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Mansfield v. Pfaff

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

June 17, 2015

DAWN JONES PFAFF, et al., Defendants.


JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.


Before the court are Plaintiff Pamela Mansfield's motion for reconsideration (Mot. for Reconsid. (Dkt. # 97)), motion to certify appeal (Mot. to Cert. (Dkt. # 96)), and motion to continue (Mot. to Cont. (Dkt. # 95)), and Defendant United States of America's ("the United States") motion for summary judgment (MSJ (Dkt. # 94)). Defendants Dr. Jerry Palmer and Mara Fletcher[1] have filed responses to Ms. Mansfield's motions to certify and to continue. (Resp. re Cert. (Dkt. # 101); Resp. re Cont. (Dkt. # 99).) Ms. Mansfield has not filed a response to the United States' motion for summary judgment or reply memoranda in support of her motions to certify and to continue. ( See Dkt.) The court has considered the submissions of the parties, the balance of the record, and the relevant law. Being fully advised, [2] the court DENIES Ms. Mansfield's motion for reconsideration, GRANTS the United States' motion for summary judgment, DENIES Ms. Mansfield's motion to certify, and DENIES Ms. Mansfield's motion to continue.


This case arises out of a conflict between coworkers that culminated in allegations of a workplace assault and ultimately in Ms. Mansfield being fired. The facts are discussed at length in this court's prior orders and in the parties' submissions and are only briefly summarized here. ( See, e.g., 12/16/14 Order (Dkt. # 60).) Ms. Mansfield is a nurse who worked for the University of Washington ("UW"). (3d Am. Compl. (Dkt. # 61) ¶¶ 1, 10.) In 2007, Ms. Mansfield was appointed to work as a research nurse on a project at the Veterans Administration ("VA") office in Seattle, Washington. (Id. ¶ 10.) As part of this project she worked under Dr. Palmer and was required to hold a without compensation appointment with the VA. ( Id.; see Brooks-Worrell Decl. (Dkt. # 31) ¶¶ 3-4; Lovato Decl. (Dkt. # 33) ¶¶ 3-4.) Among her colleagues on the Palmer team were Dawn Jones-Pfaff and Jessica Reichow. (3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 6, 10.)

At some point Ms. Mansfield and Ms. Jones-Pfaff developed animus toward one another. Each accused the other of misconduct and reported those accusations to their superiors. ( See id. ¶ 12; Dkt. # 63-2 at 79-80, 84-85.) Other members of the Palmer team, including Ms. Reichow and Dr. Palmer, also had difficult relationships with Ms. Mansfield. ( See, e.g., 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) For example, Ms. Mansfield alleges that Dr. Palmer disliked her and attempted to get her fired because she had reported deficiencies in the research team's work. ( See id. ¶¶ 12-18, 34; Mot. for Reconsid. at 8-9.)

This intra-office conflict came to a head on March 9, 2011. Ms. Mansfield alleges that on that date Ms. Jones-Pfaff attacked her at work by sneaking up behind her and slamming her head into her desk. (3d Am. Compl. ¶ 19.) Ms. Mansfield further alleges that Ms. Jones-Pfaff and Ms. Reichow met and agreed to lie about the incident and about Ms. Mansfield more generally in order to hide the alleged assault and get Ms. Mansfield fired. ( See id. ) VA officials investigated the alleged assault, and after determining that no assault occurred, terminated Ms. Mansfield's VA appointment. ( See id. ¶ 20.) Shortly thereafter, UW officials terminated Ms. Mansfield's UW employment. (Id. ) Ms. Mansfield alleges that Dr. Palmer and Ms. Fletcher, a UW human resources ("HR") administrator, helped get her fired in retaliation for her having reported deficiencies in the research team's work. ( See id. ¶¶ 12, 21, 33-35; Mot. for Reconsid. at 8-9.)

