Tangen v. Ideacom of the Gulf Coast, Inc.
ORDER granting in part and denying in part Ideacom's 85 Motion for Summary Judgment: GRANTED IN PART with regard to Count One, DENIED as to Count Two, and GRANTED as to Count Three; and denying Ideacom's 93 Motion to Strike. Signed by Judge Callie V. S. Granade on 6/27/2013. (mab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
IDEACOM OF THE GULF COAST,
Civil Action No. 12-0267-CG-M
This matter is before the court on the motion for summary judgment
filed by the defendant, Ideacom of the Gulf Coast, Inc. (“Ideacom”). Doc. 85.
The court has reviewed the parties’ respective briefs (Docs. 87, 91, and 92),
and the case is now ripe for resolution. For the reasons discussed below, the
court finds that Ideacom’s motion is due to be GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART.
Also before the court and ripe for resolution is Ideacom’s motion to
strike (Doc. 93), which is hereby DENIED for the reasons set forth below.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
Ideacom is a Daphne, Alabama, corporation which sells healthcare
communications systems to hospitals and nursing homes. Doc. 91 at 2. The
plaintiff, Erlend Tangen (“Tangen”), is a former Ideacom salesman who
entered into a written employment agreement with the defendant in
September 2002 (the “2002 Agreement”).1 From 2002 until 2008, Tangen sold
certain nurse call systems manufactured by Rauland-Borg Corporation, the
Responder 4000 and Responder IV, for Ideacom. Beginning in 2008 until he
resigned in 2011, Tangen sold the Responder 5 system. Id.
Tangen’s responsibilities under the 2002 Agreement included
estimating the costs of installing a call system and setting a proper purchase
price, id. at 4, as well as overseeing the proper installation of the system and
providing technical supervision of troubleshooting. Doc. 14-1 at 1. Tangen
received a $33,000 base salary and a 5% commission on all sales, which was
based upon the “list price” of the system being sold. Id. at 2-3. Half of the
commission, or 2.5%, was paid to Tangen up-front when the customer signed
a purchase order; the second 2.5% was paid after the customer paid its
invoice in full. Id. at 3; Doc. 91-2 at 11, 29-30.
In late 2008, Ideacom presented its sales force with a new formula for
calculating sales commissions. Doc. 91 at 6; Doc. 91-2 at 11. The new policy
was called the “Sales Compensation Program” and was effective for all new
sales starting in January 2009 (hereinafter, the “2009 Program”). Doc. 14-2;
Doc. 91-2 at 22-23. Under the new 2009 Program, salesmen would still
receive an up-front 2.5% commission when a customer signed a contract. Id.
However, commissions at the end of a job were to be determined by the “final
Ideacom disputes the validity of the 2002 Agreement, but has assumed its
validity for the sake of argument at summary judgment. Doc. 92 at 9.
Likewise, the court assumes that the 2002 Agreement is valid for summary
mark-up percent” of the sale. Doc. 14-2. None of Ideacom’s salesmen signed
the 2009 Program. Doc. 91 at 7; Doc. 87-6 at 48. Tangen testified that
although he did not agree with the new commission policy, he believed that
his choice was to either accept it or leave, and he “felt it was beneficial to
stay.” Doc. 87-6 at 50.
Tangen continued to sell call systems for Ideacom, and Ideacom
continued to pay commissions to Tangen until he resigned in May 2011. Doc.
91-1 at 3; Doc. 14 at 3. Tangen now alleges that Ideacom has refused to pay
him the commissions he earned on twelve sales in 2011, worth a total of
$78,311.09. Doc. 14 at 3.
On April 17, 2012, Tangen filed the instant lawsuit against Ideacom.
Doc. 1. On May 29, 2012, he filed an amended complaint alleging a violation
of the Alabama Sales Commission Act, Ala. Code §8-24-1 et. seq. (Count One);
breach of contract (Count Two); and negligence (Count Three). Doc. 14
Ideacom moved for summary judgment on April 22, 2013. Doc. 87.
II. IDEACOM’S MOTION TO STRIKE
Ideacom seeks to strike seven assertions found in Tangen’s affidavit.
