Schroer v. Baldwin Filters, Inc.

Decision Date25 October 2013
Docket Number8:13CV101
PartiesLOHN SCHROER, Plaintiff, v. BALDWIN FILTERS, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Nebraska
ORDER

This matter is before the court on the defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or, in the alternative, to Strike (Filing No. 34).1 The defendant filed a brief (Filing No. 35) and index of evidence (Filing No. 36) in support of the motion. The plaintiff filed a brief (Filing No. 37) in opposition. The defendant filed a brief (Filing No. 38) in reply.

BACKGROUND

This matter arises from the alleged wrongful termination of the plaintiff, Lohn Schroer (Schroer), by the defendant, Baldwin Filters, Inc. (Baldwin). On February 22, 2013, Schroer filed a complaint in the District Court of Buffalo County, Kearney, Nebraska. See Filing No. 1-1 - Ex. 1 Complaint. On March 27, 2013, Baldwin removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. See Filing No. 1 - Notice of Removal. On April 19, 2013, Baldwin moved to dismiss Schroer's complaint or, in the alternative, strike and for a more definite statement. See Filing No. 7. On July 29, 2013, the court granted the motion for a more definite statement and denied the motion in all other respects. See Filing No. 28 - Order. On August 9, 2012, Schroer filed an Amended Complaint. See Filing No. 29.

Schroer's Amended Complaint sets forth multiple factual allegations, which the court relies on for the purposes of Baldwin's motion. Schroer alleges the following facts: Baldwin hired Schroer on December 4, 2000, to work full-time at Baldwin's manufacturing plant in Kearney, Nebraska. See Filing No. 29 - Amended Complaint ¶ 3. Baldwin employed Schroer under certain terms and conditions for approximately ten years until December 2011, when Baldwin terminated Schroer's employment. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. Those terms and conditions restricted Baldwin's ability to terminate Schroer. Id. ¶ 3. While working for Baldwin in 2004, Schroer sustained an injury and, as a result, became forty-percent disabled but was able to work with restrictions. Id. ¶ 5. Baldwin continued to employ Schroer "with the knowledge of the restrictions." Id. Baldwin also employed Corrie Crowin (Mr. Crowin) as Schroer's supervisor. Id. ¶ 6. Mr. Crowin "harassed Plaintiff during working hours and discriminated against Plaintiff due to his disability." Id. ¶ 7. "[Mr.] Crowin was acting within the course and scope of employment with the Defendant. [Mr.] Crowin was acting on the Defendant's behalf when the incident took place." Id. ¶ 9.2

In the Amended Complaint, Schroer added the following allegation presumably describing the incident:

That the Defendant, through its employee, [Mr.] Crowin, ultimately terminated Plaintiff after Plaintiff left a lockout device on a machine while working at Defendant's Kearney, Nebraska facility. The lockout device was required by, among other laws and policies, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, 29 C.F.R. 1910 et seq.; by Nebraska Health and Safety Regulations, Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-401 et seq.; and by Defendant's own safety procedures to remain present for the safety of Plaintiff and other employees. That termination based upon following mandatory safety procedures is against public policy.

See Filing No. 29 - Amended Complaint. Schroer maintains four claims for relief: breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligent hiring and supervision, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Id. Schroer seeks $540,000.00 in lost wages in addition to lost benefits and emotional distress and other damages to be determined at trial. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 31.

On September 6, 2013, Baldwin filed the instant motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, to strike. See Filing No. 34 - Motion. Baldwin generally argues Schroer failed to state a claim for wrongful termination under Nebraska law, Schroer failed to state a claim for breach of contract, Schroer's claim for negligent hiring and supervision is insufficient because Schroer did not allege a single fact that would put Baldwin on notice of employee misconduct, and to the extent Schroer alleges harassment and discrimination, Schroer's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. SeeFiling No. 35 - Brief; Filing No. 38 - Reply. Alternatively, Baldwin argues if the court does not dismiss Schroer's Amended Complaint, the court should strike the following paragraphs in Schroer's Amended Complaint: "Punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial" in paragraph X(e) and "[r]eimbursement of attorney's fees" in Paragraph X(i). See Filing No. 35 - Brief p. 9. Baldwin argues Schroer has cited no statutory provision supporting such relief. Id.

