Warren v. The Smithfield Packing Company, Inc.
ORDER granting 5 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by Chief Judge James C. Dever III on 4/29/2014. (Sawyer, D.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
SHELIA F. WARREN,
THE SMITHFIELD PACKING
On January 6, 2014, Sheila F. Warren ("Warren" or "plaintiff') sued her former employer
The Smithfield Packing Company, Inc. ("Smithfield Packing" or "defendant"). Warren claims that
she was wrongfully discharged in violation ofNorth Carolina public policy. On February 14, 2014,
Smithfield Packing moved to dismiss Warren's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted [D.E. 5]. Thereafter, Warrenrespondedinopposition [D.E. 12], and Smithfield
Packing replied [D.E. 13]. As explained below, the court grants Smithfield Packing's motion to
dismiss and dismisses the complaint.
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) ofthe Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for "failure
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" tests whether the complaint is legally and factually
sufficient. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009); Bell Atl. Com. v. Twombly. 550
U.S. 544,562--63,570 (2007); Coleman v. Md. Court ofAppeals, 626F.3d 187, 190 (4thCir. 2010),
aff'Q, 132 S. Ct. 1327 (2012); Giarratano v. Johnso!l, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008); accord
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007) (per curiam). In considering a motion to dismiss, a
court need not accept a complaint's legal conclusions drawn from the facts.
U.S. at 678. Similarly, a court "need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable
conclusions, or arguments." Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted); see Iqbal, 556 U.S.
Smithfield Packing employed Warren as a packer from April12, 2012, until terminating her
at-will employment in October 2013. See Compl. [D.E. 1-1] ,, 6, 69. Jurisdiction is based on
diversity. See28U.S.C. § 1332(a);NoticeofRemoval[D.E.1],,3-13. Inhercomplaint, Warren
asserts that Smithfield Packing wrongfully discharged her in violation of North Carolina public
policy. See Compl. ,, 68-94. Specifically, Warren claims that Smithfield Packing wrongfully
terminated her employment after she "complained to management about the packaging and shipping
of contaminated meat, which is in violation of food and safety regulations." ld., 8; see id. ,, 68-94.
Essentially, Warren contends that Smithfield Packing "complies with all food and safety regulations
when the [United States Department of Agriculture] is on the premises to conduct inspections or
otherwise," but not otherwise. See id. ,, 20-22. Warren also asserts that she notified her
supervisors about shipping contaminated meat, but that Smithfield Packing ignored her concerns and
ultimately terminated her employment. See id. ,, 69-94. In her complaint, Warren does not identify
a specific North Carolina law as the source of the alleged North Carolina public policy. See id.
Smithfield Packing moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. A wrongful discharge claim in violation ofNorth Carolina public policy is a
narrow exception to North Carolina's general rule of employment at will. See,~. Whitt v. Harris
Teeter. Inc., 359 N.C. 625, 625, 614 S.E.2d 531, 532 (2005) (per curiam) (adopting dissenting
opinion at 165N.C. App. 32,43-50,598 S.E.2d 151,
(2004) (McCullough, J., dissenting));
Garner v. Rentenbach Constructors Inc., 350 N.C. 567, 568-72, 515 S.E.2d 438, 439-41 (1999);
Amos v. Oakdale Knitting Co., 331 N.C. 348,350-54,416 S.E.2d 166, 167-70 (1992); Coman v.
Thomas Mfg. Co., 325 N.C. 172, 176-78,381 S.E.2d 445,447-49 (1989). To state a claim of
wrongful discharge in violation of North Carolina public policy, a plaintiff must plausibly identify
and rely on a specific North Carolina statute or North Carolina constitutional provision as stating
NorthCarolinapublicpolicy. See,~' Garner, 350N.C. at 568-72,515 S.E.2d at439-41; Amos,
331 N.C. at 350-54, 416 S.E.2d at 167-170; Commt, 325 N.C. at 176, 381 S.E.2d at 447; Home v.
Cumberland Cnty. Hosp. Sys.. Inc., 746 S.E.2d 13, 17-19 (N.C. Ct. App. 2013); Gillis v.
Montgomery Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 191 N.C. App. 377, 379-80, 663 S.E.2d 447, 449-50 (2008);
Whitings v. Wolfson Casing Com., 173 N.C. App. 218,222,618 S.E.2d 750,753 (2005); Considine
v. Compass Grp. USA. Inc., 145 N.C. App. 314, 321, 551 S.E.2d 179, 184 (2001), aff'd, 354 N.C.