(Ideacom’s motion at Doc. 93; Tangen’s affidavit at Doc. 91-1). As a
preliminary matter, the court notes that motions to strike are generally
disfavored as time wasters that distract the court from the merits of a party’s
claim. See e.g., Haynes v. Twin Cedars Youth & Fam. Servs., Inc., No. 5:10CV-321 (CAR), 2012 WL 895699 at *5 (M.D. Ga. Mar. 15, 2012). See also,
Vaughn v. City of Orlando, 2008 WL 3540434 at *2 (M.D. Fla. 2008). As a
result, motions to strike are infrequently granted. Thompson v. Kindred
Nursing Ctrs. E., LLC, 211 F.Supp.2d 1345, 1348 (M.D. Fla. 2002). See also,
Austin S.I., Ltd. V. Barton-Malow Co., 799 F.Supp.2d 1135, 1145 (M.D. Fla.
To the extent that Ideacom thought that Tangen’s affidavit warranted
a challenge, a footnote or two in its summary judgment brief would have
sufficed. See Northern Assur. Co. of America v. C&G Boat Works, Inc., 2012
WL 1712594 at *5 (S.D. Ala. 2012). The court notes for the parties’ future
reference that, in the aftermath of the substantive 2010 amendments to Rule
56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, motions to strike summary
judgment exhibits are no longer necessary. As revised, Rule 56 provides that
“[a] party may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact
cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). The Advisory Committee’s note specifies further that
such an objection “functions much as an objection at trial, adjusted for the
pretrial setting” and that “[t]here is no need to make a separate motion to
strike.” Id., Advisory Committee’s note.
Citing the hearsay rule, Ideacom seeks to strike references to Tangen’s
deposition testimony in paragraphs 5, 9, and 10 of Tangen’s affidavit. Doc. 93
at 2, 5, 6, and 8 (underlining the words “As I said in my deposition”).
Ideacom argues that “Tangen’s reference to what people stated in a
deposition is a hearsay statement.” Id. at 2, 6, 8. Tangen’s reference to his
own deposition testimony is also a statement of a party-opponent and falls
squarely within a hearsay exception. FRE 801(d)(2)(a). Thus, Ideacom’s
motion is denied as to this objection.
B. BEST EVIDENCE RULE
Paragraph 11 of Tangen’s affidavit contains a list of the 12 sales for
which Tangen alleges that he is owed a 2.5% commission. Doc. 91-1 at 4.
Ideacom argues that the paragraph should be stricken because it “is made to
prove the content of a writing” in violation of FRE 1002, which states that
“[t]o prove the content of a writing, recording, or photograph, the original
writing, recording, or photograph is required.” Doc. 93 at 7.
An obvious problem with Ideacom’s objection is that it neglected to
acknowledge Tangen’s commission statement, Exhibit “G” to his summary
judgment opposition brief, which lists each of the disputed commissions
contained in Paragraph 11. Doc. 91-7. The commission statement was
authenticated by John Robb at his deposition testimony as having been
prepared by Ideacom. Doc. 91-2 at 36. Even if it is not an original copy, it is
nevertheless admissible pursuant to FRE 1003.
While the commission statement generally supports Tangen’s affidavit,
it does not state when or even if these accounts were paid in full, as Tangen
alleges. Compare Doc. 91-1 at 4, ¶11 and Doc. 91-7. Therefore, while it
declines to strike Paragraph 11 altogether, the court nevertheless disregards
the alleged payment dates that Tangen listed in the affidavit, with the
exception of the “BROOKWOOD/WOMENSR5” sale, the
“MT.VIEWMED/10TS01394” sale, the “NOLAND/SCFFAV1279” sale, and
the “DCH LAUNDRY/VE3246” sale. Tangen attached separate invoices for
these four sales, each of which includes a notation indicating that the account
was paid and the date on which payment occurred. See Doc. 91-1 at 9, 12,
and 13; Doc. 91-8.
C. PAROL EVIDENCE
Ideacom seeks to strike paragraphs 5 and 9 of Tangen’s affidavit as
inadmissible parol evidence. Id. at 2, 6. Paragraph 5 contains an allegation
that Tangen never sold a nurse call system to a customer for the “list price”
as required by Paragraph 1 of the 2002 Agreement. Doc. 91-1 at 2. It also
cited Robb’s deposition testimony for the notion that commissions were based
on the “usual sales price.” Id. Paragraph 9 contains an allegation that
Tangen was not, in fact, responsible for installation or troubleshooting of the
call systems, contradicting Paragraph 1 of the 2002 Agreement. See id. at 6.
