Childree v. UAP/GA AG CHEM, INC., Civ. A. No. 1:94-CV-1312-FMH.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
Writing for the CourtHULL
Citation892 F. Supp. 1554
PartiesDenise CHILDREE, Plaintiff, v. UAP/GA AG CHEM, INC. and Conagra Inc., Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 1:94-CV-1312-FMH.
Decision Date20 June 1995

892 F. Supp. 1554

Denise CHILDREE, Plaintiff,
v.
UAP/GA AG CHEM, INC. and Conagra Inc., Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 1:94-CV-1312-FMH.

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division.

June 20, 1995.


892 F. Supp. 1555
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892 F. Supp. 1556
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892 F. Supp. 1557
Steven Keith Leibel, David C. Ates, Steven K. Leibel & Associates, Atlanta, GA, Julian Webb, Office of Julian Webb, Donalsonville, GA, for plaintiff

Thomas H. Christopher, Jeffrey A. Van Detta, Kilpatrick & Cody, Atlanta, GA, Thomas L. Dueber, Office of Thomas L. Dueber, Greeley, CO, for defendants.

ORDER

HULL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Denise Childree files this action under the "whistle-blower" provision of the False Claims Amendments Act of 1986, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h) (1994), and under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (1994). Plaintiff's Complaint also includes an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim under state law. The essence of Plaintiff's claims are that Defendants terminated Plaintiff in retaliation for testifying in an administrative hearing before the United States Department of Agriculture ("DOA"), and for providing testimony potentially damaging to Defendant UAP in that hearing. Plaintiff also contends that Defendants conspired to deprive Plaintiff of her right to testify truthfully before the DOA.

The DOA administrative hearing involved charges that a third party, Varner/Bass Enterprises, had submitted claims for excessive amounts of money to the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service. Varner/Bass is one of Defendant UAP's customers. Although the DOA cited the possible involvement of Defendant UAP in Varner/Bass's activities, no claims have been filed against Defendant UAP under the False Claims Act.

This action is before the Court on Defendants UAP and ConAgra's Motion for Summary Judgment 32-1, Defendant ConAgra's earlier Motion for Summary Judgment 13-1, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint 22-1, Defendants' Motion to Amend Answers 23-1, Plaintiff's Revised Motion for Leave to File Amended Complaint 28-1, Plaintiff's Motion to Extend Time for Discovery 26-1, and Plaintiff's Motion to File Response Brief 41-1. After reviewing the record in its entirety, the Court outlines the version of events most favorable to Plaintiff.

I. FACTS

For many years, Plaintiff was employed by Defendant UAP/GA AG Chem. (hereinafter "Defendant UAP") in Defendant UAP's Donalsonville, Georgia office. Plaintiff alleges that in 1989 Defendant UAP prepared documents

892 F. Supp. 1558
to allow some of Defendant UAP's customers to draw excessive amounts of money from the United States through the Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service (hereinafter "ASCS")

The ASCS reimburses farmers for monies expended in connection with various farming operations. Defendant UAP sells fertilizer, seeds, and related products to farmers. Once an entity like Defendant UAP bills these farmers for various products, the farmers then submit claims for reimbursements to the ASCS. However, the ASCS pays a maximum of $50,000 per claim. Varner/Bass returned a number of invoices received from Defendant UAP explaining that Plaintiff had incorrectly billed the invoices to Varner/Bass and that the invoices should have been billed to a number of other individuals. Defendants claim farmland is owned by one company but leased by different individuals and that the bills should have been invoiced to various other individuals.

Plaintiff contends that Varner/Bass and Defendant participated in a scheme whereby a UAP bill originally sent to Varner/Bass was returned and re-billed to several different individuals so that these several individuals could then submit claims to the ASCS. In this manner, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant UAP assisted Varner/Bass in circumventing the ASCS's $50,000 maximum reimbursement limit.

According to Plaintiff, she was asked to prepare the re-billings to be presented to the ASCS. Plaintiff further alleges that she refused to prepare the re-billings, and that the documents sat on her desk until Mr. Andrews, another employee, completed them. After the re-billings were completed by Mr. Andrews, Plaintiff copied the documents because they were represented as coming from her office. Plaintiff states that she had no "planned use" for the documents she copied, "None whatsoever."

Plaintiff raised her suspicions that Defendant UAP was engaging in illegal activity with Mr. Valentine, a credit manager with Defendant UAP. Plaintiff informed Mr. Valentine that she felt that preparing the rebillings was unethical and immoral, and that Defendant UAP was assisting its clients in obtaining excessive payments from the government. Plaintiff alleges Mr. Valentine stated, "Who is to say you wouldn't do it if given the opportunity."

Plaintiff then raised her suspicions with Mr. Bennett, another credit manager with Defendant UAP. Plaintiff asked Mr. Bennett what was going on with Varner/Bass. Mr. Bennett responded by saying that if he did not tell her, she would not know. Plaintiff then informed Mr. Bennett of her belief that Defendant UAP was assisting Varner/Bass in perpetrating a fraud on the United States Government. Mr. Bennett purportedly responded, "You said it, not me."

