|Opinion:||McIntyre v. State ex rel. OK. Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, 2022 OK CIV APP 32|
|Subject matter:||Civil Procedure|
|Date Decided:||July 22, 2022|
|Trial Court:||District Court of Oklahoma County; Judge Mai|
|Route to this Court:||Plaintiff Robert McIntyre, M.D. appealed from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant State of Oklahoma ex rel. Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (DMHSAS) on its counterclaim for recovery of Dr. McIntyre’s relocation expenses, as well as from dismissal of Dr. McIntyre’s claims against DMHSAS.|
|Facts:||Oklahoma Forensic Center (OFC) paid Dr. McIntyre $20,000 to relocate, with the understanding that [he] would remain employed as a psychiatrist for two years, or else repay the money. Dr. McIntyre separated from his employment with OFC after working for approximately six months. He sued OFC on three grounds which he described [in his original petition] as (1) fraudulent inducement to contract, (2) breach of implied covenants, and (3) constructive discharge. OFC filed an answer that included its counterclaim for breach of the relocation repayment agreement. OFC filed a motion based on 12 O.S. § 2012(B)(6) requesting dismissal of each of Dr. McIntyre’s claims. It attached an affidavit stating Dr. McIntyre did not file a notice of tort claims pursuant to51 O.S. § 156(C). In his amended petition, Dr. McIntyre alleged the following claims: breach of contract and breach of implied covenants to contract. Asserting that he accepted and oral offer of an employment contract, that he did perform fully under the contract, and that he performed all conditions precedent to recover under the contract. Thus, he sustained damages as a result of OFC and DMHSAS’s breach of contract. This petition was dismissed in part, in that he could not assert a breach of implied covenants, but Dr. McIntyre is allowed to amend the petition to plead a cause of action under the legal doctrine of equitable estoppel.The second amended petition set forth only a claim of equitable estoppel, in that he detrimentally relied on DMHSAS in agreeing to take the job and moving 938 miles to Vinita, Oklahoma. The detrimental reliance went against public policy because inmates deserve proper medical and psychiatric care, which were restricted under the management covenants with the job.|
The district court dismissed the second petition, stating that it should have been filed under a breach of contract claim. DMHSAS filed a motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim recover relocation expenses, attaching a copy of the relocation repayment agreement that Dr. McIntyre was to repay for the expenses incurred in helping him move to Oklahoma. Dr. McIntyre asserted that DMHSAS’s breach of contract rendered the relocation repayment agreement unenforceable. DMHSAS pointed out that Dr. McIntyre’s breach of contract claim was previously dismissed. Thus, the district court ruled that DMHSAS’s counterclaim for repayment should be granted. Dr. McIntyre appealed from this judgment and the district court’s dismissing his original petition and his third amended petition.
|Standard of Review:||“Motions to dismiss are generally viewed with disfavor, and the standard of review before this Court is de novo.” Dani v. Miller, 2016 OK 35, ¶ 10. Review of summary judgment also “calls for de novo review.” Wood v. Mercedes-Benz of Okla. City, 2014 OK 68, ¶ 4.|
|Analysis:||Dr. McIntyre originally appealed only from the November 2021 Judgment granting summary on DMHSAS’s counterclaim for repayment. Dr. McIntyre mentioned in his Petition in Error the existence of the two prior appeals arising from the underlying case: one mandated in June 2018 and another mandated June 2020. On December 22, 2021, the Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an order stating that if “appellant wishes to appeal the order(s) that were the subject of the prior premature appeals, appellant must file an amended petition . . . attaching any appealable orders for which appellant seeks review by this Court.” Although the orders of dismissal did not become appealable until entry of the order granting summary adjudication on DMHSAS’s counterclaim, the dismissal orders are separately reviewable because the Court has the power upon review to reverse, vacate, or modify any intermediate order involving the merits of the action.|
In regard to the order granting motion to dismiss the original petition, the Court disagreed with Dr. McIntyre’s argument that fraudulent inducement to contract sound in contract, not in tort. The Court relied on 51 O.S. Supp. 2014 § 151(12) of the GTCA, which defined the scope of employment as “performance by an employee acting in good faith within the duties of the employee’s office,” which provides that fraud is exempted from the scope of employment. The statute further stated that even if the misrepresentation is unintentional, then the government agency shall not be liable for loss.
With regard to constructive discharge, the Court held that it was based in tort and that GTCA required Dr. McIntyre actual or constructive one year notice of bringing a lawsuit under the Burk tort.
The Court then addressed the breach of covenants of good faith and fair dealing. Because Dr. McIntyre was an at-will employee, the Court relied on employment-at-will doctrine and cited to Wheless v. Willard Grain & Feed, Inc., 1998 OK 84, ¶ 3 and Booth v. Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc., 2022 OK 16, ¶ 10, in determining that an employment at will contract may be terminated by either party for any reason. Also, the nature of an employment at will contract is that the terms may be altered and agreed upon at any time, and a party who has been terminated from his job does not have legal standing to bring a claim. Thus, Dr. McIntyre was unable to allege a claim of breach of implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing. He also failed to state a claim founded upon DMHSAS’s change in the terms of his employment.
In conclusion, the Court held that the DMHSAS’s motion for summary judgment was proper because Dr. McIntyre never alleged in his petition nor his Petition in Error any dispute of facts that would render a grant of summary judgment improper. His petitions alleged only that DMHSAS breached the employment contract, thus the repayment of relocation expenses was unenforceable. The Court determined that was not enough to raise a controversy of disputed facts.
|Vote:||Fischer, C.J., Hixon, J., and Barnes, P.J. (author) concur.|