Hall v. Advance Stores Company, Inc
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION as set forth in following order.Signed by District Judge Thomas A Varlan on 4/29/11. (ABF)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
ADVANCE STORES COMPANY, INC.,
This civil action is before the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 4], filed by defendant Advance
Stores Company, Inc. In the motion, defendant asserts that plaintiff’s complaint does not
meet the pleading standard set forth in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955
(2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), and fails to state a claim for which
relief may be granted. Plaintiff Donna Hall has filed a response [Doc. 7], asserting that she
has submitted an amended complaint [Doc. 8] that contains sufficient factual allegations to
support her claims. Defendant has filed a reply [Doc. 9], asserting that the amended
complaint does nothing to cure the deficiencies underlying the original complaint. The
matter is ripe for determination.
The following factual allegations are taken from plaintiff’s amended complaint [Doc.
Plaintiff was employed by defendant in April of 2008. On or about April 28, 2008,
while working in the course and scope of her employment, plaintiff suffered an injury to her
foot for which she subsequently underwent treatment by Dr. Alan Whiton. Plaintiff also
sought benefits for her injury under the applicable workers compensation law. On or about
December 11, 2009, defendant terminated plaintiff’s employment for the stated reason of
“excessive absenteeism,” despite, plaintiff asserts, the fact that she was not absent from work
on an excessive basis. Prior to her termination, plaintiff also asserts that she was not
“provided the opportunity to participate in the progressive disciplinary policy for absenteeism
utilized” by defendant and was also advised by her supervisor that “she would lose a bonus”
due to her sustaining a work related injury. Plaintiff asserts further that her termination was
as part of a “general scheme” to discourage workers from seeking workers compensation
benefits and that her termination constitutes retaliatory discharge under Tennessee law. Last,
plaintiff asserts that defendant’s actions were “intentional, malicious, and done in willful
disregard” of Tennessee law and constitute an illegal device pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §
Defendant asserts that plaintiff has failed to plead factual content in either her
complaint or her amended complaint that allows the Court to draw a reasonable inference
that defendant is liable for retaliation. In her response to the motion to dismiss, plaintiff does
not offer any argument, stating only that the amended complaint “states sufficient factual
allegations to support” her claims.
A party may move to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must
contain allegations supporting all material elements of the claims. Bishop v. Lucent Techs.,
Inc., 520 F.3d 516, 519 (6th Cir. 2008). To satisfy this standard, a plaintiff need only offer
“‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,’ in
order to ‘give the [opposing party] fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests.’” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley
v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, all
well-pleaded allegations must be taken as true and must be construed most favorably toward
the non-movant. Trzebuckowski v. City of Cleveland, 319 F.3d 853, 855 (6th Cir. 2003).
Detailed factual allegations are not required, but a party’s “obligation to provide the
‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will
not do, neither will “‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement[,]’” nor an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully harmed-me accusation. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S.
___, ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).
Defendant argues that plaintiff has failed to allege any of the following in her
amended complaint: “who” engaged in the alleged retaliatory animus; any factual basis for
defendant’s alleged “general scheme” to discourage workers from filing workers
compensation suits; who told plaintiff she would not receive a “bonus” because of her work
related injury and when this comment occurred; whether other employees were treated
differently; whether the person with the alleged retaliatory animus had a decision-making
role in plaintiff’s termination; and the alleged causal connection between plaintiff’s
workplace injury on April 28, 2009 and her termination on December 11, 2009, seventeen
months later. Defendant also asserts that the three additional sentences added to plaintiff’s
amended complaint do not succeed in bringing her complaint within the standard required
by Twombly and Iqbal.
In Tennessee, an employee who asserts a claim for retaliatory discharge for filing a
workers’ compensation claim has the burden of establishing four prima facie elements: (1)
that he or she was an employee at the time of the injury; (2) that he or she made a claim
against the employer for workers’ compensation benefits; (3) that the employee’s
employment was terminated; and (4) that the claim for workers’ compensation was a
substantial factor in the employer’s decision to discharge the employee from his employment.
See Anderson v. Standard Register Co., 857 S.W.2d 555, 558-59 (Tenn. 1993). As
recognized in Iqbal, a formulaic recitation of these elements will not do, nor will naked
assertions devoid of further factual enhancement. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).
The Court agrees with defendant that plaintiff has not alleged sufficient factual matter
in her amended complaint to state a prima facie case for retaliatory discharge for claiming
workers’ compensation benefits. Rather, plaintiff’s amended complaint contains only an
unadorned recitation of the elements for such a claim. As defendant points out, when there
is a significant amount of time between a claimant’s protected activity and the adverse
employment action, sufficient facts are required to support an inference of retaliation. See,
e.g., Fizzell v. Mohawk Indus., No. M2004-01598-COA-R3-CV, 2006 WL 1328773 (Tenn.
Ct. App. May 15, 2006) (citing Thomason v. Better-Bilt Prods., Inc., 831 S.W.2d 291, 293
(Tenn. Ct. App. 1992)) (noting that, in order to meet the substantial factor requirement, a
plaintiff must show either direct or “compelling circumstantial” evidence of a causal
connection between the workers’ compensation claim and the termination, not just the fact
that the latter followed the former). In this case, in which the allegedly protected activity
occurred seventeen months before plaintiff’s termination, the Court cannot infer, without
more, that plaintiff’s claim for workers compensation benefits was a substantial factor in her
termination. This is particularly so here because plaintiff’s amended complaint is devoid of
factual allegations describing defendant’s alleged “general scheme” to discourage employees
from claiming workers’ compensation, devoid of factual allegations regarding who engaged
in this “general scheme,” devoid of factual allegations describing the denied “bonus” and the
identify of the individual who told her she would not receive this bonus, and devoid of any
factual allegations describing this bonus, who normally was entitled to it, and temporally
connecting this comment or the “general scheme” to her termination.
In sum, plaintiff has not stated sufficient factual allegations to articulate a claim that
is plausible on its face and raises plaintiff’s right to relief beyond the speculative level. The
amendments plaintiff added in her amended complaint do little to raise her right to relief
beyond the speculative level and are not more than labels and conclusions and a formal
recitation of the elements of a retaliation claim. More specifically, plaintiff has failed to
articulate a causal connection between her injury and her termination and has failed to
sufficiently allege facts regarding the alleged “general scheme” to discourage employees
from claiming workers’ compensation. As such, the Court finds plaintiff’s amended
complaint fails to state a claim for relief under Rule 12(b)(6) and the standards set forth in
Twombly and Iqbal.
For the reasons given above, defendant’s motion to dismiss [Doc. 4] will be
GRANTED and plaintiff’s claims will be DISMISSED. The Clerk of Court will be
DIRECTED to close this case. An appropriate order will be entered.
s/ Thomas A. Varlan
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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