Zhuang v. EMD Performance Materials Corp.

Decision Date29 January 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 3:18-cv-01432 (BRM) (TJB)
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey




Before this Court are (1) Defendant EMD Performance Materials Corp.'s ("EMD PM") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 85), (2) EMD PM's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 86), and (3) Plaintiff Hong Zhuang's ("Zhuang") Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 92). All motions are opposed. (ECF Nos. 90, 91, and 98.) Having reviewed the parties' submissions filed in connection with the motions and having declined to hold oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b), for the reasons set forth below and for good cause having been shown, EMD PM's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is DENIED as MOOT, EMD PM's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Zhuang's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.


This is an employment discrimination matter involving Zhuang's claims that she was harassed during her employment at EMD PM and unfairly terminated by the company on April 3, 2017.2 On February 8, 2018, Zhuang filed her original complaint against EMD PM. (ECF No. 1.) On April 2, 2018, she amended the complaint as of right after EMD PM moved to dismiss her original complaint. (See ECF Nos. 7, 11.) On April 16, 2018, EMD PM moved to dismiss Zhuang's amended complaint. (ECF No. 13.) The Court granted in part and denied in part EMD PM's motion to dismiss. (See ECF Nos. 24 and 25.) Thereafter, on August 24, 2018, EMD PM answered Zhuang's amended complaint. (ECF No. 28.) On August 27, 2018, the Honorable Judge Tonianne J. Bongiovanni entered an order setting the initial scheduling conference for November 19, 2018. (ECF No. 29.) On January 25, 2019, Zhuang formally moved for leave to file a second amended complaint. (ECF No. 41.) Judge Bongiovanni granted Zhuang's motion on April 8, 2019. (See ECF Nos. 47 and 48.) Zhuang filed the second amended complaint on April 17, 2019. (ECF No. 49.) EMD PM answered on May 1, 2019. (ECF No. 53.) On May 9, 2019, counsel entered an appearance on behalf of Zhuang who had, until that time, been representing herself pro se. (ECF No. 55.) Thereafter, on June 7, 2019, Zhuang filed her third motion to amend the complaint (ECF No. 66) and EMD PM opposed. (ECF No. 67.) Judge Bongiovanni granted the motion on July 10, 2019. (See ECF Nos. 69 and 70.) The third amended complaint ("TAC") wasfiled on July 11, 2019. (ECF No. 71.) EMD PM answered the TAC on July 26, 2019. (ECF No. 74.) A second amended scheduling order was set for January 15, 2020 by Judge Bongiovanni on October 21, 2019 indicating all discovery shall be raised by January 17, 2020, and any dispositive motions are due by February 21, 2020. (ECF No. 80.) Following a letter from EMD PM, Judge Bongiovanni filed a text order ordering dispositive motions were to be filed by May 22, 2020 instead. (See ECF No. 84.) On May 22, 2020, EMD PM filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings concerning Count II of the TAC, which alleges retaliation in violation of Pierce v. Ortho Pharma. Corp., 417 A.2d 505 (N.J. 1980) ("Pierce") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) (ECF No. 85), and a Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (ECF No. 86.) On June 22, 2020, Zhuang filed an opposition to the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 90) and a combined brief in opposition to EMD PM's Motion for Summary Judgment and in support of a Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (See ECF Nos. 91 and 92.)3 EMD PM opposed the Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on July 20, 2020. (ECF No. 98.)

A. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides: "After the pleadings are closed—but early enough not to delay trial—a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Pursuant to Rule 12(c), the movant for judgment on the pleadings must establish: (1) that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved; and (2) the entitlement to judgment as a matter oflaw. Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Jablonski v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290-91 (3d Cir. 1988)). In resolving a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(c), the Court must view the facts in the pleadings and the inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Rosenau, 539 F.3d at 221.

Furthermore, even though a motion for judgment on the pleadings is appropriate after the pleadings have been closed, such a motion is reviewed under the same standards that apply to a motion to dismiss made under Rule 12(b)(6). See Szczurek v. Prof'l Mgmt. Inc., 627 F. App'x 57, 60 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Revell v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010)); see also Muhammad v. Sarkos, Civ. A. No. 12-7206, 2014 WL 4418059 (D.N.J. Sept. 8, 2014) ("Where a defendant's motion is one for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), it is treated under the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion where it alleges that a plaintiff has failed to state a claim.") (citing Turbe v. Gov't of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991)); see Gebhart v. Steffen, 574 F. App'x 156, 157 (3d Cir. 2014).

B. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is genuine only if there is "a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party," and it is material only if it has the ability to "affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher v. Cty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a districtcourt may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, (1986); Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002).

The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the basis for its motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "If the moving party will bear the burden of persuasion at trial, that party must support its motion with credible evidence . . . that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial." Id. at 331. On the other hand, if the burden of persuasion at trial would be on the nonmoving party, the party moving for summary judgment may satisfy Rule 56's burden of production by either (1) "submit[ting] affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim" or (2) demonstrating "that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim." Id. Once the movant adequately supports its motion pursuant to Rule 56(c), the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324; see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586; Ridgewood Bd. of Ed. v. Stokley, 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the factfinder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

There can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," however, if a party 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." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 323; Katz v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992).

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d),

[i]f a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:
(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) allow time to obtain affidavits to take discovery; or
(3) issue any other appropriate order.

A party who submits an affidavit pursuant to Rule 56(d), "specify[], for example, what particular information is sought; how, if uncovered, it would preclude summary judgment; and why it has not previously been obtained." Penn., Dep't of Pub. Welfare v. Sebelius, 674 F.3d 139, 157 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 139-40 (3d Cir. 1988)). If the nonmovant

files an affidavit that addresses these three requirements with specificity, and especially when particular information, necessary to the successful opposition to summary judgment, is in the sole possession of the moving party, the Third Circuit has held that 'a continuance of a motion for summary judgment for purposes of discovery should be granted almost as a matter of

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