Godfrey v. Mastec, Inc.

Decision Date25 November 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 1:15-cv-409
PartiesJOSHUA GODFREY, Plaintiff, v. MASTEC, INC. Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

This matter is before the Court on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (Doc. No. 2). For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion is well-taken and is GRANTED.

I. Background

Plaintiff Joshua Godfrey ("Plaintiff") presents claims against Defendant Mastec, Inc. ("Defendant") for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation.

As stated in Plaintiff's complaint, "on August 16, 2013 Defendant extended a written offer for employment to Plaintiff" for the position of "Home Security Installation Technician at the Defendant's Cincinnati location." Compl. ¶ 6. The offer letter indicated that Plaintiff's anticipated start date with Defendant was August 30, 2013. Compl. ¶ 8. Defendant retracted the job offer made to Plaintiff on August 29, 2013. Compl. ¶ 11. The complaint alleges that "various promises and representations made in August of 2013 regarding Plaintiff's future employment as a Home Security Installation Technician with Defendant induced Plaintiff to leave the job he had held for over a year." Compl. ¶ 12. The complaint further alleges that "Defendant's promises prevented Plaintiff from earning the pay that he would have received from his previous employment, and caused him to incur expenses related to preparation for the job with Defendant, and his subsequent job searches." Compl. ¶ 13.

Plaintiff filed a complaint on June 22, 2015 asserting claims against Defendant for promissory estoppel, breach of contract, fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation. Plaintiff's complaint includes a jury demand and claims for reinstatement, all lost earnings and benefits, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, and liquidated damages. Defendant removed the case to this Court on June 19, 2015 on the grounds of diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1)1 and filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on June 25, 2015.

First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's breach of contract claim fails because there was no contract that altered the at-will relationship and that Plaintiff's promissory estoppel claim fails because there was no promise of continued employment. Def. Mastec Inc.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., at 4, 6.

Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's fraudulent misrepresentation claim fails because he fails to allege fraud with requisite particularity and because a negligent misrepresentation claim is inapplicable in the employer/employee context. Moreover, Defendant argues, even if Plaintiff could establish that it misrepresented informationregarding his employment he cannot establish that he justifiably relied on any such alleged misrepresentation. Def. Mastec Inc.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., at 8, 10, 12.

In opposition, Plaintiff argues that he has stated a claim for relief because he suffered damages because of Defendant's promise of employment. Pl.'s Mem. In Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. To Dismiss, at 4. Plaintiff contends that he has sufficiently alleged all of the elements of his promissory estoppel, breach of contract, and fraudulent misrepresentation claims. He does not, however, dispute the dismissal of the his negligent misrepresentation claim. Pl.'s Mem. In Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. To Dismiss, at 1 n.1.

At this juncture, the Defendant's motion to dismiss is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim operates to test the sufficiency of the complaint. The court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, and accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Roth Steel Prods. v. Sharon Steel Corp., 705 F.2d 134, 155 (6th Cir. 1983). The court need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. Lewis v. ACB Bus. Servs., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 405 (6th Cir. 1998).

The complaint, however, must contain more than labels, conclusions, and formulaic recitations of the elements of the claim. Sensations, Inc. v. City of Grand Rapids, 526 F.3d 291, 295 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The factual allegations of the complaint must be sufficient "to raise [the] right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).Nevertheless, the complaint is still only required to contain "a short[,] plain statement of the claim" indicating "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007)). "Specific facts are not necessary" and the pleader is only required to give fair notice of the claim "and the grounds upon which it rests." Id. (quoting Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93). As indicated by Rule 9(b), however, "[i]n alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake." Fed. Rule Civ. P. 9(b). It must be noted that, "[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person's mind may be alleged generally." Id. To withstand a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Mere conclusions, however, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. at 678-79. A claim is facially plausible if it contains "content [which] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Plausibility is not the same as probability, but the complaint must plead "more than a [] possibility that [the] defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. If the complaint pleads conduct which is only consistent with the defendant's liability, it fails to state a plausible claim for relief. Id.

