Judge guts Crossroads suits; Decision ‘effectively dismisses each count pled in plaintiffs’ complaints

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, November 10, 2016

Circuit Court Judge Joseph M. Teffey Jr. has effectively dismissed civil suits filed by four former employees of Crossroads Community Services Board.

In a recent court order, Teffey wrote, “…the Court’s decision on Defendants’ Demurrers effectively dismisses each count pled in Plaintiffs’ complaints. … Therefore, the Court directs the Clerk of this court to remove these matters from the active docket and place them among the concluded matters.”

Teffey’s decision was based on demurrers — which contend a pleading does not state a cause of action or fails to state facts upon which relief can be granted — filed by attorneys representing Crossroads Community Services Board Chairman Sidney Smyth, Crossroads Executive Director Dr. Susan Baker and the board itself. The demurrers were part of documents filed months ago as responses to claims made by Crossroads Coordinator of Nursing Services Cynthia Morris, Office Manager Laura Baldwin, Substance Abuse Coordinator and Substance Abuse Director Jonathan Crawford and Director of Long-Term Care Marina Sinyard.

The four employees are seeking actual damages of $300,000, punitive damages of $500,000 against Baker and Smyth individually, non-economic compensatory damages, back pay, monetary equivalent of the value of their future employment, litigation costs and reinstatement with full seniority status. The four suits also demand a jury trial.

In their filed documents, Baker, Smyth and the agency denied all claims filed against them by the former employees, asking them to be dismissed.

In his 17-page order, addressing each claim by the employees, Teefey stated many times that the allegations against the defendants failed to state claims, determining Baker’s and Smyth’s actions were not actionable “as defamation.”

“Morris fails to plead any facts that make Baker’s (actions) specific to Morris and no reasonable or fair inference in the described context can provide such specificity,” Teffey said in the order. “Therefore, Baker’s statement was opinion and not actionable as defamation.”

The judge said the statements regarding Crawford and Sinyard, too, were opinion statements and not defamatory as a matter of law.

According to the order, the four employees “contacted the Crossroads Board of Directors expressing concern regarding management and administration of Crossroads.”

In the order, Teffey said the specific concerns the plaintiffs reported included alleged inaccurate grant fund reporting, failures to comply with service delivery related for grant funding, failure to act in compliance with the governor’s mandates, failure to follow new department of medical assistance regulations, delays in making arrangements to replace the retiring staff psychiatrist, compliance concerns regarding the buy and bill injectible medication and services consistent with DMAS regulations and budget irregularities and key staff vacancies in areas responsible for critical reporting compliance.

“The Board took no action on Plaintiffs’ reports after the October 27, 2015, meeting,” Teffey noted in the order.

According to the order, the four employees sent an email on Jan. 15 to Smyth, inquiring about action the board would take on their reports.

According to the order, Smyth allegedly replied he didn’t have the time or desire to micromanage Crossroads. “The Board fully supports Dr. Baker … If you find that you cannot work within these parameters, then I suggest that you and your cronies might want to look elsewhere for employment … I find insubordination to be despicable. It is immature and unprofessional. Frankly, if you were my subordinate and I found you were making end runs behind my back to Board members, I would fire you on the spot.”

According to the order, Baker allegedly told another Crossroads staff member Crawford and Sinyard “are not as knowledgeable as you think … They are liars … They were dangerous to Crossroads and needed to be removed.” Regarding Crawford, Baker allegedly said he was “‘in the red’ regarding the portion of the Crossroads budget he managed.”

“I cannot have a nurse that all she does is schedule,” Baker allegedly said regarding Morris. Baker allegedly said Baldwin was “insubordinate’ for failing to follow her directive to terminate the Angel Tree Program.”

Regarding publication of Baker’s and Smyth’s statements about the four employees, Teffey found the statements included in their complaints “is not actionable … This court declines to decide the publication issue.”

On the count against Crossroads and defendant counties alleging violation of a Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (VFATA) code section, Teffey said “The Court finds no allegation that meets the actual conduct,” referring to statements from the employees regarding reports of mismanagement to the board and the 10 separate allegations regarding violation of VFATA.

“The Court therefore finds that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for intentional tort of wrongful discharge under the public policy of the VFATA,” Teffey wrote.

He later noted the court found the employees failed to state a claim for intentional tort of wrongful discharge under public policy of the Community Services Board Act. He stated they failed to make a claim under wrongful discharge as it relates to the Constitution of Virginia.

Regarding the remaining counties’ demurrers and pleas in bar, the court declined to decide whether the VFATA is applicable in regard to if the plaintiffs’ employment was with Crossroads or the counties.

The court also declined to decide whether the counties or Crossroads enjoy “sovereign immunity,” a concept by which the government is immune from prosecution.

“The Court does not decide the merits of the pleas in bar filed by the defendants,” Teffey wrote.