Despite the fact that these two affidavit statements contradict the
2002 Agreement, neither constitutes parol evidence because neither predates
or is contemporaneous with the agreement. “The parol evidence rule provides
that, absent some evidence of fraud, mistake, or illegality, a party to an
unambiguous written contract cannot offer parol, or extrinsic, evidence of
prior or contemporaneous oral agreements to change, alter, or
contradict the terms of the contract.” Environmental Systems, Inc. v.
Rexham Corp., 624 So.2d 1379, 1381 (Ala. 1993) (emphasis added) (citing
Bussey v. John Deere Co., 531 So.2d 860, 862 (Ala.1988); Colafrancesco v.
Crown Pontiac-GMC, Inc., 485 So.2d 1131, 1132-33 (Ala.1986). “The general
doctrine [of the parol evidence rule is] … that all previous negotiations,
conversations, and parol agreements are merged in the terms of the
instrument.” Hurst v. Nichols Research Corp., 621 So.2d 964, 966-67 (Ala.
1993) (quoting Sellers v. Dickert, 185 Ala. 206, 213 (1913) (emphasis added)).
Here, Tangen’s assertions about not selling call systems at a “list price” and
his claim that his job responsibilities changed over time are allegations about
events that happened subsequent to the 2002 Agreement, and therefore do
not constitute parol evidence.
More generally, Ideacom also seeks to strike “all parole [sic] evidence
assertions in Tangen’s brief and exhibits,” claiming that because Tangen
never alleged fraud, mistake, or ambiguity, such evidence is therefore
inadmissible. Doc. 93 at 10. Such a catch-all request incorrectly assumes
that the court is obliged to hunt through Tangen’s brief and exhibits for
instances of parol evidence, like a pig in search of truffles. See United States
v. Dunkel, 927 F.2d 955, 956 (7th Cir. 1991). To the contrary, the onus is on
Ideacom to cite each instance of alleged parol evidence.
D. UNSUPPORTED ALLEGATIONS
Finally, Ideacom seeks to strike the following allegation from Tangen’s
Tangen’s salaried duties evolved and changed over
time. With regard to the jobs on which Tangen
claims a commission in this litigation, installation
of the Responder 5 system was performed by
laborers who came to the medical care facility and
installed the system. (J. Robb dep. 96:1-8).
Ideacom correctly points out that the citation to Robb’s deposition
testimony does not support Tangen’s assertion, and the court duly notes this
fact. Doc. 93 at 7. However, the allegation above is not due to be stricken
from the record simply because it is unsupported. An allegation’s lack of
evidentiary support goes to the question of whether there is a genuine
dispute of material fact; it does not render the allegation per se inadmissible.
Ideacom’s citation of this court’s memorandum opinion in Vision Bank
v. Swindall, 2010 WL 3039601 (S.D. Ala. August 4, 2010), Doc. 93 at 8, is
merely a regurgitation of the unsuccessful parol evidence argument which
the court rejected, supra, and has no relevance to the challenged excerpt that
Ideacom seeks to strike. In Swindall, the non-movant defendant claimed that
the court should not enforce the terms of a promissory note because of an
alleged contemporaneous oral agreement between the parties. Swindall at
*3. This court rejected the defendant’s argument because he had not alleged
that the promissory note was ambiguous, as required by the parol evidence
rule, thus rendering evidence of prior or contemporaneous agreements
inadmissible. Id. Here, Tangen does not allege a prior or contemporaneous
agreement. Instead, he claims that his job responsibilities evolved
subsequent to the 2002 Agreement. Thus, Swindall is inapposite and the
parol evidence rule does not apply.
Accordingly, Ideacom’s motion to strike (Doc. 93) is DENIED.
III. IDEACOM’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment
shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to
any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” The trial court’s function is not “to weigh the evidence and determine
the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for
trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “The mere
existence of some evidence to support the non-moving party is not sufficient
for denial of summary judgment; there must be ‘sufficient evidence favoring
the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.’” Bailey v.
Allgas, Inc., 284 F.3d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 249). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,
summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-250.
(internal citations omitted).
The basic issue before the court on a motion for summary judgment is
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require
submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail
as a matter of law.” See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-252. The moving party
bears the burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists.
