Anderson v. Bristol, Inc.

Decision Date25 March 2013
Docket NumberNo. 4:11–cv–418.,4:11–cv–418.
Citation936 F.Supp.2d 1039
PartiesLana ANDERSON, as Administrator of the Estate of Norman Anderson, Plaintiff, v. BRISTOL, INC. d/b/a Emerson Process Management and/or d/b/a Remote Automated Solutions, Inc.; Irene Bielen (individually and in her corporate capacity; and Craig Rossman (individually and in his corporate capacity), Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Gordon R. Fischer, Bradley M. Beaman, Bradshaw Fowler Proctor & Fairgrove, Des Moines, IA, for Plaintiff.

Gene R. La Suer, Michael C. Richards, Deborah M. Tharnish, Davis Brown Koehn Shors & Roberts PC, Des Moines, IA, for Defendants.

ORDER

ROBERT W. PRATT, District Judge.

Before the Court are two Motions for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, Bristol, Inc. d/b/a Emerson Process Management and/or d/b/a Remote Automated Solutions, Inc. (Emerson), Irene Bielen (Bielen), and Craig Rossman (Rossman) (collectively Defendants). Also before the Court is a Motion to Amend or Substitute Response (Motion to Amend), filed by Lana Anderson (Plaintiff), as Administrator of the Estate of Norman Anderson. Clerk's No. 67.

Defendants' first Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (“MSJ I”), filed July 30, 2012, asserts that Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's wrongful death claim (Count VII of the Amended Complaint). Clerk's No. 36. Plaintiff resisted the motion on September 17, 2012. Clerk's No. 39. Defendants replied on October 1, 2012. Clerk's No. 42. Defendants' Second Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (“MSJ II”), filed December 14, 2012, requests judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's breach of contract, intentional interference with contract, and intentional interference with emotional distress claims (Counts I, II, and IV of the Amended Complaint). Clerk's No. 47. Plaintiff resisted the motion on January 28, 2013. Clerk's No. 59. Defendants replied on February 8, 2013. Clerk's No. 66. On February 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Amend, requesting leave to file amended or substituted responses to Defendants' statement of material facts in support of Defendants' MSJ II. Clerk's No. 67. Defendants responded on March 5, 2013. Clerk's No. 68. Plaintiff replied on March 15, 2013. Clerk's No. 73. The matters are fully submitted.

I. PLAINTIFF'S SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION TO AMEND OR SUBSTITUTE HER RESPONSE

According to the Court's Local Rules, a party resisting a motion for summary judgment must support its claims “by references to the specific pages, paragraphs or parts of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, exhibits, and affidavits that support the resisting party's refusal to admit the statement, with citations to the appendix containing that part of the record.” LR 56(b).1 “The failure to respond, without appropriate citations to the appendix, to an individual statement of material fact constitutes an admission of fact.” Id.

In responding to Defendants' MSJ II, Plaintiff failed to support numerous denials of Defendants' asserted facts with citations to the record, thereby violating LR 56(b). See Pl.'s Resp. to Material Facts in Supp. of MSJ II (Clerk's No. 59–1). Defendants, accordingly, requested that the Court deem all unsupported denials as admissions pursuant to LR 56(b). See Defs.' Br. In Reply to Pl.'s Resistance to Defs.' MSJ II (“Defs.' Reply Br. II”) (Clerk's No. 66) at 1. Plaintiff thereafter filed the present Motion to Amend. In her Motion to Amend, Plaintiff fails to provide any reason for not complying with LR 56(b) in the first instance.2 Instead, she claims to have filed her Motion to Amend due to “a brand new argument” raised by Defendants, i.e., that Defendants, [f]or the very first time ... attack[ed] Plaintiff['s] response to material facts.” See Mot. to Amend ¶ 2. Plaintiff goes on to state that the Court should allow the amendment because (A) No prejudice would result[; and] (B) Plaintiff's Amended Response and Amended Appendix, at the least, will result in a fuller and more robust record for the Court to consider when deciding the question of summary dismissal. The factual issues between the parties will be clearer and more precise.” Id. ¶ 7.

Defendants respond that the Court should deny Plaintiff's motion because Plaintiff had an adequate opportunity, in the first instance, to respond to Defendants' facts and refused to take it. See Defs.' Resistance to Pl.'s Mot. to Amend at 2–3. Further, they claim that such an amendment would be futile and prejudicial. See id. at 3–11. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's amendments do not properly respond to Defendants' statement of facts; rather, the amendments rehash legal arguments that have already been asserted in different documents. See id. at 4–10. In other words, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's amended responses still do not comply with LR 56(b). See id.

