Brumbaugh v. Ralston Purina Co., Civ. No. 86-31-D-1.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States State District Court of Southern District of Iowa
Citation656 F. Supp. 582
Docket NumberCiv. No. 86-31-D-1.
PartiesRoss E. BRUMBAUGH, Plaintiff, v. RALSTON PURINA COMPANY, Defendant.
Decision Date23 March 1987

656 F. Supp. 582

Ross E. BRUMBAUGH, Plaintiff,

Civ. No. 86-31-D-1.

United States District Court, S.D. Iowa, Davenport Division.

March 23, 1987.

Alan G. Blackwood, Schrager, Blackwood & Nowinski, Moline, Ill., for plaintiff.

Betty Jane Okenfuss, St. Louis, Mo., Labor counsel for Ralston Purina Co.

Robert V.P. Waterman, Jr., Lane & Waterman, Davenport, Iowa, for defendant.


STUART, District Judge.

On January 29, 1987, defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment came on for hearing. Appearances are noted in the Clerk of Court's minutes for that date.

Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment is proper "if 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 entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." In our view, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence
656 F. Supp. 583
of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, ___ U.S. ___, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1984).

Plaintiff seeks to recover damages from the defendant Ralston Purina Company (hereinafter "Purina"), his former employer, for his wrongful discharge. Purina claims that Ross E. Brumbaugh was an employee-at-will and was subject to discharge without cause. The primary issues are (1) whether the disciplinary-discharge provisions of the employees manual were applicable to plaintiff, a supervisory employee, and (2) if they are, whether these provisions in the employee's manual, under the facts of this case, expressly or impliedly, became a part of plaintiff's employment contract.

The facts in the record viewed, in the light most favorable to plaintiff, are as follows:

Plaintiff began working as an hourly employee at Purina's Davenport facility in 1975. At the time he was hired, he was given a copy of Purina's Employee Relations Manual that contained the following pertinent provisions:

To All Purina Employees:
You will find in this booklet the basic operating principles and policies of the Ralston Purina Company, at the Davenport plant.
It will be in your best interest to become thoroughly familiar with all parts of it. You will see the advantages of personal initiative and development of job skills to help insure your future progress. You will learn the benefits of continued loyal services as it affects wages and seniority.
You will recognize principles of sound management to encourage economy and efficiency of operations, maintenance of high standards, of product quality and elimination of waste.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to consult your Supervisor or the Personnel Manager.
* * * * * *
25.0 Every well regulated company must have rules to protect the best interests of both the company and its employees. In order to make such rules effective and to benefit the majority of the employees, procedures must be established to deal with infractions. These rules will be posted on the plant bulletin board and are included on the following pages.
25.1 The following rules of conduct will be observed to insure the efficient, orderly and safe operation of the plant. In keeping with the concept of progressive industrial discipline, employees who fail to abide by these basic rules will be subject to corrective discipline. The corrective discipline assessed for a rule violation will depend upon the nature of the offense. The discipline may range from a simple warning for minor offenses or omissions to — and including — disciplinary layoffs without pay for more serious or repeated infractions. Immediate discharge without previous warning will result from major infractions. Discharge may also result from repeated infractions or uncorrected conduct.
Listed below, without any attempt to show order of severity or seriousness, are representative infractions which may justify disciplinary action, including discharge:
1. Stealing Company or private property.
2. Falsifications of any Company records....

Although Purina has from time to time unilaterally revised its provisions, there is no evidence that these specific provisions have ever been changed.

656 F. Supp. 584

In March 1980, Brumbaugh was promoted to a salaried supervisory position. No promises were made to him at that time about his job. He could have resigned whenever he wanted to. He received several favorable commendations for his work.

In the fall of 1985, Purina conducted a sales promotion that required the production lines to insert coupons valued at $1.50 a piece in certain "flagged" containers for distribution to the consumers. A procedure was established to provide a control mechanism that included a coupon control log. Brumbaugh did not follow this procedure, but accumulated some 1800 coupons that should have been turned over to the next shift. He also instructed another employee to give him the extra coupons so he could "burn them". His actions were discovered and on December 6, 1985, without utilizing the disciplinary-discharge provisions in the employees manual, he was terminated for falsification of company records, the coupon control log. As we are not at this stage of the proceedings concerned with "just cause", further detailing of the evidence is not necessary.

In response to Purina's claim that Brumbaugh was an employee-at-will who could be terminated any time with or without cause, plaintiff asserts:

It is plaintiff's position that he was not an employee-at-will; rather, he had a contract of employment which restricted defendant's right to terminate him. This contract is founded upon the employer's express statements that employees like plaintiff are terminated only for just cause and that the concept of progressive discipline is applicable,....
Alternatively, plaintiff contends that the Employee Manual, particularly the just cause and progressive discipline

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3 cases
  • Bruno v. Plateau Min. Co., 860185-CA
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Utah
    • December 22, 1987
    ...for policy is the benefit to employer of an "orderly, cooperative and loyal work force"). But see Brumbaugh v. Ralston Purina Co., 656 F.Supp. 582 (S.D.Iowa 1987) (applying Iowa law and rejecting Toussaint ); Rouse v. Peoples Natural Gas Co., 605 F.Supp. 230 (D.Kan.1985) (applying rule of J......
  • Bantz v. Montgomery Estates, Inc., 90-2265
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Wisconsin
    • June 5, 1991
    ...of services required by the job does not constitute consideration" for an employment contract. Brumbaugh v. Ralston Purina Co., 656 F.Supp. 582, 586 (S.D.Iowa 1987). In fact, the employee handbook in effect when Bantz was terminated contained the following This Handbook is intended to give ......
  • Caldwell v. Ford, Bacon & Davis Utah, Inc., 20246
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • July 31, 1989
    ...internal policies as creating contractual obligations, although not accepting this approach itself in Brumbaugh v. Ralston Purina Co., 656 F.Supp. 582, 584-85 (S.D.Iowa [A]n employer's statements of policy, practice and procedures can give rise to contractual rights in employees without evi......

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