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Koontz v. Jording

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

March 25, 2019

SUSAN JORDING, et al., Defendants.


          M. Hannah Lauck, United State District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on two motions: Defendants Susan Jording, Brian Shaunfield, and the Home Depot, Inc.'s ("Home Depot," and, collectively with Jording and Shaunfield, "Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint (the "Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 12); and Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiffs Second Reply in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (the "Motion to Strike"), (ECF No. 17). Plaintiff Tammy Sue Koontz ("Koontz") responded in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 14), and Defendants replied, (ECF No. 15). Koontz then filed a "Second Reply" to the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 16). Koontz did not respond to the Motion to Strike, and the time to do so has expired.

         This matter is ripe for disposition. The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[1] For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny in part and grant in part the Motion to Dismiss and grant the Motion to Strike.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         A. Procedural Background

         On May 11, 2018, Koontz filed a complaint against Defendants in the Circuit Court for Mecklenburg County, Virginia. On June 4, 2018, Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441.[2] On June 11, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss in this Court (the "June 11, 2018 Motion to Dismiss"). (ECF No. 2.) On June 25, 2018, Koontz moved to amend her complaint, (ECF No. 4), which the Court allowed on June 27, 2018. (ECF No. 6.) The Court then denied as moot the June 11, 2018 Motion to Dismiss. (June 27, 2018 Order, ECF No. 5.)

         In her Amended Complaint, Koontz brings three counts against each Defendant: Count 1, common law defamation; Count 2, common law tortious interference with employment; and, Count 3, common law conspiracy to interfere with employment. On July 9, 2018, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [3] asking the Court to dismiss all the counts in the Amended Complaint. Koontz filed a response in opposition to the Motion to Dismiss and Defendants filed a reply.

         Without seeking leave of Court, Counsel for Koontz then filed a response to Defendants' reply.[4] (ECF No. 16.) On August 10, 2018, one day after Koontz filed her response to Defendants' reply, Defendants filed the Motion to Strike, which the Court will grant.[5] (ECF No. 17.)

         B. Factual Background[6]

         Koontz, a former Home Depot employee, brings claims against two of her former Home Depot supervisors, Jording and Shaunfield, and Home Depot, on a theory of respondeat superior. The claims arise from interactions with Koontz's former supervisors which eventually led to her termination. Koontz alleges in the three-count Amended Complaint that Defendants defamed her, tortiously interfered with her employment, and conspired to interfere with her employment. Koontz contends that Jording and Shaunfield defamed Koontz by making, several times, the false statement that Koontz "was arrested for a felony." (Am. Compl. ¶ 18, ECF No. 5.) Koontz further asserts that Defendants conspired to, and did, tortiously interfere with her employment at Home Depot through the use of "improper means and methods, including defamation." (Id. ¶¶ 39, 45.) The Court summarizes Koontz's allegations below.

         1. Summer of 2017 Interactions Between Koontz and Jording

         Home Depot employed Koontz for over ten years at its South Hill store. In the summer of 2017, Home Depot transferred Jording and Shaunfield to Home Depot, South Hill, [7] allegedly to control labor costs. Jording and Shaunfield purportedly sought to do so by firing "older seasoned employees," who earned more per hour and whose benefits cost more, and then "replac[ing] them with younger, less experienced and less expensive employees."[8] (Id. ¶ 4.)

         Although Koontz does not specify the precise dates, Koontz alleges that she and Jording engaged in numerous verbal confrontations during the summer of 2017. The first episode occurred when Jording reprimanded Koontz in a "bizarre, Tourette's Syndrome like profanity laden [sic] dressing down" in front of employees Koontz supervised and vendors with whom Koontz "had worked with for years." (Id. ¶ 6.) The interaction, according to Koontz, violated Home Depot's policies. Koontz left the store after this incident.

         When Koontz returned to work the next day, "she told the new store manager... Shaunfield what had happened, and apologized to ... Jording for her behavior." (Id. ¶ 8.) Koontz alleges that Jording never apologized and "nothing was ever done about this, nor was it ever reported up the chain." (Id. ¶ 8.) Shaunfield's failure to report Jording's conduct amounts to a "violation of [Home Depot's] Standard Operating Procedure and violations of company policy." (Id. ¶ 8.) This violative conduct, according to Koontz, places Jording and Shaunfield outside the scope of their authority as employees of Home Depot.

         Koontz next contends she "was written up for two occurrences simply because she misread the schedule and showed up" just before 10:30 a.m. when she was supposed to have arrived by 10:00 a.m. (Id. ¶ 10.) Koontz did not report to work on time "because she misread the schedule." (Id.) She "apologized to management and agreed as a compromise to stay an extra half hour at the end of her shift." (Id.) Koontz avers that Jording unfairly singled out Koontz for this violation because "[o]ther employees with much more egregious attendance violations were never written up." (Id.)

         As with the earlier "dressing down," Koontz reported this unfair treatment to Shaunfield. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 6.) Koontz also conveyed her "concerns that... Jording was using an organized and deceitful plan to interfere with [Koontz's] relationship with Home Depot and terminate her." (Id.) Koontz later found out that "Shaunfield was in on the plan and [was] reporting [Koontz's] personal and private revelations, conversations and concerns back to ... Jording ... [in] violation of Home Depot policy." (Id.)

         2. December Events Leading to Koontz's Lav Off From Home Depot

         Although Koontz "walked the line and things quieted down for a month or two," on December 9, 2017, Koontz's daughter called her at work asking for help with a "domestic incident." (Id. ¶ 12.) Assistant Store Manager Mike Lemmons[9] permitted Koontz to leave work to see her daughter. Koontz did not return to work that day, but when she realized that she could not return, "she called the store within an hour and spoke with ... Jording ... [who] told [Koontz that] 'she understood and it was OK."' (Id. (quoting Jording).)

