Jenkins v. Boise Cascade Corp., 30082.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation108 P.3d 380,141 Idaho 233
Docket NumberNo. 30082.,30082.
PartiesLarry JENKINS and Susan Jenkins, Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BOISE CASCADE CORPORATION, Pauline Irish, and Bonnie Gibbs, Defendants-Respondents.
Decision Date23 February 2005

Lynch & Associates, PLLC, Boise, for appellants. James B. Lynch argued.

Jeffrey D. Neumeyer, Boise, argued for Respondents Boise Cascade Corporation, Pauline Irish and Bonnie Gibbs.

TROUT, Justice.

Larry and Susan (the Jenkins) brought this action against Boise Cascade seeking damages for breach of contract associated with Larry Jenkins' (Larry) termination of employment with Boise Cascade. The trial court granted Boise Cascade summary judgment on all of uhe Jenkins' claims. Because we agree with the district court that Larry was an at-will employee and could be terminated with or without cause, we affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Boise Cascade hired Larry in 1967 as an hourly employee. In approximately 1970, Larry became a salaried employee at the Boise Cascade Emmett facility. At that facility, Larry held several supervisory positions until Boise Cascade terminated his employment on June 8, 2000. Boise Cascade claims the decision to terminate was based on several factors, including Larry's failure to report serious employee relations concerns to human resources, advising a fellow employee to keep serious employee relations concerns quiet, failing to cooperate with a sexual harassment investigation, and remaining involved in that investigation after being ordered to discontinue that involvement. Boise Cascade also claims that a continued pattern of unacceptable job performance motivated the decision to terminate him.

The Jenkins filed this lawsuit against Boise Cascade and two Boise Cascade employees, Bonnie Gibbs and Pauline Irish (Gibbs and/or Irish), asserting in the complaint that Larry's termination was not for just cause and thus, violated the employment contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Jenkins also contended that Boise Cascade should be estopped from asserting that Larry was an at-will employee. As to Irish and Gibbs, the Jenkins alleged they intentionally interfered with Larry's employment contract with Boise Cascade by seeking to invent false claims of unacceptable job performance against him in order to cover up the personal animus which Larry claims motivated Gibbs to have him terminated. The Jenkins also asserted counts of age discrimination and fraud.

In the fall of 2002, the district court granted Boise Cascade's motion to dismiss, dismissing the age discrimination claim on the basis that Larry had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies under the state and federal age discrimination laws, and also dismissing the tortious interference with contract claim against Boise Cascade. On August 29, 2002, the district court also conditionally granted Boise Cascade's motion to dismiss the fraud claim based on a lack of specificity but allowed the Jenkins additional time to amend the complaint. When the Jenkins attempted to amend their complaint, the district court denied the motion to amend due to the Jenkins further failure to comply with I.R.C.P. 9(b). No further efforts were made to amend the complaint.

