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Minard v. Sam's East, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama

December 6, 2018

GREGORY MINARD, Plaintiff,
v.
SAM'S EAST, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ABDUL K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the court is Sam's East, Inc.'s motion to reconsider the October 22, 2018 order finding its motion to dismiss moot. Doc. 23. Sam's East notes correctly that the court inadvertently failed to rule on its motion to dismiss two of Gregory Minard's state law claims, which Minard repleaded in his amended complaint, doc. 14. Upon further review, the motion to reconsider, doc. 23, is due to be granted, and Minard's outrage claim is due to be dismissed.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         Minard is a 59-year-old African American man who worked for Sam's Club for over 32 years, most recently at the Irondale, Alabama location as General Manager. Doc. 14 at 4. Minard allegedly never received any disciplinary violations prior to his discharge and received praise for his performance, including for overseeing one of the top stores in overall sales. Id. at 5. In 2017, the Irondale location was on track to meet and/or exceed annual budget numbers, with Minard slated to earn a $70, 000 bonus that year due to the store's performance. Id. at 6. Minard never received the bonus and lost his position instead.

         For a five year period prior to his discharge, purportedly in compliance with prior policy, Minard allowed customer Dave Wood, acting on behalf of a local grocery distributor, to pre-pay for truckloads of French fries and to subsequently pick up the order when the store received the fries. Id. at 7. In August 2017, Athena Rushford, District Loss Prevention Manager, informed Minard about a new company policy prohibiting customers from pre-paying for their purchases. Id. at 6. Two months later, the company required Minard to provide a written statement to loss prevention due to a discrepancy in inventory and because of an investigation into Wood's large orders. Id. at 8. After the investigation, Sam's East allegedly informed Minard that it could not determine the source of the overage and attributed it to corporate error. Id. at 9. Nonetheless, the investigation led to Minard's discharge for “gross misconduct” involving “serious integrity issues, ” which also led to the termination of his health insurance. Id. at 9-10.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Minard initially filed this suit against Wal-Mart, Inc. (an improperly named defendant) alleging various discrimination, harassment, and retaliation claims under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(1) (“ADEA”), and the Alabama Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Ala. Code § 25-1-20 et seq. (1975) (“AADEA”). Doc. 1. Minard also asserted state law claims, including invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED)[2], and negligent or wanton hiring, supervision, training, and retention. Id. Identifying themselves as the proper defendant, Sam's East responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss all of Minard's claims. Doc. 7. Minard subsequently filed an amended complaint dropping all of his retaliation and harassment claims and the invasion of privacy claim. Doc. 14. However, he retained his outrage and negligent hiring claims. As a result, the amended complaint did not moot Sam's East's motion to dismiss these two claims.

         A. Outrage Claim

         Minard's outrage claim is based on the purported fabrication of a pretextual reason to wrongfully investigate and discharge him, denial of transfers to open positions, denial of health benefits affecting his spouse's medical treatment, and interference with his dependents' ability to obtain prompt medical attention. Doc. 14 at 21-22. At issue here is whether these allegations rise to the level of extreme, outrageous, or atrocious actions that are utterly intolerable in a civilized society. For the reasons below, the court finds that Mindard has failed to plead a plausible claim for outrage.

         To recover under outrage, Minard must demonstrate conduct that “(1) was intentional or reckless; (2) was extreme and outrageous; and (3) caused emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.” Green Tree Acceptance, Inc. v. Standridge, 565 So.2d 38, 44 (Ala.1990) (citing American Road Service Co. v. Inmon, 394 So.2d 361 (Ala.1980); see also Hill v. Cundiff, 797 F.3d 948, 983 (11th Cir. 2015). Relevant here, in light of the Alabama Supreme Court decision in Wilson v. Univ. of Alabama Health Servs. Found., P.C., No. 1160654, 2017 WL 6397654 (Ala. Dec. 15, 2017), [3] the proper inquiry at this stage is whether the alleged conduct was “so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.” 2017 WL 6397654, at *3 (citing Potts v. Hayes, 771 So.2d 462, 465 (Ala. 2000)). Thus, Minard must “set forth each of the elements of the tort of outrage in [his] complaint, and [make] a showing that [he] is entitled to relief.” Thomas v. Williams, 21 So.3d 1234, 1240 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008).

         Basically, Minard maintains that he easily satisfies the relevant elements for an outrage claim because his wrongful discharge denied him employment, the opportunity for a $70, 000 bonus, and health insurance coverage, which affected his family's access to necessary medical treatment and prompt medical attention. Doc. 18 at 5. A review of the complaint, however, shows that Minard has not alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate that Sam's East had the requisite knowledge about his family's medical needs, intended to affect his family's medical needs, or engaged in willful, malicious conduct. See Rice v. United Ins. Co. of Am.,465 So.2d 1100 (Ala. 1984) (finding conceivable outrage when an employer was aware of plaintiff's pregnancy and took drastic measures to force her to voluntarily take disability leave which resulted in emotional distress and a miscarriage); cf. Estate of Reed v. Ponder Enterprises, Inc., No. 1:11CV554-CSC, 2012 WL 1031487, at *7 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 27, 2012) (finding no outrage claim even though the employer was aware of plaintiff's ...


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