O'Ferrell v. United States, 253 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2001). In
evaluating the argument of the moving party, the court must view all
evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and resolve all
reasonable doubts about the facts in its favor. Burton v. City of Belle Glade,
178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11th Cir. 1999). “If reasonable minds might differ on
the inferences arising from undisputed facts, then [a court] should deny
summary judgment.” Hinesville Bank v. Pony Exp. Courier Corp., 868 F.2d
1532, 1535 (11th Cir. 1989) (citing Mercantile Bank & Trust v. Fidelity &
Deposit Co., 750 F.2d 838, 841 (11th Cir. 1985)).
Once the movant satisfies her initial burden under Rule 56(a), the nonmoving party “must make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of
each essential element to that party's case, and on which that party will bear
the burden of proof at trial.” Howard v. BP Oil Co., 32 F.3d 520, 524 (11th
Cir. 1994)(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)).
Otherwise stated, the non-movant must “demonstrate that there is indeed a
material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats &
Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). The non-moving party “may
not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its
response must … set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.”
Vega v. Invsco Group, Ltd., 432 Fed. Appx. 867, 870 (11th Cir. 2011). “A
mere ‘scintilla’ of evidence supporting the [non-moving] party’s position will
not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably
find for that party.” Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990)
(citation omitted). “[T]he nonmoving party may avail itself of all facts and
justifiable inferences in the record taken as a whole.” Tipton v. Bergrohr
GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998 (11th Cir. 1992). “Where the record taken
as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving
party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation and citation
B. ALABAMA SALES COMMISSION ACT CLAIM (COUNT ONE)
Count One of Tangen’s complaint alleges a violation of the Alabama
Sales Commission Act, Ala.Code § 8-24-1, et. seq. (“§ 8-24-1,” or “the Act”).
Sales subject to §8-24-1 must be made at the wholesale level. See § 8–24–
1(3). A wholesale transaction generally involves the sale of a tangible good
for resale. See Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed.2009) (defining “wholesale” as
the sale of goods or commodities usually to a retailer for resale, and not to the
ultimate consumer”); see also Ala.Code § 40–23–1(a)(9) (Alabama's tax code
referring to the term “wholesale sale” as “a sale of tangible personal property
by wholesalers to licensed retail merchants, jobbers, dealers, or other
wholesalers for resale and does not include a sale by wholesalers to users or
consumers, not for resale”).
Tangen argues that he has “demonstrated ample evidence” that
Ideacom violated the Act, yet in his summary judgment brief he specifies only
two jobs which purportedly constitute such violations – Brookwood Women’s
Center (“Brookwood”) and Mountain View Nursing Home (“Mountain View”).2
Doc. 91 at 17-18; see also Doc. 91-1 at 3-4. Beyond these two sales, Tangen
argues that “[t]here may be other jobs that [he] sold to customers who were
not end users.” Doc. 91 at 18. Indeed there may be; but Tangen cites no
record evidence to support this speculation, and it is insufficient to defeat
summary judgment. Cordoba v. Dillard's, Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1185 (11th
Cir. 2005) ( “Speculation does not create a genuine issue of fact.”) (citation
Perhaps sensing that he lacks supporting admissible facts, Tangen also
states that he anticipates issuing subpoenas for additional testimony and
documents at trial, “if necessary.” Id. Yet discovery in this case closed on
March 29, 2013. Doc. 24. Tangen has not requested any modification of the
Rule 16(b) Scheduling Order and made no argument concerning good cause.
Tangen attached to his affidavit additional invoices for call systems sold to
the Village at Cook Springs and the DCH Medical Center. Doc. 91-1 at 13-16.
However, he did not mention either invoice in his discussion of the Act.
Thus, summary judgment on Count One is due to be granted in favor of
Ideacom as to all sales that were not raised at summary judgment. This
leaves the Brookwood and Mountain View sales for the court’s consideration.
With regard to the Brookwood sale, the evidence does not support
Tangen’s assertion that he “sold a Responder 5 system to Bright Future
Electric and that system was resold to Brookwood .” Doc. 91 at 18. The
attached invoices indicate that the parts for the Responder V system were not
billed to Bright Future Electric, but rather to the Medical Clinic Board of the
City of Homewood in care of Bright Future Electric.3 Doc. 91-1 at 6-7.
