint, Dr. Horowitz brings the following state law claims: (1) a common law defamation per se claim against AETC in Count I; (2) a common law tortious interference of contract claim against AETC in Count II; (3) a common law tortious interference with prospective economic advantage against AETC in Count III; and (4) a violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act ("IWPCA"), 820 ILCS 115/1, et seq., in Count IV. In the present motion, Defendants seek to dismiss all four claims.

ANALYSIS

I. Agency ...


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