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Begum v. Singh

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

September 18, 2013

NURUN NESSA BEGUM, M.D., Ph.D., Plaintiff,
v.
RAMNIK SINGH, M.D., I.P. SINGH, AND WILMINGTON PSYCHIATRIC SERVICES, LLC, Defendants.

Submitted: September 4, 2013

G. Kevin Fasic, Esquire, Bonnie E. Copeland, Esquire, Cooch and Taylor, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Robert D. Goldberg, Esquire, Biggs and Battaglia, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendants.

OPINION

Paul R. Wallace, Judge

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Dr. Nurun Nessa Begum, filed this action in Superior Court alleging (1) breach of an employment contract; (2) violation of Delaware's Wage Payment and Collection Act (the "WPCA"); and (3) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. She seeks contract damages as well as unpaid wages, back-pay, liquidated damages, attorney's fees, and costs as permitted by the WPCA.[1] Defendants Dr. Ramnik Singh, M.D., her husband and business manager I.P. Singh, and her medical practice, Wilmington Psychiatric Services, LLC ("WPS") (collectively, "the Defendants"), dispute Dr. Begum's claims and filed counter-claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The essential disagreement between the parties stems from an employment contract (the "Employment Contract") which WPS prepared, and which Dr. Begum signed in 2009 prior to completing her medical residency. Dr. Begum claims WPS breached the Employment Contract by refusing to pay her salaried wage immediately upon her anticipated July 1, 2010 start date. In turn, she seeks payment of alleged unpaid wages for the period between July 1, 2010 and September 30, 2010.[2]

Defendants counter that Dr. Begum materially breached the Employment Contract by leaving their employ on September 30, 2010, [3] and that Dr. Begum must repay the funds WPS expended during the hiring process, including fees paid to an immigration attorney and moving expenses.[4] Defendants also claim that the WPCA claim is not actionable against Dr. Singh or Mr. Singh individually.[5] This is the Court's decision on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and the Parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

II. Factual and Procedural Background:

The Court accepts the following undisputed facts as true. Dr. Begum is a trained psychiatrist, fully licensed by the State of Delaware to practice medicine.[6]She completed a residency in psychiatric medicine at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center.[7] In September 2009 she met Dr. Singh, and the two discussed the possibility of Dr. Begum joining WPS as a staff psychiatrist following her residency.[8] On September 17, 2009, WPS presented Dr. Begum with a letter of intent outlining the "duties, responsibilities, and base salary, " of the staff psychiatrist position.[9]

One month later, WPS presented Dr. Begum with the Employment Agreement, which stated WPS would pay Dr. Begum $185, 000 per year for a forty-hour work week beginning July 1, 2010.[10] The Employment Agreement also specified four conditions precedent to Dr. Begum's employment: Dr. Begum (1) securing staff privileges at the Rockford Center; (2) receiving her J-1 license to practice medicine in Delaware; (3) receiving her State License to practice medicine in Delaware; and (4) becoming credentialed[11] with all health insurance carriers selected by WPS.[12] Because Dr. Begum is a citizen of Bangladesh, under the Employment Agreement, WPS agreed to cover any costs of Dr. Begum attaining the required immigration status.[13] Thus, the Employment Agreement stated Dr. Begum was obliged to repay any immigration expenses, on a pro rata basis, [14] if she left WPS prior to the stated three-year commitment.[15]

As of July 1, 2010, Dr. Begum was not credentialed with each of the insurance companies selected by WPS, and she did not begin her work at WPS until around August 1, 2010.[16] During the months of August and September 2010, Dr. Begum worked part-time, and WPS paid her an hourly rate calculated from her anticipated annual salary of $185, 000.[17] On August 22, 2010, Dr. Begum signed a letter of intent with Dover Behavioral Health System ("DBHS"), which stated she would be employed by DBHS as a staff psychiatrist at a rate of $180, 000 per year beginning October 1, 2010.[18] The parties do not dispute that Dr. Begum left WPS on September 30, 2010 without providing notice.[19]

On July 21, 2011, WPS filed a breach of contract claim in the New Castle County Justice of the Peace Court (the "JP Action").[20] WPS claimed that Dr. Begum breached the Employment Agreement and demanded $24, 014 in contract damages.[21] Dr. Begum filed a Motion to Dismiss the JP Action, which was denied. The parties later dismissed the case by agreement.[22] On October 26, 2011, Dr. Begum filed a Complaint in the instant case.

III. Parties' Contentions

In her motion for summary judgment, Dr. Begum claims WPS breached the Employment Agreement by paying her at an hourly rate for the approximately eight weeks she worked, rather than her full salary.[23] As damages for breach of contract, Dr. Begum claims she is entitled to recover wages, liquidated damages, and attorney's fees under the WPCA from both WPS and Dr. and Mr. Singh individually.[24] Finally, Dr. Begum argues WPS breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing by allegedly attempting to exploit Dr. Begum's bargaining position and coercing her to, among other things, ...


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