Ideacom only directly billed Bright Future Electric for labor. See Doc. 91-1 at
8-9. Because § 8-24-1 applies only to the sale of tangible personal property,
and the tangible personal property at issue here was purchased by the end
user, i.e., Brookwood, there is no evidence to support Tangen’s claims under
Count One for this particular sale. See Johnson v. Mossy Oak Properties,
Inc., 2012 WL 5932437 at *5 (N.D. Ala., Nov. 27, 2012). The court also
observes that Tangen’s own deposition testimony undercuts his argument
because he admitted that he did not have any document or basis to support
his claim that Bright Future Electric resold the call system to the Brookwood.
Doc. 92-1 at 4.
With regard to the Mountain View sale, on the other hand, there is
Similarly, the invoices for the Village at Cook Springs and DCH Medical
Center (Doc. 91-1 at 13-16) show that the call system was billed to The
Special Care Facilities Financing Authority of Pell City, Alabama, and DCH
Medical Center, directly.
evidence to support Tangen’s assertion he sold a call system to Griffin
Electric, which in turn installed the system at Mountain View. The attached
invoice which Tangen cites is an Ideacom invoice for $123,685.48 and clearly
states that Griffin Electric is the party that was billed for $81,854.82 worth of
parts, plus labor. Doc. 91-1 at 12. This supporting evidence is undercut, as
Ideacom points out, by Tangen’s admission in his deposition testimony that
he had no reason to believe that the purchasing healthcare providers listed in
this case were not the providers that paid for the systems, which then
installed them and allowed their patients to use them. Doc. 93 at 6.
Nevertheless, “at the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not
[her]self to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).
Accordingly, the court finds that there is a genuine dispute of material
fact with regard to whether §8-24-1 applies to Tangen’s sale of the call system
that was installed at Mountain View.
Therefore, Ideacom’s motion for summary judgment on Count One is
GRANTED IN PART as to all sales other than the Mountain View call
system and DENIED IN PART as to that sale, only.
C. BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM (COUNT TWO)
Under Alabama law, the elements of a breach of contract claim are (1)
a valid contract binding the parties; (2) the plaintiff’s performance under the
contract; (3) the defendant's nonperformance; and (4) resulting damages.
Jones v. Alfa Mut. Ins. Co., 875 So.2d 1189, 1195 (Ala. 2003); see also
Reynolds Metals Co. v. Hill, 825 So.2d 100, 105 (Ala. 2002) (citing State Farm
Fire & Cas. Co. v. Slade, 747 So.2d 293, 303 (Ala. 1999)).
(1) EXISTENCE OF A VALID CONTRACT
(a) Inconsistent Pleadings By Ideacom
In its answer to Tangen’s amended complaint, Ideacom denied the
existence and validity of the 2002 Agreement. Doc. 28 at 1, ¶5. Despite this
denial, Ideacom argues alternatively that Tangen did not perform under the
same agreement. Doc. 87 at 18-19. Citing the principle of “quasi-estoppel by
election,” Tangen now seeks to foreclose Ideacom from arguing on the one
hand that the 2002 Agreement does not exist, while on the other hand seeking
to enforce its terms against him. Doc. 91 at 16. This argument is misplaced.
The Alabama Supreme Court defined the principle of quasi-estoppel by
election as “the principle which prevents a party from drawing a judgment
into question to the prejudice of his adversary after he has coerced its
execution or accepted its benefits.” Shannon v. Mower, 186 Ala. 472 (1914).
In case after case, the Alabama Supreme Court has discussed this principle in
the context of an appellant accepting the benefit of “[a] judgment, order, or
decree,” Todd v. Moore, 205 Ala. 451, 453, (1921), but not in the context of a
litigant taking inconsistent positions at the pleading stage or at summary
judgment. See also Estate of Henderson, 804 So.2d 191, 196 (Ala. 2001); Rice
v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 578 So.2d 1064-65 (Ala. 1991); Reeb v.
Murphy, 481 So.2d 372, 374 (Ala. 1985); Sledge v. Liberty Nat. Life Ins. Co.,
632 So.2d 1333-34 (Ala. 1994). Thus, the court finds that quasi-estoppel by
election does not preclude Ideacom from arguing these two inconsistent
positions. The court also notes that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(d)(3)
explicitly allows Ideacom to “state as many separate claims or defenses as it
has, regardless of consistency.”