Ms. Mansfield filed this suit in state court in March 2014. (State Ct. Rec. (Dkt. # 2-1) at 5.) Her current complaint alleges four causes of action: negligent infliction of emotional distress (against Ms. Jones-Pfaff) (3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 27-29), tortious interference with a contract and civil conspiracy (against Ms. Jones-Pfaff and Ms. Reichow) ( id. ¶¶ 23-26, 30-32), and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for retaliatory firing in violation of her First Amendment rights (against Dr. Palmer and Ms. Fletcher) ( id. ¶¶ 33-35). It is undisputed that Ms. Mansfield has never filed an administrative complaint with the VA concerning the events at issue in her complaint. ( See MSJ at 3; Bradshaw Decl. (Dkt. # 14-3) at 1; Mot. to Cert. at 9.)

On June 27, 2014, the United States removed this case to federal court and substituted itself for Ms. Jones-Pfaff and Ms. Reichow under the Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2679(d)(2), by certifying that Ms. Jones-Pfaff and Ms. Reichow were acting within the scope of their federal employment at the times at issue in this lawsuit. ( See Not. of Rem. (Dkt. # 1); Not. of Sub. & Cert. (Dkt. # 3).) This certification was premised on the contention that no tortious conduct actually occurred. ( See U.S. Mot. to Dismiss (Dkt. # 14) at 9-11; see also 8/27/14 Order (Dkt. # 38).)

On September 11, 2014, before Ms. Mansfield challenged the United States' certification, the defendants for whom the United States had substituted itself ("the displaced Defendants") brought a motion attacking Ms. Mansfield's claims against them under Washington's anti-SLAPP statute. ( See anti-SLAPP Mot. (Dkt. # 40).) The court denied that motion on December 16, 2014, finding that the displaced Defendants were no longer parties who could bring motions attacking Ms. Mansfield's claims. ( See 12/16/14 Order at 11-14.) During the pendency of the anti-SLAPP motion, however, the displaced Defendants insisted on a discovery stay that they believed was required by the anti-SLAPP statute. ( See 1st Jacobson Decl. (Dkt. # 49-1) at 8, 10.) In its order denying the anti-SLAPP motion, the court noted that the appropriateness of the United States' certification should be decided as soon as possible. (12/16/14 Order at 14.) To that end, the court directed Ms. Mansfield to file her challenge to the United State's certification by March 16, 2015. ( See id. at 15, 32.)

On March 16, 2015, Ms. Mansfield timely filed a motion challenging the United States' certification and requesting an evidentiary hearing. (Cert. Mot. (Dkt. # 63).) The United States responded (Cert. Resp. (Dkt. # 68)) and Ms. Mansfield filed a reply memorandum (Cert. Reply (Dkt. # 73)). The court then reviewed the parties' briefing, considered the evidence and authorities submitted in support thereof, and heard oral argument. (OA Min. Entry (Dkt. # 91); OA Trans. (Dkt. # 98).) At the close of oral argument, the court ruled from the bench that Ms. Mansfield had failed to carry her burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that Ms. Jones-Pfaff and Ms. Reichow had committed the alleged torts. ( See OA Trans. at 35-37, 39-40.) The court therefore denied Ms. Mansfield's motion and upheld the United States' certification. ( See id. at 37, 40.)

Within two weeks of the court's oral ruling, the parties filed the four motions now before the court. Ms. Mansfield's motion for reconsideration assigns error to the court's decision not to hold an evidentiary hearing on her certification challenge and asks the court to vacate its oral ruling. (Mot. for Reconsid. at 1-3, 12.) The United States' motion for summary judgment asks the court to dismiss Ms. Mansfield's claims against the United States for, among other reasons, failure to exhaust her administrative remedies as required by the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680. (MSJ at 2-4.) Ms. Mansfield's motion to certify requests that if the court denies her motion for reconsideration, the court certify for immediate interlocutory appeal its decision not to hold an evidentiary hearing, or in the alternative, enter final judgment on her claims against Ms. Jones-Pfaff and Ms. Reichow. ( See Mot. to Cert. at 1, 11.) Ms. Mansfield's final motion asks the court to continue all case schedule deadlines, including the trial date by 90 days in order to allow her sufficient time to conduct discovery on her remaining claims. ( See Mot. to Cont. at 1; 2d Jacobson Decl. (Dkt. # 95-1).) These motions are now ripe for the court's consideration.


A. Ms. Mansfield's Motion for ...

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