Plaintiff reported her suspicions to supervisors Mr. Mathis and Mr. Andrews. Plaintiff alleges Mr. Mathis stated, "This was done all over all the time by Defendant UAP. There was nothing to it, and he would take care of it." According to Plaintiff, she was asked to prepare and process the documents to fulfill Varner/Bass's request for re-billings, but she refused. The unprepared re-billings remained on her desk until they were prepared by Mr. Andrews.

In 1989, Eloise Taylor, a local ASCS official, visited Defendant UAP's Donalsonville office. Ms. Taylor was met by Plaintiff and Mr. Mathis. Ms. Taylor requested verification of the validity of the re-billings submitted to the ASCS on behalf of Varner/Bass. Plaintiff reportedly looked at Mr. Mathis, and Mr. Mathis instructed her to tell the truth. Plaintiff informed Ms. Taylor that she could not verify the validity of the re-billings. Plaintiff then relayed to Ms. Taylor her version of the events involving the preparation of the Varner/Bass documents. Ms. Taylor asked Plaintiff to prepare a written statement containing the information Plaintiff had relayed orally. Plaintiff complied with this request.

After Ms. Taylor's visit, Plaintiff made copies of all the documents Ms. Taylor sought to verify. Plaintiff contends that she did so with the permission of her supervisor, Mr. Mathis. Plaintiff alleges Mr. Mathis told Plaintiff that she should "do whatever she had to do to protect herself." Plaintiff then copied the documents, took them to her home, and hid them there in 1989. Plaintiff "never" took the documents out of the box again until she was subpoenaed to testify.

892 F. Supp. 1559

Four years later in 1993, Plaintiff was subpoenaed to testify before the United States Department of Agriculture, concerning farming operations of Varner/Bass. The subpoena duces tecum directed Plaintiff to produce the 1989 documents.

On June 24, 1993, Plaintiff testified before the Department of Agriculture about the 1989 Varner/Bass documents. In attendance at the hearing was Gary Callahan, an officer with Defendant UAP. Plaintiff states that she reluctantly testified about the re-bills and Defendant UAP's "involvement in the attempt to defraud the United States Government."

During a break at the hearing, Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Callahan went into the room where the witnesses were sequestered and threw a yellow pad on a table and told Mr. Mathis, "these were the issues, that Plaintiff had just blown the whole thing, and that Plaintiff didn't know how to handle business." Denying this, Defendants contend that no one threatened Plaintiff in connection with the hearing, and that Plaintiff was advised only to tell the truth as to what actually happened.

On July 1, 1993, Plaintiff was suspended from her employment without pay. Plaintiff was terminated from her position on July 9, 1993. In the letter informing Plaintiff of her termination, Defendant UAP informed Plaintiff that she was terminated for removing confidential customer files from UAP's premises without authorization to do so.

On August 10, 1994, the National Appeals Division ("NAD") of the DOA issued a finding that Varner/Bass Enterprises and a number of farmers and farming operations participated in a scheme or device designed to evade payment limitations. That ruling is currently being appealed. The NAD named Defendant UAP as having assisted in and participated in the scheme, although neither Defendant UAP nor ConAgra was a party to the DOA proceeding. Since Defendants were not parties to the DOA hearing, Defendants did not produce evidence on their behalf or have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. To date, the NAD has never asked Defendants for an explanation of any credits or rebillings allegedly made.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On May 18, 1994, Plaintiff filed this Complaint against Defendants UAP/GA AG Chem., Inc. and ConAgra, Inc. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant UAP threatened her to keep quiet prior to her testimony before the Department of Agriculture, and that Defendant UAP and Defendant ConAgra jointly decided to terminate Plaintiff after she testified before the DOA. Defendant UAP is a subsidiary of ConAgra, Inc.

On September 15, 1994, Defendant ConAgra filed a Motion for Summary Judgment 13-1, arguing that even assuming Plaintiff's allegations were true, that Plaintiff was an employee of UAP and not ConAgra, and that Defendant ConAgra played no role in threatening Plaintiff prior to her testimony or in the decision to terminate Plaintiff. Plaintiff's Response 15-1 pointed out that discovery had not been completed and that Plaintiff did not yet have the...

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1 practice notes
  • Foster v. Pall Aeropower Corp., No. 8:99-cv-927-T-26A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • August 2, 2000
    ...discrimination. For a discussion of Eleventh Circuit law addressing section 1985(3) claims, see Childree v. UAP/GA AG Chem, Inc., 892 F.Supp. 1554, 1567-68 5. See Morast (testimony given before OCC, an administrative agency, not protected under section 1985(2)); Carter v. Church, 791 F.Supp......
1 cases
  • Foster v. Pall Aeropower Corp., No. 8:99-cv-927-T-26A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • August 2, 2000
    ...discrimination. For a discussion of Eleventh Circuit law addressing section 1985(3) claims, see Childree v. UAP/GA AG Chem, Inc., 892 F.Supp. 1554, 1567-68 5. See Morast (testimony given before OCC, an administrative agency, not protected under section 1985(2)); Carter v. Church, 791 F.Supp......

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