Boise Cascade filed its motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims on June 18, 2003, with a hearing set for July 16, 2003. However, on July 1, 2003, the last day to initiate discovery within the court-ordered deadline, the Jenkins noticed up twelve depositions and served a voluminous number of interrogatories and requests for production. Also on July 1, 2003, the Jenkins filed a motion to vacate Boise Cascade's summary judgment hearing until outstanding discovery could be completed. At the hearing, the district court first considered the Jenkins' motion to vacate, which was denied based upon the Jenkins' failure to set forth in a Rule 56(f) affidavit what additional relevant discovery would be necessary to respond to the issues raised in the summary judgment motion. Thereafter, the district court heard Boise Cascade's summary judgment motion on the remaining contract claims and subsequently issued an order granting the motion in its entirety, finding that Larry was an at-will employee not entitled to relief as a matter of law. Boise Cascade moved for attorneys' fees under I.C. § 12-120(3) incurred in the defense of the Jenkins' contract-based claims. The district court awarded Boise Cascade its costs and awarded a reduced amount of attorneys' fees. The Jenkins timely filed this appeal.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court reviews the district court's denial of the motion to vacate for an abuse of discretion, Gubler v. Boe, 120 Idaho 294, 296, 815 P.2d 1034, 1036 (1991), and will analyze if the trial court knew it had the discretion, acted within the parameters provided to it and demonstrated an exercise of reason. Brady v. City of Homedale, 130 Idaho 569, 572, 944 P.2d 704, 707 (1997) (quoting Lankford v. Nicholson Mfg. Co., 126 Idaho 187, 188-89, 879 P.2d 1120, 1121-22 (1994)). When this Court reviews the district court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment, it employs the same standard as the district court's original ruling on the motion. Farmers Ins. Co. v. Talbot, 133 Idaho 428, 431, 987 P.2d 1043, 1046 (1999) (citing Smith v. Meridian Joint Sch. Dist. No. 2, 128 Idaho 714, 718, 918 P.2d 583, 587 (1996)). Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, 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." I.R.C.P. 56(c). We construe the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Thompson v. Pike, 125 Idaho 897, 899, 876 P.2d 595, 597 (1994). If reasonable people could reach different conclusions or inferences from the evidence, the motion must be denied. Id. at 900, 876 P.2d at 598; Doe v. Durtschi, 110 Idaho 466, 470, 716 P.2d 1238, 1242 (1986). However, the nonmoving party must submit more than just conclusory assertions that an issue of material fact exists to withstand summary judgment. Northwest Bec-Corp. v. Home Living Serv., 136 Idaho 835, 839, 41 P.3d 263, 267 (2002). A mere scintilla of evidence or only slight doubt as to the facts is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact for the purposes of summary judgment. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

The Jenkins' main argument on appeal focuses on disputing the district court's conclusion that Larry was an at-will employee of Boise Cascade. Larry urges this Court to accept his theory that Boise Cascade had in place both at-will and for-cause processes and procedures to discharge personnel and, having chosen to terminate Larry for cause, assumed the burden of proving at trial that it had valid for-cause reasons for discharging him. The Jenkins also contend the district judge erred in denying the motion to vacate and in dismissing the fraud claim.

A. Motion to Vacate

The Jenkins' attorney filed a motion to vacate the summary judgment hearing, asserting he was not prepared to respond to the motion within the time allowed. The attorney filed an affidavit in support of his motion to vacate, generally stating that the Jenkins had served written discovery and notices of depositions, that he believed the discovery would produce additional documents and testimony supporting the Jenkins' theories, and that he required the opportunity to use the responses and testimony in additional discovery in order to thoroughly respond to summary judgment. The district court denied the motion, finding that the Jenkins' attorney had failed to provide specific information in an affidavit as to what additional discovery was necessary and how it would be relevant to address the issues raised on summary judgment.

Although the Jenkins now raise this issue on appeal, they simply argue that it was improper for the district court to hear Boise Cascade's motion for summary judgment when there was still outstanding discovery to be completed, and have not articulated what the district court did wrong to abuse its discretion, nor have they cited any authority upon the issue. "This Court has consistently followed the rule that it will not review the actions of a district court which have not been specifically assigned as error [,][e]specially where there are no authorities cited nor argument contained in the briefs upon the question." Bolen v. Baker, 69 Idaho 93, 99, 203 P.2d 376, 379 (1949).

Moreover, the district court was soundly within its discretion in denying the motion. 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 of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 273 (1986)

(emphasis added). Pursuant to I.R.C.P. 56(f), a party may request from the court more time to respond to a pending motion for summary judgment. However, that party must articulate what additional discovery is necessary and how it is relevant to responding to the pending motion. I.R.C.P. 56(f).

It has been noted that a party who invokes the protection of Rule 56(f) must "do so in good faith by affirmatively demonstrating why he cannot respond to a movant's affidavits ... and how postponement of a ruling on the motion will enable him, by discovery or other means, to rebut the movant's showing of the absence of a genuine issue of fact." Allen v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 81 F.3d 793, 797 (8th Cir.1996). Further, in order to grant a motion for additional discovery before hearing a motion on summary judgment, the plaintiff has the...

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