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Labor & Employment – Breach of Contract – Tortious Interference – Misappropriation

Labor & Employment – Breach of Contract – Tortious Interference – Misappropriation

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Plaintiff, a private medical practice, asserted claims of breach of contract and the duty of loyalty, tortious interference, fraud, and misappropriation of trade name against the defendants, who are plaintiff’s former office manager and nurse practitioner. Plaintiff alleged that defendants began operating an allergy-testing business from plaintiff’s offices and giving themselves unauthorized pay raises and benefits. Plaintiff further alleged that defendants attempted to persuade plaintiff’s patients to move from practice with them. As there was no contract between plaintiff and several of the defendants or a fiduciary duty arising from defendants’ employment relations, plaintiff’s claims are dismissed.

We grant defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract and for punitive damages without prejudice, and to dismiss tortious interference, misappropriation, breach of the duty of loyalty, and fraud with prejudice.

We first rule that plaintiff’s breach of contract claims should be dismissed as to one of the co-defendants and the defendants’ allergy testing company, as no contract existed between those parties and plaintiff. Similarly, we dismiss plaintiff’s tortious interference claim, as plaintiff’s patients were not contractually obligated to continue seeking treatment from plaintiff and plaintiff therefore had nothing more than a mere expectation those patients would continue to seek treatment from plaintiff.

We further dismiss plaintiff’s misappropriation claim since plaintiff had not alleged that defendants were using a trade name confusingly similar to plaintiff’s trade name.

We dismiss plaintiff’s breach of duty of loyalty claim, ruling that an employer-employee relationship did not give rise to a fiduciary duty under North Carolina law and finding no allegation of the existence of a fiduciary relationship between plaintiff and defendants.

We find plaintiff’s unfair and deceptive trade practices claim barred as against one of the co-defendants pursuant to the learned professional exception, finding that plaintiff’s alleged conduct underlying its claim arose from that defendant’s provision of allergy-testing services as a licensed nurse practitioner. We further find that plaintiff’s claim merely “piggybacked” on its breach of contract claim.

Finally, we dismiss plaintiff’s fraud claim, ruling that fraud typically cannot be premises on third-party reliance and finding no evidence that any of plaintiff’s patients relied upon defendant’s alleged fraudulent statements about plaintiff’s closing.

Dismissal granted.

Alamance Family Practice, P.A. v. Lindley (Lawyers Weekly No. 020-060-18, 29 pp.) (Michael Robinson, J.) Julian M. Doby for plaintiff; Jennifer L. Bills and Kathryn F. Abernathy for defendants. 2018 NCBC 82

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