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Liverett v. Dyncorp International LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

March 28, 2018

GRANT A. LIVERETT, Plaintiff,
v.
DYNCORP INTERNATIONAL LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. S. Ellis, III Judge.

         At issue in this defamation and tortious interference with business expectancy case is whether the undisputed factual record warrants the entry of summary judgment on both claims. Specifically, defendant argues that plaintiff has failed to establish a valid claim for defamation:

(i) because defendant is entitled to absolute immunity for defendant's allegedly defamatory statements;
(ii) because those statements were true; and
(iii) because defendant, in making those statements, did not know the statements were false or negligently fail to discover their falsity.

         Defendant also contends that summary judgment is appropriate on plaintiff's tortious interference claim because defendant did not use improper means or methods in any alleged interference with plaintiff's business expectancy.

         Plaintiff opposes defendant's motion, arguing (i) that defendant is not entitled to immunity, and (ii) that there are disputes of material fact regarding whether defendant's statements were false and whether defendant acted with the requisite intent. Plaintiff also contends that defendant used improper means in interfering with plaintiff's contract.

         These matters have been fully briefed and argued and are now ripe for decision. For the reasons that follow, defendant's motion for summary judgment on both claims must be granted, albeit not on all of the grounds defendant advances.

         I.[1]

         Plaintiff, Grant Liverett, is a resident of Charleston, South Carolina and a former employee of defendant. Defendant, DynCorp International LLC, is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Mclean, Virginia.

         On December 4, 2012, plaintiff signed a Foreign Service Employment Agreement (“FSEA”) with defendant to serve as an Armed Guard at Camp Bondsteel, a U.S. Army base in Kosovo, for a one year period from November 30, 2012 until November 29, 2012. On November 26, 2013, plaintiff signed a second FSEA to serve as Armed Guard Post Supervisor at Camp Bondsteel from November 30, 2013 until November 29, 2014. In his role as Armed Guard Post Supervisor, plaintiff was responsible for searching vehicles and visitors entering the base for alcohol, explosives, weapons and other contraband. In the event that plaintiff encountered contraband in his searches, he was responsible for notifying his Force Protection Office Center (“FPOC”) supervisor on the base.

         As a part of his role as Armed Guard Post Supervisor, plaintiff was also trained on U.S. Army general orders and Camp Bondsteel battle drills, including General Order #1 and Battle Drill #17. General Order #1 is a U.S. Army policy that prohibits the “introduction, possession, use, sale, transfer, manufacture, or consumption of any alcoholic beverage or controlled substance.” The Task Force Policy related to General Order #1 specifies that “[a]lclohol will not be provided to any military person or DoD civilian.” Battle Drill #17 is a related U.S. Army policy, specific to Camp Bondsteel. Battle Drill #17 establishes procedures for when persons attempt to enter Camp Bondsteel with unauthorized items, including alcohol. Specifically, Battle Drill #17 provides that the contract guard force personnel must immediately notify the FPOC supervisor “of all prohibited items found at the gate” and specifies that “[n]o items will be held for safekeeping by any contract guard personnel.”[2] The record makes clear that plaintiff was well aware of and trained in General Order #1 and Battle Drill #17.

         The events at issue here occurred on September 23, 2014, and the material facts of that event are not disputed:

• Lieutenant Colonel Pelham and a group of Serbian Army personnel arrived at Gate 1 where plaintiff was serving as Armed Guard Post Supervisor and attempted to bring a bottle of Raki, an alcoholic drink, onto the base as a gift for the base commander. See Pl. Dep. 100:16-104:11.
• On learning about the existence of the bottle of Raki, plaintiff did not immediately report the attempt to bring the bottle of Raki to his FPOC supervisor as required by Battle Drill #17. See Pl Dep. 67:2-19, 149:4-16.
• Instead, plaintiff stored the bottle of Raki in the Gate 1 supervisor shack. See Pl. Dep. 105:1-9, 106:2-21. If Lieutenant Colonel Pelham returned to the guard shack before the end of plaintiff s shift, plaintiff would have allowed him to retrieve the bottle of Raki. See Pl. Dep. 145:2-146:14.
• At the end of plaintiff s shift, when no one returned to retrieve the bottle of Raki, plaintiff poured out the contents of the bottle of Raki and discarded the bottle. See Pl. Dep. 149:17-22.[3]
• Later that day, FPOC Supervisor Johnathan Stanley (“Stanley”), another employee of defendant, contacted plaintiff about the incident and advised plaintiff to fill out an incident report about the incident.
• Plaintiff, FPOC Supervisor Stanley, and an additional post supervisor subsequently completed incident reports describing the incident.
• After reviewing the incident reports, Wade Childs (“Childs”), plaintiffs supervisor and an employee of defendant, reported the incident to the U.S. Army.[4]
• Specifically, Childs told the U.S. Army that (i) plaintiff confiscated the bottle of alcohol from visitors to the base and “continued to hold it”; (ii) plaintiff planned to return the bottle of alcohol to military personnel if they came back to retrieve it; (iii) plaintiff held the bottle of alcohol at the supervisor shack for safekeeping; and (iv) plaintiff failed to notify the FPOC ...

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