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Petty v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 10, 2015

CINDY PETTY, APPELLANT
v.
BAPTIST MEMORIAL HEALTH CARE CORPORATION, BAPTIST MEMORIAL HOSPITAL-GOLDEN TRIANGLE, INC., MARY ELLEN SUMRALL, INDIVIDUALLY, VANESSA LAFAYETTE, INDIVIDUALLY, ALICIA GRANT, INDIVIDUALLY, PAUL CADE, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ALEXANDRIA BANKER, INDIVIDUALLY, APPELLEES

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/05/2013

Court From Which Appealed: Lowndes County Circuit Court, Trial Judge: Hon. Lee J. Howard

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: P. NELSON SMITH JR.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: PAUL E. PRATHER, MATTHEW GARY GALLAGHER

BEFORE IRVING, P.J., ROBERTS AND MAXWELL, JJ.

IRVING, P.J.

¶1. After she was terminated from her employment as a registered nurse at Baptist Memorial Hospital–Golden Triangle Inc. (BMH-GT), Cindy Petty filed a complaint, in the Circuit Court of Lowndes County, against BMH-GT; Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corporation (Baptist), BMH-GT's parent corporation; Mary Sumrall, BMH-GT's director of nursing; Vanessa Lafayette, director of BMH-GT's maternal-child department; Alicia Grant, BMH-GT's assistant director of nursing; Paul Cade, BMH-GT's administrator; and Alexandria Banker, BMH-GT's head nurse for the labor-and- elivery department. BMH-GT and Baptist will be referred to collectively as BMH-GT, unless the context requires otherwise, and all of the individuals will be referred to collectively as the individual defendants, unless the context requires specific name identification. BMH-GT and the individual defendants filed motions for summary judgment, [1] which the circuit court granted. Cindy appeals.

¶2. For the reasons discussed later in this opinion, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

FACTS

¶3. Cindy was employed for sixteen years by BMH-GT as a registered nurse in BMH-GT's labor-and-delivery department. She was an at-will employee. On February 24, 2010, Cindy successfully performed an internal bimanual uterine massage on a patient who was experiencing severe hemorrhaging. Dr. James Holzhauer, a medical doctor employed by BMH-GT, was the patient's treating physician.

¶4. By letter dated February 27, 2010, BMH-GT terminated Cindy's employment. The letter stated that the basis for Cindy's termination was that "there was no physician's order [instructing Cindy] to perform [the] procedure [and the] procedure [was] not within [Cindy's] scope of practice." BMH-GT reported to the Mississippi Board of Nursing (Board) that Cindy had performed the procedure.[2] Following a hearing, the Board concluded that "it is within the scope of [an] appropriately trained registered nurse to perform [an] internal bimanual uterine massage per an institutional policy addressing the emergency management of postpartum hemorrhag[ing]."[3] The Board took no disciplinary action against Cindy.

¶5. In her complaint, Cindy alleged: (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress, (3) tortious interference, and (4) defamation. More specifically, Cindy alleged, among other things, that BMH-GT had made false statements about her to the Board. In their answers, the defendants, with the exception of Baptist, admitted that BMH-GT had "made a report to the Mississippi Board of Nursing with regard to the procedure performed by [Cindy]." The record does not disclose the identity of the person who made the report on BMH-GT's behalf. In their motions for summary judgment, BMH-GT and the individual defendants collectively argued: (1) Cindy could not prevail on her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress because she could not establish that their conduct was extreme or outrageous; (2) Cindy's claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress was barred by the exclusivity-of-remedy provision of the Mississippi Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), [4] or, alternatively, Cindy could not establish that BMH-GT or the individual defendants were negligent; (3) Cindy could not prevail on her defamation claim because she could not establish that BMH-GT or the individual defendants made false statements about her, and because any statements made by the defendants about her were protected by a qualified privilege; and (4) Cindy could not prevail on her tortious-interference claim because Mississippi does not recognize a cause of action for tortious interference with one's profession or career. In its motion for summary judgment, BMH-GT also argued that it could not be held liable for tortiously interfering with the employment of one of its own employees. Additionally, in their summary-judgment motion, the individual defendants argued that Cindy could not prevail on her tortious-interference claim against them because their actions were within the scope of the duty they owed to BMH-GT, and were performed during the course of Cindy's employment with BMH-GT.

¶6. In support of the summary-judgment motions, BMH-GT and the individual defendants submitted excerpts from the transcript of Cindy's deposition, where the following colloquy took place:

[ATTORNEY]: Now, tell me about your relationship with Mr. Cade.
[CINDY]: I don't have one.
[ATTORNEY]: I mean, you know who he is?
[CINDY]: Yes.
[ATTORNEY]: Well, is there something that he specifically has done to you that you're aware of?
[CINDY]: Other than he was the last resort on the problem solving, that he had a chance to rectify this mistake.
[ATTORNEY]: Okay. Anything else that Mr. Cade did in connection with this case that you're aware of?
[CINDY]: No, sir[.] [N]ot to my knowledge.
[ATTORNEY]: Okay. Let's talk about Ms. Somerall [sic], who's also a defendant in this lawsuit. Tell me about your relationship with Ms. Somerall [sic].
[CINDY]: Same concept. Worked for her for a year.
[ATTORNEY]: Okay. Any particular problems with her?
[CINDY]: No, sir.
[ATTORNEY]: All right. Well, what is it that -- what was Ms. Grant's role in this -- that you think she did wrong?
[CINDY]: The same concept. I don't think they -- when they fired me, that they were taking into account that what I was presenting to them -- that I did not do anything wrong.
[ATTORNEY]: Okay. And Ms. Lafayette . . . what is it that you ...

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