Tangen also argues that “[i]t is impossible for this Court to construe or
enforce the parties’ intentions and meaning of the Employment Agreement …
if Ideacom denies it entered the Agreement.” Doc. 91 at 16. However, he
offers no legal support for this contention, and the court notes that it can
derive the parties’ intentions from the provisions of the contract. Smith v.
Citicorp Person-to-Person Financial Centers, Inc., 477 So.2d 308 (Ala. 1985).
(b) The 2009 Sales Compensation Program
Tangen argues that the 2009 Program (Doc. 14-2) constitutes either a
unilateral contract offered by Ideacom to its sales representatives (assuming
for the sake of argument that the 2002 Agreement does not exist) or a
modification by Ideacom of the 2002 Agreement (assuming that the 2002
Agreement does exist and is valid). Doc. 91 at 12-13.
A unilateral contract is created when one party makes an offer and the
other party accepts by performing an act. SouthTrust Bank v. Williams, 775
So.2d 184, 188 (Ala. 2000). In a unilateral contract, “[o]nly one party makes
an offer (or promise) which invites performance by another, and performance
constitutes both acceptance of that offer and consideration.” Id. at 188
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A signature is not required
because “[u]nder Alabama law there is no requirement that a contract
contain a signature to demonstrate assent; the existence of a contract may be
inferred from external and objective manifestations of assent.” Taylor v.
First N. Am. Nat'l Bank, 325 F.Supp.2d 1304, 1313 (M.D.Ala. 2004).
Tangen argues that Ideacom’s presentation of the 2009 Program
constituted an offer to modify the 2002 Agreement, and that Tangen’s
continued work throughout 2009, 2010, and 2011 constituted his acceptance
and consideration. Doc. 91 at 12-13; see also Doc. 91-1 at 3.
By contrast, Ideacom argues that the 2009 Program cannot constitute
a unilateral agreement or modification because there was no mutual assent.
Doc. 92 at 2. To prove the absence of assent, Ideacom points to Tangen’s
deposition testimony in which he stated that he “did not really agree to [the
2009 Program] in [his] mind.” Doc. 87-6 at 49. However, this interpretation
takes Tangen’s testimony out of context. Tangen actually suggested the
opposite of what Ideacom alleges here when he testified that he reluctantly
assented to the new method of calculating commissions despite the fact that
he disagreed with it. Tangen testified that “my impression of [the 2009
Program] was that I could either go along with it or leave,” and therefore, he
“went along with it.” Id. at 48, 50.
Even if Tangen’s deposition testimony was not evidence of his assent,
Ideacom does not address other evidence of mutual assent: namely, that
Tangen continued to procure purchase orders for Ideacom for two-and-a-half
years after the circulation of the 2009 Program, and Ideacom continued to
pay Tangen commissions using the formula set forth in the 2009 Program.
Doc. 91-1 at 3.
Ideacom also points to paragraph 8 of the amended complaint, which
states that “[t]he modification did not purport to abrogate or restate
paragraph 4 of the  Agreement.” Doc. 87 at 2, 20 (citing Doc. 14 at 2).
Ideacom holds this sentence up as proof that no modification took place,
claiming that Tangen has “flatly contradicted” himself by seeking to enforce
the 2009 Program as a modification of the 2002 Agreement. Doc. 92 at 2, 7,
10, 11. However, the court does not read this sentence to contradict anything
in Tangen’s argument. Rather, paragraph 8 of the amended complaint
simply observes that the 2009 Program is silent as to the 2002 Agreement,
with no language explicitly abrogating paragraph 4. See Doc. 14-2. Other
allegations contained in paragraph 8 of the amended complaint allege that a
“written (unilateral) modification” changed the formula by which
commissions were calculated, which is precisely the thrust of Tangen’s
summary judgment argument. Id. In short, the court sees no contradiction
between Paragraph 8 of the amended complaint and Tangen’s unilateral
contract/contract modification theory.
Ideacom’s remaining arguments on the question of modification are
similarly unconvincing. For example, Ideacom points to paragraph 11 of the
2002 Agreement, which requires any amendment to be made “in writing and
[be] signed by both parties.” Doc. 87 at 19; Doc. 92 at 10 (emphasis in
original) (citing Doc. 14-1 at 3). However, Alabama law provides that a
written agreement may be modified by a subsequent oral agreement of the
parties, “even where the contract contains a requirement that all
modifications be in writing.” Ex parte Coleman, 861 So.2d 1080, 1084 (Ala.