568, 557 S.E.2d 528 (2001) (per curiam). A plaintiff claiming wrongful discharge in violation of
North Carolina public policy may not rely on federal law as stating North Carolina public policy.
Coman, 325 N.C. at 176-78, 381 S.E.2d at 447-49; McDonnell v. Guilford Cnty.
Tradewind Airlines. Inc., 194 N.C. App. 674, 680,670 S.E.2d 302, 306-07 (2009); Whitings, 173
N.C. App. at 222, 618 S.E.2d at 753; accord Feldman v. Law Enf. Assocs. Com., 779 F. Supp. 2d
472, 495-97 (E.D.N.C. 2011); Leach v. N. Telecom. Inc., 141 F.R.D. 420, 426 (E.D.N.C. 1991).
Because Warren's complaint fails to cite a specific North Carolina statute or a specific provision in
the North Carolina Constitution as the source ofNorth Carolina's public policy, Warren fails to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted. See,~' Home, 746 S.E.2d at 17-19; Gillis, 191 N.C.
App. at 379-80, 663 S.E.2d at 449-50; Whitings, 173 N.C. App. at 222, 618 S.E.2d at 753;
Considine, 145 N.C. App. at 321, 551 S.E.2d at 184.
In opposition to this conclusion, Warren concedes that she has failed to allege conduct by
Smithfield Packing that violates a specific expression of North Carolina public policy in a North
Carolina statute or the North Carolina Constitution. See [D.E. 12] 17. Nonetheless, she asserts:
[A]lthough somewhat a case of first impression, there is no logical explanation that
can be proposed to establish that our society tolerates the termination of individuals
opposing unlawful activities in the workplace, and individuals attempting to prevent
harm to consumers, when the termination is based on those activities.
ld. Warren then argues that the court must deny the motion to dismiss unless Smithfield Packing
can demonstrate to a "legal certainty" that she is not entitled to relief. Id.
Warren's arguments fail. First, sitting in diversity, this court must predict how the Supreme
Court of North Carolina would rule on the legal viability of Warren's wrongful discharge claim.
Ellis v. La.-Pac. Corp., 699 F.3d 778, 782-83 (4th Cir. 2012); Twin City Fire Ins. Co. v.
Ben Amold-Sunbelt Beverage Co. of S.C., 433 F .3d 365, 369 (4th Cir. 2005). In doing so, the court
looks first to decisions of the Supreme Court ofNorth Carolina and then to decisions of the North
Carolina Court of Appeals.
Ellis, 699 F.3d at 782-83. Moreover, in predicting how the
Supreme Court of North Carolina would rule, the court may not create or expand North Carolina
public policy. See,~' Time-Warner Entm't -Advance/Newhouse P' ship v. Carteret-Craven Elec.
Membership Corp., 506 F.3d 304,314-15 (4th Cir. 2007).
This court predicts that the Supreme Court of North Carolina would require a plaintiff
claiming wrongful discharge in violation ofNorth Carolina public policy to allege "specific conduct
by a defendant that violated a specific expression of North Carolina public policy" in a specific
North Carolina statute or a specific provision in the North Carolina Constitution in order to state a
claim. Considine, 145N.C.App. at321-22, 551 S.E.2dat 184; see Gamer, 350N.C. at568-72, 515
S.E.2dat439-41; Amos, 331 N.C. at 350-54,416 S.E.2dat 167-170; Coman, 325 N.C. at 176-78,
381 S.E.2d at 447-49; Home, 746 S.E.2d at 17-19; Gillis, 191 N.C. App. at 379-80, 663 S.E.2d at
449-50; Whitings, 173 N.C.App. at222, 618 S.E.2dat753. Because Warren'scomp1aintdoesnot
do so, her claim fails.
Furthermore, Warren's argument that Smithfield Packing must demonstrate to a "legal
certainty" that Warren is not entitled to relief conflicts with Iqbal, Twombly, and their Fourth Circuit
550 U.S. at 562-63, 570; Colemm1, 626 F.3d at 190; Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302. Because she has
failed to do so, the court grants Smithfield Packing's motion to dismiss. In light of this conclusion,
the court need not address Smithfield Packing's alternative arguments in support of its motion to
dismiss the complaint.
In sum, Warren has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Thus, the court
GRANTS Smithfield Packing's motion to dismiss [D.E. 5] and DISMISSES Warren's complaint.
SO ORDERED. This
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