896 F.2d 5 (1st Cir. 1990), 89-1734, Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Docket Nº:89-1734.
Citation:896 F.2d 5
Party Name:Jose MEDINA-MUNOZ, etc., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants, v. R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO COMPANY, Defendant, Appellee.
Case Date:February 15, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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896 F.2d 5 (1st Cir. 1990)

Jose MEDINA-MUNOZ, etc., et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,

v.

R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO COMPANY, Defendant, Appellee.

No. 89-1734.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 15, 1990

Heard Jan. 9, 1990.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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A. Santiago-Villalonga, with whom Nachman & Fernandez-Sein, Santurce, P.R., was on brief, for plaintiffs, appellants.

Lidia Gonzalez, with whom Donald M. Hall and McConnell Valdes Kelley Sifre Griggs & Ruiz-Suria, Hato Rey, P.R., were on brief, for defendant, appellee.

Before BREYER and SELYA, Circuit Judges, and BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

In May 1986, plaintiff-appellant Jose Medina Munoz (Medina) 1 was cashiered by his employer, defendant-appellee R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR). Alleging that he had been forsaken because of his age, Medina sued. This appeal follows the entry of judgment below in RJR's favor.

I. BACKGROUND

Medina was hired by appellee in 1980 as an executive. He was then 47 years old. He later became a regional sales manager, supervising district managers working out of RJR's Puerto Rico branch as well as the sales representatives who reported to them. At times, his responsibilities included work on key accounts and in special programs.

Plaintiff's tenure was checkered. The record contains evaluations ranging from good to indifferent to poor. Medina seems fairly consistently to have fulfilled his sales quotas, but to have frequently displayed unacceptable work habits and a certain unwillingness to conform to supervisors' recommendations. His personnel file also reflects problems such as tardiness, failure to meet deadlines, and an apparent distaste for field supervision duties. His work-related difficulties and lack of sequacity appear to have increased with the passage of time. In 1985, the firm's personnel manager directed Medina to desist from challenging his immediate superior's authority and warned him about his hostile, negative attitude.

Both in the workplace and in the courtroom, Medina labored valiantly to explain away these seeming shortcomings. He claimed that his superior, Aguayo, disliked him and distorted the facts. Yet, when Aguayo was terminated in late 1985 and Perez took charge, the situation went from bad to worse. During a performance review in April 1986, Medina, upset by Perez's criticism, shouted and used obscene language. Perez suspended him on the spot. Exactly one month later, Medina was discharged for misconduct and insubordination. This suit ensued.

Pretrial discovery lasted for roughly two years. Eventually, RJR sought--and secured--a summary judgment in its favor. We affirm. We do so, however, on a somewhat different basis than was sculpted by the court below, mindful that, in reviewing summary judgments as elsewhere, a court of appeals is not limited to the district court's reasoning, but may affirm on any independently sufficient ground. Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 49 (1st Cir.1990); Polyplastics, Inc. v. Transconex, Inc., 827 F.2d 859, 860-61 (1st Cir.1987); Chongris v. Board of Appeals, 811 F.2d 36, 37 n. 1 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 483 U.S. 1021, 107 S.Ct. 3266, 97 L.Ed.2d 765 (1987).

II. THE SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is

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entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Not every factual controversy bars a litigant's access to the Rule 56 anodyne:

[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); see also Brennan v. Hendrigan, 888 F.2d 189, 191 (1st Cir.1989); Hahn v. Sargent, 523 F.2d 461, 464 (1st Cir.1975), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 904, 96 S.Ct. 1495, 47 L.Ed.2d 754 (1976). A "genuine" issue is one that must be decided at trial because the evidence, viewed in the light most flattering to the nonmovant, Mack v. Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., 871 F.2d 179, 181 (1st Cir.1989), would permit a rational factfinder to resolve the issue in favor of either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250, 106 S.Ct. at 2511; Hahn, 523 F.2d at 464.

The test for summary judgment is steeped in reality. Although the remedy must be withheld if material facts are authentically disputed, there is a burden of production: the party...

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