2003) (citing Duncan v. Rossuck, 621 So.2d 1313, 1315 (Ala. 1993)). Ideacom
also argues that the merger clause contained in paragraph 10 of the 2002
Agreement precludes any subsequent modification because “a merger clause
operates only to establish that a written agreement is a completely integrated
document, into which all prior and contemporaneous negotiations are
merged.” Doc. 87 at 19 (quoting Crimson Indus., Inc. v. Kirkland, 736 So.2d
597, 601 (Ala. 1999) (quotation marks omitted). But this argument fails on
its face because Ideacom issued the 2009 Program seven years after it signed
the 2002 Agreement, and therefore, it is not a prior or contemporaneous
Finally, Ideacom asserts that Tangen has failed to allege any
ambiguity in the 2002 Agreement. Doc. 92 at 11. Claiming that
“circumstances surrounding the contract are only considered where the terms
are ambiguous,” Ideacom argues that the court should not look beyond the
four corners of the 2002 Agreement, but rather enforce it as written and
grant summary judgment. Doc. 92 at 11-12 (quoting United States Fid. &
Guar. Corp. v. Elba Wood Prods., Inc., 337 So.2d 944, 949 (Ala. 1997)
(quotation marks omitted)). However, Tangen’s breach of contract claim does
not require the court to interpret what the parties meant in the 2002
Agreement. See United States Fid. & Guar. Corp at 1308. Rather, his
argument alleges that the 2002 Agreement itself was subsequently
superseded. Thus, no allegation of ambiguity is required.
Accordingly, the court finds that a genuine dispute of material fact
exists as to whether the 2009 Program was a binding contract between
Tangen and Ideacom, either as a modification of the 2002 Agreement or as a
unilateral contract in its own right.
(2) TANGEN’S PERFORMANCE
Ideacom next argues that Tangen did not perform under the 2002
Agreement because he was “unambiguously” required to sell call systems at a
“list price” in order to receive a commission. Doc. 87 at 18. According to
Ideacom, Tangen admits that the commissions at issue in this case do not
involve “list price” sales, and therefore summary judgment is due to be
granted in its favor. Id. However, Ideacom has offered no citation for
Tangen’s alleged admission. Secondly, all of the commissions claimed by
Tangen post-date the 2009 Program, which states that “total commission [is
to be] determined by final mark-up percent computed at end of [sic] job.”
Doc. 14-2; Doc. 91-1 at 3, ¶8 and 4, ¶11. In light of the court’s conclusion,
supra, that there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the 2009
Program either modified the 2002 Agreement or was a binding contract in its
own right, the court cannot say as a matter of law that the “list price”
requirement was still in place when Tangen obtained purchase orders for the
specific sales in dispute.4
Additionally, Ideacom claims that the 2002 Agreement
“unambiguously” required Tangen to perform installation and postinstallation job duties at the purchasing medical care facilities, but that he
resigned without completing these tasks for the sales at issue here. Doc. 87
at 19, 21. In response, Tangen argues that his job duties changed as Ideacom
began selling a newer, more advanced call system called the Responder V, for
which he had no technical certification. Doc. 91 at 5. He also claims that two
other Ideacom employees, Jon Childers and Ron Schrader, were trained and
The same rationale applies to Ideacom’s waiver provision argument.
Doc. 92 at 6. Ideacom also asserts that it has not waived the “list price”
requirement, and points to paragraph 13 of the 2002 Agreement, which states
that “[t]he failure of either party to enforce any provision of this agreement
shall not be construed as a waiver of limitation of that party’s right to
subsequently enforce and compel strict compliance with every provision of
[the 2002 Agreement].” See Doc. 92 at 6 (quoting Doc. 14-1 at 3). However,
because the court determined, supra, that a question of fact remains as to
whether or not the 2009 Program was a modification or unilateral contract,
then the pertinent question is not whether Ideacom failed to enforce the “list
price” requirement, but rather, whether the “list price” requirement was still
in place when Tangen obtained the purchase orders at issue in this case.
certified with the Responder V and assumed responsibility for supervising
installation and post-installation troubleshooting, and these ceased to be part
of Tangen’s duties for the sales on which he claims commissions. Id.; Doc. 911 at 2-3, ¶7. As evidence of this assertion, Tangen points to his own affidavit
testimony (id.) as well as a June 13, 2011, email addressed to Brookwood
Medical Center from John Robb, Ideacom’s president, in which Robb sought
to assuage a client’s concerns regarding Tangen’s departure from Ideacom.
