United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
JOHN W. REBER, Plaintiff,
TRIDENT SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.
LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on several motions: Defendant Trident Systems Inc.'s Motion to Lift Stay (Dkt. No. 36) and Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 38) as well as pro se Plaintiff John Reber's Motion to Remand to State Court (Dkt. No. 43) and Motion to Amend the Complaint (Dkt. No. 47). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the summary judgment motion, to which Defendant replied. Dkt. Nos. 42, 46. Defendant also filed an opposition to the motion to remand. Dkt. No. 45. The Court heard oral argument on February 27, 2015. For the reasons stated in open court as well as those set forth below, Defendant's motions to lift the stay and for summary judgment will be granted and Plaintiff's motions to remand and to amend the complaint will be denied.
This controversy arises out of a dispute between Plaintiff John Reber and his former employer, Defendant Trident Systems, Inc. ("Trident"). In 2000, Reber began working for Trident, a Virginia corporation that specializes in the development of IT systems and software engineering services for the government as well as private customers. Reber oversaw Trident's United States Army Logistics Support Activity ("LOGSA") work under a major subcontract with Jacobs Technology, Inc. ("Jacobs"). On or about February 26, 2012, Reber's supervisor David Britton reduced Reber's hours to part-time status "[d]ue to delays in LOGSA MultiView funding." Briton Aff. ¶ 12 & Ex. A. Due to Trident's continued lack of work until the LOGSA project renewed its funding, Britton subsequently changed Reber's employment status to When Actually Employed ("WAE"), effective April 2, 2012.
In early June 2012, Jacobs announced that it would again be taking bids for the LOGSA subcontract. Trident began preparing its proposal, which was to list Reber as the project manager. Unbeknownst to Trident, however, Reber had begun to work for a competitor, MTTB LLC, sometime in April 2012. On June 5, 2012, Reber informed Britton that he was "terminating all association with Trident." Reber Compl. ¶ 32; accord Britton Aff. ¶ 18. Trident later received a letter from Reber stating that he was resigning effective June 8, 2012 - the last day to submit proposals for the Jacobs LOGSA contract. On June 14, 2014, Jacobs awarded MTTB the LOGSA contract. On June 19, 2012, for reasons disputed by the parties, Jacobs rescinded the contract with MTTB and awarded it to the next lowest bidder.
In July 2012, MTTB, Reber's new employer, filed suit against Trident and its employees in the Fairfax County Circuit Court alleging defamation and tortious interference, among other claims. These claims all revolved around the allegedly defamatory statement made by Trident to Jacobs that Reber was "NOT an employee of MTTB, LLC, " but rather was an employee of Trident. MTTB Compl. ¶ 26. According to MTTB, as a result of this false statement, Jacobs rescinded the LOGSA contract that had been awarded to MTTB. Id. ¶ 33. Nearly identical allegations underlie all of Reber's claims currently before the Court in this action. Compare id. ¶¶ 26-28, 33, with Reber Compl. ¶ 36, 38, 40.
On March 1, 2013, during the pendency of the Fairfax action brought by MTTB, Reber also filed suit in the Fairfax County Circuit Court against Trident, alleging claims of age discrimination, defamation, tortious interference, and unlawful termination. Two weeks later, Trident removed the action to this Court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. On April 1, 2013, Trident moved to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety. The Court granted the motion with respect to the unlawful termination claim, but allowed all other claims to proceed to discovery.
On July 24, 2013, following an eight day trial in which both Reber and the Jacobs employee to whom Trident allegedly communicated the defamatory statement testified, the jury returned a defense verdict for Trident on all of MTTB's claims against it. Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Def.'s SJ Mot."), Ex. A. With regards to the defamation claim, the jury specifically found that neither Trident nor its employees had made the statement that Reber was "NOT an employee of MTTB, " and that the statement, had it in fact been made, did not constitute defamation. Id.
On November 13, 2013, Trident moved for a temporary stay of the action in this Court while it awaited the final judgment in the related Fairfax action following post-trial briefing. On November 22, 2013, this Court granted the stay as to Reber's state law claims pending the final judgment and expiration of the appeal in the Fairfax case. Trident subsequently moved for summary judgment on Reber's federal age discrimination claim. Prior to the hearing on the motion, the parties entered a Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice on that claim.
On January 29, 2014, the Fairfax County Circuit Court entered an Opinion and Order sanctioning MTTB and its counsel for pursuing baseless claims. Def.'s SJ Mot., Ex. C. On September 30, 2014, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied MTTB and Reber's petition for an appeal, and on January 15, 2014, it denied their petition for a re-hearing as well. Def.'s SJ Mot., Ex. D. With the judgment in the Fairfax action now final, Trident has filed the Motions to Lift the Stay and for Summary Judgment currently before the Court. Dkt. Nos. 36, 38.
II. Legal Standard
Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). As the Supreme Court has explained, "this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original). A dispute over an issue of material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. Finally, in making a summary judgment determination, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986).
Trident has moved for summary judgment pursuant to the doctrine of collateral estoppel, asserting that the judgment rendered in its favor in the Fairfax action precludes Reber from litigating his claims here. "The doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes parties to a prior action and their privies from litigating in a subsequent action any factual issue that actually was litigated and was essential to a valid, final judgment in the prior action." Angstadt v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 249 Va. 444, 446 (1995). Under both Virginia and Fourth Circuit law, for collateral estoppel to bar a subsequent action, the following conditions must be satisfied: "(1) the issue to be precluded is identical to the issue already litigated; (2) the issue was actually determined in the prior proceeding; (3) the determination of the issue was essential to the decision in the prior proceeding; (4) the prior judgment was final and valid; and (5) the party against whom estoppel is asserted was a party to or in privity with a party in the prior action and had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue." Londono-Rivera v. Virginia, 155 F.Supp.2d 551, 564-65 (E.D. Va. 2001) (citing ...