         When Koontz returned to work the next day, Jording asked Koontz if she had been charged with a crime and asked her for the police paperwork.[10] Koontz replied that she may have been charged in the domestic incident. Koontz later learned that no one had been charged, and she "immediately reported this [information] to the Defendants." (Id. ¶ 13.) Defendants insisted that Koontz "produce the associated paperwork which did not exist."

         According to Koontz, "Defendants hatched a plan to use this incident to accomplish their goal, which was to interfere with [Koontz's] relationship with Home Depot and terminate [Koontz's] long-standing employment." (Id. ¶ 14.) Jording contacted the corporate Home Depot Human Resources Department to inform them that Koontz had been arrested. The corporate Home Depot Human Resources Department "demanded the associated police paperwork." (Id.) Koontz "again told them that there was none, and no paperwork existed as she had not been charged with anything," (Id.), but did so to no avail:

Defendants were made immediately aware that [Koontz] had not been charged by the police and had no reason to question the veracity and truth of her statements, yet... Jording and ... Shaunfield apparently continued to intentionally mislead Home Depot's Human Resources Department about the facts, and demand paperwork that did not exist for charges that they knew did not exist.

(Id. ¶ 15.) Koontz avers that "[b]ecause of Defendants['] organized and concerted effort to mislead Home Depot, [Koontz] was laid off on December 23, 2017, "without notice."[11] (Id. ¶ 16.)

         Over the Christmas season, Defendants "maliciously and falsely [spoke] about" Koontz to her "colleagues, vendors, friends and customers" by saying that Home Depot terminated Koontz "because she was arrested for a felony crime." (Id. ¶ 17.) During this time, an unnamed fellow Home Depot employee overheard Jording state that '"[Koontz] was arrested for a felony' and that she 'was not compliant with the SOP' (Standard Operating Procedures) and 'when you don't comply with SOP and show us what we need to see then we need to terminate.'" (Id. ¶ 18 (quoting Jording).) The employee also stated that "it had 'spread like wildfire through the store that [Koontz] had been terminated for a felony arrest, and that the info came from management.'" (Id. ¶ 18 (quoting an unnamed Home Depot employee).)

         Koontz further alleges that Defendants sent Koontz on a "wild goose chase" to get a copy of her criminal record despite Koontz having told them that no charges were outstanding. (Id. ¶ 20.) Defendants took no steps to obtain the records themselves. Although Koontz tried to obtain the police records Defendants requested, she was told "it would take two weeks to get the documents Defendants were requesting." (Id. ¶ 20.) As a result, Koontz "spent the holidays languishing at home and wondering about whether or not she still had the job she loyally performed for over ten years and the retirement, health care and benefits she had worked so hard for." (Id.)

         3. Koontz's Brief Return to Work and Termination of Employment Shortly Thereafter

         On January 22, 2018, Koontz "was called to go back in to work, and ... immediately did so." (Id. ¶ 21.) She "worked for six hours and forty-five minutes" before Defendants sent her home. (Id.) Defendants informed Koontz that "they needed and were now waiting on a criminal background check, even though they had six weeks to obtain one." (Id. ¶ 21.)

         On January 26, 2018, Home Depot summoned Koontz back to work after her criminal background check came back "OK."[12] (Id. ¶ 22.) Soon after Home Depot allowed Koontz to return, Jording reprimanded Koontz in front of all department heads over "misplaced John Deere Tractor keys," using the same type of profane language that Jording had voiced in the summer of 2017. (Id. ¶22.) This admonishment took place in front of all the department heads. (Id.) Following this confrontation, Koontz "was written up by the Defendants ... she was told she was being written up for 'lack of integrity.'" (Id. ¶ 22.)

         Sometime later, Koontz served as a spotter for Paul Furr, [13] a fellow Home Depot employee, who was operating a forklift. While Koontz served as a spotter for Furr, he damaged a printer by backing the forklift into it. Furr told Koontz that he would report the accident, but, unbeknownst to Koontz, he never did. When Jording later asked if anyone knew anything about the damaged printer, Koontz explained what had happened. Koontz states that "[w]hen [she] told the truth ... Jording pulled her forklift license," but did not ever reprimand or speak to Furr. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         On February 12, 2018, Jording and Shaunfield "with reported looks of glee," fired Koontz. (Id.) Koontz avers that the damaged printer incident "was just used as a convenient ruse to terminate [Koontz], accomplishing their goal of causing the termination of [Koontz] by the intentional use of slander, fraud and deceit." (Id.)

         According to Koontz, Defendants' actions caused her to lose "not only her job, but her house, her automobile, her savings, her life insurance and the reasonable expectancy of a retirement plan, profit sharing and the other benefits that flow from her being a longstanding and loyal employee of the Home Depot Corporation." (Id. ¶ 24.) Koontz asserts that Defendants "used improper means and methods, including defamation, the misuse of confidential information, and the violation of legal, company and professional standards, to interfere with [her] Home Depot Employment and related legitimate economic expectancies." (Id. ¶ 45.) Jording and Shaunfield's attempt to "[c]lean [h]ouse" by "pick[ing]" at employees until they could "get rid of them clearly violated Home Depot's corporate policies. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 24.)

         II. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) Standard

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin,980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5 A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., 7 F.3d at 1134; see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and "a court considering a motion to dismiss can ...

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