Doc. 91-4. Robb stated that “[w]hile Alan has a lot of the history of the
presales discussions, the installation and implementation [of the Responder 5
system] would have always been up to the people we have working on the
project now … It will be Jeff and Ron who do have that knowledge.” Id.
Ideacom draws a different conclusion from the Robb email, claiming
that it actually constitutes evidence of Tangen’s breach because it shows that
“Tangen was in Seattle working full time for a new company and not
performing under the [2002 Agreement].” Doc. 92 at 6 (emphasis in original).
The court does not share Ideacom’s interpretation, and finds the Robb
email to be more than a “mere scintilla” of evidence supporting Tangen’s
position. See Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990)
(quotation marks omitted). Taken in concert with Tangen’s affidavit
testimony, Robb’s statement that people other than Tangen “would have
always” overseen the installation and troubleshooting of the Brookwood
system could lead a rational trier of fact to conclude that Tangen’s duties no
longer included these tasks.
Finally, Ideacom argues that Tangen’s H-1B visa required him to
perform his job “as detailed in the [visa] petition,” i.e., to supervise
installation and troubleshooting of call systems that he sold. Doc. 87 at 25.
However, all evidence in the record pertaining to Tangen’s H-1B visa dates to
2007 or earlier. See Doc. 87-2, 87-3, 87-4. Thus, these documents tell the
court nothing about Tangen’s job responsibilities in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Furthermore, no H-1B-related documents in the record refer to the
Responder V system, for which Tangen testified he was not trained or
certified to supervise installation or to assist in troubleshooting. Doc. 91-1 at
2-3, ¶7. Thus, Ideacom’s H-1B argument does not rebut Tangen’s affidavit
testimony or the Robb email concerning Tangen’s job duties.
Thus, the court finds that Ideacom has not met its summary judgment
burden regarding Tangen’s performance under the 2002 Agreement. Doc. 92
(3) IDEACOM’S BREACH
Ideacom’s arguments with regard to its alleged breach are the same as
its arguments with regard to Tangen’s disputed performance, supra. It
claims that it was not obligated to pay Tangen for anything other than a “list
price” sale. Doc. 87 at 18; Doc 92 at 5. It claims that Tangen did not
supervise the installation or troubleshooting of the call systems for which he
claims commissions. Id. at 19, 21. It claims that it did not waive provisions
of the 2002 Agreement. All of these arguments were addressed by the court,
Ideacom did not address the damages element of Tangen’s breach of
contract claim. See Docs. 87 and 92. Accordingly, this cannot be a basis for
granting summary judgment.
D. NEGLIGENCE CLAIM (COUNT THREE)
In the amended complaint, Tangen alleged that Ideacom negligently
failed “to ascertain, accurately compute and/or remit payment for earned
commission” upon the termination of his employment. Doc. 14. Ideacom
argued in its summary judgment brief that this claim was due to be
dismissed for “lack of substantial evidence of any public duty.” Doc. 87 at 28.
Whatever the merits of this line of argument, Tangen did not respond to the
argument or address it in any way in his opposition brief. See Doc. 91.
Therefore, Count Three is deemed abandoned, and summary judgment is due
to be granted in favor of Ideacom on Tangen’s negligence claim (Count
Three). See Wilkerson v. Grinnell Corp., 270 F.3d 1314, 1322 (11th Cir.
2001) (holding that a claim included in a complaint but not raised at
summary judgment is deemed abandoned). See also Shamburger v. City of
Mobile, 2008 WL 2874363 at *1 (S.D. Ala. 2008) (“grounds alleged in the
complaint but not relied upon in summary judgment are deemed
abandoned.”) (citing Resolution Trust Corp. v. Dunmar Corp., 43 F.3d 587,
592 (11th Cir. 1995)).
For the reasons discussed above, the court finds that Ideacom’s motion
for summary judgment is due to be GRANTED IN PART with regard to
Count One, DENIED as to Count Two, and GRANTED as to Count Three.
What remains for trial is the Count One allegation of a violation of the
Alabama Sales Commission Act solely with regard to sale of the Mountain
View call system, and the Count Two breach of contract claim.
DONE and ORDERED this 27th day of June 2013.
/s/ Callie V.S. Granade
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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