III. Analysis
A. Promissory Estoppel

"Under Ohio law, an at-will employee can seek, under a theory of promissory estoppel, to prevent her employer from terminating her employment." Koval v. Dow Jones & Co., 86 F. App'x 61, 72 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Mers v. Dispatch Printing Co., 483 N.E.2d 150, 154-55 (Ohio 1985)). In asserting a claim of promissory estoppel, theplaintiff "must show that the employer has made a promise clear and unambiguous in its terms to the employee, that he relied on that promise, that the reliance was reasonable and foreseeable, and that he suffered injury on account of the reliance." Id. at 72 (quoting Nealon v. City of Cleveland, 746 N.E.2d 694, 699 (Ohio Ct. App. 2000)). "[T]he employer's representation is to be determined by what the 'promisor should reasonably expect' the employee to believe the promise means if expected action or forbearance results." Kelly v. Georgia-Pacific Corp., 545 N.E.2d 1244, 1250 (Ohio 1989) (quoting Mers, 483 N.E.2d at 154-55) (emphasis in original). "[A] promise of future benefits or opportunities without a specific promise of continued employment does not support a promissory estoppel exception to the employment-at-will doctrine." Koval, 86 F. App'x at 72 (quoting Wing v. Anchor Media, Ltd. of Texas, 570 N.E.2d 1095, 1096 (Ohio 1991)) (emphasis in original)).

In instances where Ohio appellate courts have considered claims for promissory estoppel when an employment offer was withdrawn after an individual was provided with an offer letter, the existence of "a specific promise of continued employment" was of paramount importance. See Clark v. Collins Bus. Corp., 736 N.E.2d 970, 974 (Ohio Ct. App. 2000) (quoting Wing, 570 N.E.2d at 506); see also Tripp v. Beverly Enters.-Ohio Inc., No. 21506, 2003 WL 22956442, at *9 (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 17, 2003) (quoting Rigby v. Fallsway Equip. Co., Inc., 779 N.E.2d 1056, 1061-62 (Ohio Ct. App. 2002)) ("Appellant 'must demonstrate detrimental reliance on specific promises of job security to create an exception to the employment-at-will doctrine'. . . . Appellant has failed to offer any evidence of a clear and unambiguous promise of job security. The offer letter clearly indicates the at-will nature of Appellant's offered employment.").

As noted by Defendant in its motion, this principle was most clearly demonstrated in Clark. There, the plaintiff received an offer of employment from Defendant Collins Bus Corporation. Clark, 736 N.E.2d at 972. He was sent an offer letter that discussed his expected compensation, insurance, bonus and other information. Id. His indicated start date was November 1, 1997. Id. After signing the offer letter, Clark notified his current employer of his resignation. Id. On October 23, 1997, however, Collins withdrew the offer of employment, due to some concerns regarding plaintiff's employment by one of its existing customers. Id. In considering plaintiff's claim of promissory estoppel, the court said that "'[i]n the absence of a 'specific promise of continued employment,' a promise of future benefits or opportunities does not support a promissory estoppel exception to the employment-at-will doctrine." Id. at 974 (quoting Wing, 570 N.E.2d at 1096 syl. ¶ 2). Furthermore, the court stated that "[s]ince a written contract without an expressed term of duration is for at-will employment, no durational terms may be inferred." Id. at 974. The Clark court concluded, therefore, that plaintiff could not establish a promissory estoppel claim as a matter of law. Id.

In this case, the only promise of employment was contained in the offer letter, signed by Plaintiff and Ashley Gamble, a recruiter for the Defendant. Compl. Ex. A. In this case, the offer letter stated that the offer given to Plaintiff was for at-will employment. Specifically, the letter stated:

At-Will: Employment with the Company is on an

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT