Ziemkiewicz v. R+L Carriers, Inc., Civil Action No. RDB–13–0438.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtRICHARD D. BENNETT
Citation996 F.Supp.2d 378
PartiesIreneusz ZIEMKIEWICZ, Plaintiff, v. R+L CARRIERS, INC., et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. RDB–13–0438.
Decision Date06 February 2014

996 F.Supp.2d 378

Ireneusz ZIEMKIEWICZ, Plaintiff,
R+L CARRIERS, INC., et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. RDB–13–0438.

United States District Court,
D. Maryland.

Feb. 6, 2014.

[996 F.Supp.2d 382]

Dominik Rostocki, The Rostocki Law Firm LLC, Timothy P. Creech, Creech Law LLC, Philadelphia, PA, Henry Mark Stichel, Gohn Hankey and Stichel LLP, Baltimore, MD, for Plaintiff.

C. Dennis Southard, IV, Thompson Hine LLP, Washington, DC, Anthony C. White, Jennifer Mingus Mountcastle, Thompson Hine LLP, Columbus, OH, for Defendants.


RICHARD D. BENNETT, District Judge.

The Plaintiff Ireneusz Ziemkiewicz asserts claims against his former employer Defendant R & L Carriers Shared Services, LLC, and the Defendant R+L Carriers, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”) for defamation, unlawful interference with contract, and unlawful interference with prospective economic benefit, based on allegations that the Defendants falsely represented to prospective employers that he had refused a drug test, making him ineligible to drive a commercial truck under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, codified in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Pending before this Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 104), Defendant R+L Carriers, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 108), and Defendant R & L Carriers Shared Services, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 109). Also pending are Defendants' Choice of Law Brief (ECF No. 80) and Plaintiff's Choice of Law Brief (ECF No. 103) on the issue of punitive damages. A hearing was held on January 27, 2014.1See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2011). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 104) is DENIED, Defendant R+L Carriers, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 108) is DENIED, and Defendant R & L Carriers Shared Services, LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 109) is DENIED. In addition, the issue of punitive damages will be governed by Maryland law. A period of discovery on punitive damages will be set by separate Order.


The Plaintiff, Ireneusz Ziemkiewicz, is a Pennsylvania resident who was formerly employed as a commercial truck driver at Defendant R & L Shared Services, LLC's (“Shared Services”) Hagerstown, Maryland terminal. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1–3, 10, ECF No. 12; Deposition of Ireneusz Ziemkiewicz 73, ECF No. 109–2. Defendant R+L Carriers, Inc. (“Carriers”) is a holding company that owns a portion of Shared Services but does not engage in motor carrier operations. Ziemkiewicz, who had been a truck driver for approximately fifteen years, worked for Shared Services for approximately five months from January 2011 through June 17, 2011. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15, 21–22, 35. He was hired by Shared Services employee Charles Stefaniak, who had recently started work as Terminal Manager at the Hagerstown, Maryland service center. Deposition of Charles Stefaniak 21, 39, 120, ECF No. 109–3. During Ziemkiewicz's employment, Shared Services discovered that although the Plaintiff had listed only one previous accident in his job application, he had been involved in seven total accidents. PX 24 at D000062–64, ECF No. 109–5. Ziemkiewicz

[996 F.Supp.2d 383]

was also involved in disciplinary matters during his employment with Shared Services, PX 25 at D000095–97, but his supervisor Stefaniak stated that they had a good working relationship. Stefaniak Dep. 39.

On June 17, 2011, Stefaniak called the Plaintiff to the office for a meeting. According to Stefaniak, the purpose of the meeting was to deliver Ziemkiewicz a written warning for damaging freight and to inform him that he had been selected for a random drug test in accordance with Department of Transportation Regulations. Stefaniak Dep. 23–24, 29–30. At the beginning of the meeting, Stefaniak contends that he had placed a drug test sample cup on his desk. Id. at 24, 36. Stefaniak also stated that he had prepared to give Ziemkiewicz the accompanying paperwork for the drug test. Id. at 13–14; Pl.'s Exs. L D000035, (Shared Services' internal Random Controlled Substance Test Selection form with Terminal Manager Instructions); Pl.'s Ex. N (Federal Drug Testing Custody and Control Form), ECF No. 104–2. Stefaniak states that Ziemkiewicz saw the cup on the desk and asked if it was for him. Stefaniak testified to then informing Ziemkiewicz that the cup was for his random drug test and that, after discussing the damaged freight incident, Ziemkiewicz would be required to report to Health@ Work, the employee clinic. Stefaniak Dep. 24–26, 36–37; Emails of July 1, 2011, Pl.'s Ex. CC, D000036–37, ECF No. 104–2. Stefaniak and Ziemkiewicz then discussed the written warning for the damage to freight. During this conversation, Ziemkiewicz disagreed with the determination that a warning was warranted and resigned his employment. Stefaniak Dep. 22–23. Stefaniak testified that he attempted to calm Ziemkiewicz down and told him that the incident was minor and not worth resigning over. Id. Ziemkiewicz turned in his time and fuel cards, and left the office. According to Stefaniak, Ziemkiewicz did not sign the warning for damaging freight or take the sample cup and drug testing paperwork. Id. at 22–26.

However, Ziemkiewicz's account of the meeting differs significantly from Stefaniak's. Ziemkiewicz flatly denies seeing a sample cup or paperwork and denies that any drug test was mentioned at this meeting.2 Ziemkiewicz Dep. 22–23. He testified that “nobody from [Defendants] asked me about the random. I am a driver with 15 years' experience and I know what it means [ ] from the driver's side.” Id. at 22. He stated that he “never refused a test” and that he had no reason to do so because he has never taken a drug in his life, and he knew the consequences of a refusal. Id. at 22–23. Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, 49 C.F.R. § 350 et seq. (the “Regulations”), the consequence of refusing a drug screening required by the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) is that the employee is deemed to be unqualified to operate a commercial vehicle. See also 49 C.F.R. § 40 et seq. (“Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing Programs”). A refusal is equivalent to a positive test. 49 C.F.R. §§ 40.191, 383.51. On the other hand, a refusal to take a drug test other than one mandated by the DOT, for example an employer's internal test, carries no regulatory consequences. Id. § 40.191(e).

Later the same day, Stefaniak made handwritten notes of the meeting so that he would not later be accused of terminating the Plaintiff.3 Stefaniak Dep. 78; Pl.'s

[996 F.Supp.2d 384]

Ex. I, D000027–28, ECF No. 104–2. It was not immediately apparent to Stefaniak that the Plaintiff's conduct amounted to a refusal of a drug test, and Stefaniak did not report it as such. Stefaniak was not knowledgeable about the Regulations, and in his approximately six months as Terminal Manager, he had never had an employee refuse a test. Stefaniak Dep. 34–35, 116. The Defendants state that it is not unusual for a Terminal Manager, who is not a Commercial Driver's License holder, to be ignorant of these Regulations, specifically the consequences of a DOT-mandated drug test refusal. Shared Services' Mot. 6, ECF No. 109–1 (citing Deposition of Dean Kuska 114–15, ECF No. 109–11). On the other hand, the Defendants assert that any Commercial Driver's License holder, such as Ziemkiewicz, would be aware of such consequences. Id. Furthermore, the Defendants asserted at the hearing that employees at the Hagerstown, Maryland terminal would know that only DOT-mandated tests were administered there, as opposed to internal company tests that are not subject to the same Regulations. Declaration of Sheila Phillips ¶ 3, ECF No. 116–5.

Following the meeting, Penny Foley, a Safety Compliance Coordinator at Shared Services headquarters in Wilmington, Ohio could not locate the results of Ziemkiewicz's scheduled random drug and alcohol screen in the company computer system. Deposition of Penny Foley 24, ECF No. 109–13; Emails of July 1, 2011, Pl.'s Ex. CC, D000036–37, ECF No. 104–2. She asked Stefaniak by email if he had the results, and in response, Stefaniak briefly recounted the events of the June 17, 2011 meeting. Pl.'s Ex. CC, D000036–37. Based on Stefaniak's reply email, Foley preliminarily determined that Ziemkiewicz had refused a drug test. Foley Dep. 26. In order to confirm her interpretation of the events, Foley contacted Sheila Phillips, another Shared Services Safety Compliance Coordinator in the same office. Phillips Dep. 24; Pl.'s Ex. CC, D000036–37. Phillips responded with the final decision that the Plaintiff refused the drug test, confirming Foley's conclusion. Foley Dep. 26; Phillips Dep. 25. Stefaniak took no part in the determination, other than reporting the events of the meeting. Stefaniak Dep. 79.

In a letter to the Plaintiff dated June 30, 2011 and received by the Plaintiff on July 9, 2011, Foley stated that his conduct amounted to a “Positive Drug and/or Alcohol Test Result,” and informed him that in order to return to safety-sensitive duty, he would be required to submit to an evaluation and testing by a Department of Transportation Substance Abuse Professional pursuant to 49 C.F.R. pt. 40 subpt. O. Pl.'s Ex. D, D000051, ECF No. 104–2; Foley Dep. 28–29. Ziemkiewicz contends that he telephoned the Wilmington, Ohio office many times to attempt to challenge to determination that he refused the drug test. Foley Dep. 31–32. Foley informed her supervisor, Gary Moyer, that she was receiving multiple daily calls from Ziemkiewicz regarding the refusal determination. Id. 37, 63, 8–9. Moyer told the Plaintiff to stop calling Foley. Ziemkiewicz Dep. 27–30.

As a result of the Plaintiff's challenge to the refusal determination, Shared Services' Human Resources Department, also located in Wilmington, Ohio, further reviewed the matter. Karen Curl, the Director of Human Resources, spoke to...

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