The Southern District of Iowa's Local Rule 56(b) is in place “to prevent a district court from engaging in the proverbial search for a needle in the haystack.” Nw. Bank & Trust Co. v. First Illinois Nat'l Bank, 354 F.3d 721, 725 (8th Cir.2003) (hereinafter “Nw. Bank II ”). Further, in the interests of efficiency, LR 56(b) cuts down on the time it takes the court “to investigate the record in search of an unidentified genuine issue of material fact.” Libel v. Adventure Lands of Am., Inc., 482 F.3d 1028, 1031–32 (8th Cir.2007). Althoughlocal rules can help “streamline the resolution of summary judgment motions,” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir.1994), the Court should allow amendments “when justice so requires,” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Indeed, when determining the proper course of action following a motion to amend, the Court should generally choose the option that “encourage[s the] proper presentation of the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee's notes (2010).

While the Court finds Plaintiff's reasons for not complying with LR 56(b) in the first instance uncompelling,3 it agrees with Plaintiff that such an amendment would provide a fuller and clearer record. The Court recognizes that justice requires the most complete record possible when ruling on a motion for summary judgment. As this Court has stated previously:

Justice is not served by taking a heavy-handed approach to violations of local procedural rules. Non-compliance by counsel slows the judicial process and is certainly frustrating to both opposing counsel and to the Court. Imposing Draconian sanctions for isolated rule violations, however, does far more than simply punish[ ] the attorneys. Rather, such an approach destroys the vital right of the, most likely, innocent client to have her day in Court simply because her attorney mistakenly violates a local procedural rule. This Court will not be party to such an egregious offense of anyone's right to due process.

Nw. Bank & Trust Co. v. First Illinois Nat'l Bank, 221 F.Supp.2d 1000, 1004 (S.D.Iowa 2002) (hereinafter “Nw. Bank I ”), rev'd in part on other grounds,354 F.3d 721 (8th Cir.2003).4

For these reasons, the Court will consider Plaintiff's amended filings in ruling on Defendants' motions. As Defendants accurately point out, however, parts of Plaintiff's Amended Response are improper responses to Defendants' statement of facts. Instead of listing concise and clear responses with appropriate citations to the record or appendix, Plaintiff frequently rehashes legal arguments covered in previous pleadings. See, e.g., Pl.'s Am. Resp. at 15–25 (responding to Defendants' material facts and rehashing legal arguments already made in resisting Defendants' MSJ II). Thus, to the extent the Amended Response asserts legal arguments, it will be ignored. Rather, the Court will use Plaintiff's Amended Response and Amended Appendix for the sole purpose of apprising itself of the additional factual information contained therein.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Anderson's First Years at Emerson

The decedent, Norman Anderson (Anderson) began working for the Marshalltown,Iowa office of Fisher Controls (“Fisher”), a wholly owned subsidiary of Emerson 5 in September of 1999.6 Defs.' Material Facts in Supp. of MSJ II (“Defs.' Facts II”) (Clerk's No. 48–1) ¶ 1. Anderson's signed application stated:

I understand and agree that my employment is at will and for no definite period and may, regardless of the period of payment of wages or salary, be terminated at any time for any reason without previous notice. I further understand that ... no employee handbook or policy may be construed to the contrary or interpreted as a contract or guarantee of employment.

Defs.' App. in Supp. of MSJ II (Clerk's No. 48–2) (“Defs.' App. II”) at 2. However, just above this statement and the signature box, the following language appears: “THIS APPLICATION REMAINS ACTIVE FOR A PERIOD NOT TO EXCEED THREE MONTHS.” 7Id.

Anderson worked for Emerson under the name of Fisher Controls until 2006, when Emerson obtained Bristol, Inc. Defs.' Facts II ¶ 2. After some additional mergers and changes within the parent company, Anderson's employer nominally became Remote Automation Solutions, but Emerson was still the parent-company employer. Id. At the time of his termination, Anderson had been employed by Emerson for a little less than ten years. Am. Compl. (Clerk's No. 6) ¶ 12. Between 1999 and 2008, Anderson received a number of promotions and raises. Id. ¶ 20. Most recently, in August of 2008, Anderson received a 10% raise from Emerson and a promotion to “controller.” Id. ¶¶ 20, 21–22.

B. Anderson's First Hospitalization for Alcohol and His “Last Chance” Agreement

Anderson's life while working at Emerson was not without problems. Plaintiff claims that Anderson had “severe mental health impairments,” and specifically, that he suffered from alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, personality disorders, and chronic insomnia while he worked for Emerson. Defs.' Statement of Facts in Supp....

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