Schroer generally argues he sufficiently alleges facts showing Baldwin breached Schroer's employment contract and wrongfully terminated him in violation of public policy. See Filing No. 37 - Response p. 2-7. Schroer also argues he sufficiently alleges facts sufficient to establish a contract and Baldwin was negligent in hiring and retaining Mr. Crowin. Id. Schroer contends his claims are within the applicable four and five year statute of limitations. Id. Lastly, Schroer asserts the court should deny Baldwin's alternative motion to strike because attorney's fees and punitive damages are allowed. Id. at 7-8.

ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Dismiss

"Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires that a complaint present a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009). "Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate if it is clear that no relief can be granted under any set of facts that could be proven consistent with the allegations." O'Neal v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 630 F.3d 1075, 1077 (8th Cir. 2011). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Gomes v. American Century Co., Inc., 710 F.3d 811, 815 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quotingBell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In applying these standards, "a court assumes all facts in the complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences most favorably to the complainant." U.S. ex rel Raynor v. Nat'l Rural Util. Co-op. Fin., Corp., 690 F.3d 951, 955 (8th Cir. 2012). The court reviews "the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual allegation." Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1128 (8th Cir. 2012).

1. Breach of Contract and Good Faith and Fair Dealing

Baldwin argues Schroer's breach of contract claim fails because Schroer does not allege sufficient facts to establish a contract under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Filing No. 35 - Brief p. 6-7. By extension, Baldwin argues Schroer's claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing also fails as no contract existed. Id. In response, Schroer argues he sufficiently alleges the formation of a written contract and the details of the contract such as the employment period, pay scale, and contract terms, including those related to restrictions on termination. See Filing No. 37 - Response p. 4.

"In order to recover in an action for breach of contract, the plaintiff must plead and prove the existence of a promise, its breach, damage, and compliance with any conditions precedent that activate the defendant's duty." Henriksen v. Gleason, 643 N.W.2d 652, 658 (Neb. 2002). "[T]he burden of proving the existence of an employment contract and all the facts essential to the cause of action is upon the person who asserts the contract." Blinn v. Beatrice Cmty. Hosp. & Health Ctr., Inc., 708 N.W.2d 235, 245 (Neb. 2006). "The language which forms the basis of an alleged employment contract, whether oral or written, must constitute an offer definite in form which is communicated to the employee, and the offer must be accepted and consideration furnished for its enforceability." Id. "[C]ontractual terms . . . may be created by employee handbooks and oral representations." Hillie v. Mut. of Omaha Ins. Co., 512 N.W.2d 358, 361 (Neb. 1994). "The implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing exists in every contract and requires that none of the parties to the contract do anything which will injure the right of another party to receive the benefit of the contract." RSUI Indem. Co. v. Bacon, 810 N.W.2d 666, 674 (Neb. 2011). "A violation of the covenant of good faithand fair dealing occurs only when a party violates, nullifies, or significantly impairs any benefit of the contract." Id.

Schroer alleges facts regarding the formation and terms of his employment contract. See Filing No. 29 - Amended Complaint p. 1-5. Schroer alleges the terms of the contract restricted Baldwin's ability to terminate Schroer. Id. Schroer also alleges Schroer's salary, among other benefits, was scaled depending on length of employment. Id. Assuming the facts in the Amended Complaint are true that Schroer's termination violated contractual provisions, Baldwin could be responsible for breach of the contract and the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing. Schroer did not plead with specificity in the Amended Complaint the terms restricting Schroer's termination, however, at this stage, specific facts are unnecessary. See Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93. After...

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