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Melby v. America's MHT Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

February 14, 2017

DR. DEREK MELBY and DR. DANILO POLICARPIO, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICA'S MHT, INC.; SCOTT POSTLE; ASCENTIUM CAPITAL, LLC and CLIFF MCKENZIE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Sam A. Lindsay, United States District Judge

         Before the court is Plaintiffs' Opposed Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and for Preliminary Injunction (“Motion”) (Doc. 20), filed February 16, 2017; Plaintiffs' Opposed Motion for Expedited Discovery (Doc. 22), filed February 16, 2017; and Ascentium Capital, LLC and Cliff McKenzie's Motion to Dismiss Class Action Complaint (Doc. 30), filed February 27, 2017. After considering the motions, briefs, pleadings, the evidence submitted regarding Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, and applicable law, the court denies Plaintiffs' Opposed Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and denies without prejudice Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 20); denies Plaintiffs' Opposed Motion for Expedited Discovery (Doc. 22); and denies Ascentium Capital, LLC and Cliff McKenzie's Motion to Dismiss Class Action Complaint (Doc. 30) as herein set forth.[*] The court will allow Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint, as it is unclear at this juncture whether amendment to cure the deficiencies in Plaintiffs' pleadings is futile.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs Dr. Derek Melby and Dr. Danilo Policarpio (“Dr. Policarpio”), individually and on behalf of others similarly situated physicians (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), brought this class action against Defendants America's MHT, Inc. (“MHT”); Scott Postle (“Postle”); Acentium Capital, LLC (“Ascentium”); and Cliff McKenzie (“McKenzie) (collectively, “Defendants”), asserting a claim for alleged violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (“DTPA”). Plaintiffs do not seek damages; rather, they seek injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment regarding their DTPA claim and allegations regarding equitable estoppel; unenforceability of contracts, unconscionability, and novation.

         According to Plaintiffs' Complaint, “MHT represents to physicians that it sells a Medical Home Team Services Program (‘MHT Program'), through which physicians can supervise, in the physician's region, a practice that is handled solely by MHT, from marketing to patient care to billing to administrative management.” Plaintiffs allege that, in its recruitment of physicians to join the MHT Program, “MHT offers to simplify the process for the physicians by coercing them to permit MHT to create legal entities [in the form of limited liability companies] in the names of the physicians and to open bank accounts in the names of those entities” and represents that this is part of the management services provided by MHT under the program.

         Plaintiffs allege that, once a limited liability company (“LLC”) or LLCs are created, MHT pressures the physicians to sign, on behalf of each LLC, an Installment Payment Agreement (“IPA”) with Ascentium without informing the physicians of the essential elements of the IPAs. Plaintiffs contend that, without their knowledge, Ascentium transfers funds directly to MHT, and the typical amount transferred for each LLC is $300, 000, which represents “four [software] licenses” per LLC. Pls.' Compl. ¶ 32 (internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiffs allege that Ascentium charges the LLCs an exorbitant rate of interest of 24% for amounts financed, although no interest rate is disclosed in the IPAs, and MHT represented to Plaintiffs that the IPAs are not loans and are not subject to any rate of interest. Plaintiffs allege that MHT's revenue stream is not based on income derived form patient care; rather, it is based solely on the sale of software licenses to the physicians, which is “a guise for a sale of a worthless franchise.” Id. ¶ 19-20. Plaintiffs further allege that MHT has always operated at a loss and survives only on the sale of expensive software licenses to physicians, who are encouraged through referral bonuses to recruit additional physicians to purchase software.

         Plaintiffs allege that, in early 2016, after Ascentium and McKenzie determined that the LLCs had insufficient revenue to repay the loans, Ascentium entered a Vendor Agreement with MHT, whereby MHT agreed to be principally liable for the loans if the LLCs failed to make required payments. Plaintiffs allege that this “secret deal” was never disclosed to them. Id. ¶ 42. Plaintiffs contend that the Vendor Agreement is “legally a novation” of the LLCs' and Plaintiffs' obligations under the IPAs. Id. ¶ 41.

         According to Plaintiffs, after MHT fell behind on its payments to Ascentium in August 2016, Ascentium sent letters to and telephoned Plaintiffs demanding payment, based on its contention that Plaintiffs are obligated as guarantors of any loan funded by Ascentium and made to the LLCs in which the physicians are members. Plaintiffs allege that Postle, on behalf of MHT, instructed Plaintiffs to ignore the demands and advised that MHT would handle all issues associated with Ascentium, including the making of payments. Plaintiffs allege that Ascentium, on the other hand, advised Plaintiffs to pay the amounts owed under the IPAs and to disregard MHT's instructions. Plaintiffs allege that, in response, they requested MHT to release them from any alleged obligations with MHT and the financial institutions, and MHT agreed to release certain physicians on a “first-come-first-serve-basis” on the condition that the physicians find other physicians to purchase their software licenses. Id. ¶ 53. Plaintiffs allege that, as a result of the fraud perpetrated by Defendants, they are indebted to Ascentium for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” or “cumulatively tens of millions of dollars, ” although they have received little or nothing of value in return. Id. ¶ 55.

         In their Complaint, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that: (1) “the LLCs or PLLCs created and operated by MHT with the purported authorization of the Plaintiffs and those similarly situated create no rights, obligations, or other legal relationship with those particular physicians, but are solely the responsibility of and/or create obligations solely on behalf of MHT”; and (2) MHT's and Ascentium's contracts with Plaintiffs and those similarly situated are null and void. Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief to enjoin MHT and Ascentium from enforcing their purported agreements with Plaintiffs and those similarly situated with them and requiring Defendants to cease all collection efforts with respect to Plaintiffs for loans related to licenses issued to the LLCs. Plaintiffs allege that, although Defendants actions caused them to suffer actual damages, they are not seeking an award of damages at this time in this proceeding; rather they seek only the injunctive and declaratory set forth in their Complaint. Plaintiffs, however, reserve their right to seek money damages against Defendants in a separate proceeding, including damages under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

         In their Motion for injunctive relief, Plaintiffs seek a temporary restraining order “TRO” and preliminary injunction to enjoin MHT and Ascentium from: (1) enforcing any contracts with Plaintiffs and attempting to collect amounts owed from Plaintiffs under the contracts; and (2) continuing to sell to physicians and finance any MHT Program licenses and software. In addition, Plaintiffs request that MHT be enjoined from “dissipating any assets.” Pls.' Mot. 21. Plaintiffs also request that they be allowed to conduct discovery on an expedited basis in support of their motion for injunctive relief. On February 27, 2017, Ascentium and McKenzie moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 9(b).

         II. Ascentium's and McKenzie's Motion to Dismiss

         A. Legal Standard for Rules 12(b)(6) and 9(b)

         To defeat a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, 517 F.3d 738, 742 (5th Cir. 2008); Guidry v. American Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007). A claim meets the plausibility test “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal citations omitted). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). The “[f]actual allegations of [a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (quotation marks, citations, and footnote omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Sonnier v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co.,509 F.3d 673, 675 (5th Cir. 2007); Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). In ruling on such a motion, the court cannot look beyond the pleadings. Id.; Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 530 U.S. 1229 (2000). The pleadings include the complaint and any documents attached to it. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000). Likewise, “‘[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings ...


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