United States District Court, Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division
May 8, 1987
RICHARD NEWBY, PLAINTIFF,
WAL-MART STORES, INC., C.T. CORPORATION SYSTEM, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:
Plaintiff's complaint is totally without merit.
Summary judgment for Defendant is allowed.
Richard Newby, a disgruntled employee, brings this diversity
action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 against his former employer,
Wal-Mart Stores, alleging the company violated Illinois public
policy when it discharged him after several garnishments were
entered against his wages.
Wal-Mart does not deny the complaint's factual basis; rather,
Defendant supplements it with affidavits and moves for summary
judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.
Although Plaintiff notably fails to submit counter-affidavits
or cite any applicable authority, he nevertheless insists that
a jury must declare the State's public policy.
Newby's argument is frivolous.
The Court decides this cause in favor of his employer as a
matter of law.
In October 1980, Wal-Mart employed Plaintiff at will in its
Carlinville, Illinois, store. During his service, Defendant
counseled Newby on various dates regarding its receipt of his
creditors' wage deduction summonses. Yet, over a three-year
period immediately prior to Plaintiff's termination, multiple
garnishments from eight different creditors of Newby were
served upon and processed by his employer. See Ill.Rev. Stat.
ch. 110, ¶¶ 12-801 to 819 (1985).
Finally, on February 1, 1985, Wal-Mart instructed Newby that if
it received any further wage deduction orders, he would be
discharged. At that time, the store was processing garnishments
from the Bank of Commerce, Dr. Sally DeGrano, and Household
Finance Company. When the Defendant received another
garnishment on February 4, 1985, from the Springfield Pediatric
Clinic, it informed Newby of his termination due to multiple
garnishments on multiple debts.
Despite his recurring indebtedness, however, Plaintiff contends
that he could not have possibly prevented the February 4
garnishment since it followed so closely to his employer's
ultimatum of February 1. Moreover, he asserts the final wage
deduction order was simply a renewal of an earlier garnishment
served upon his employer, and not an additional one for which
he could be terminated. See Ill.Rev.Stat.ch. 110, ¶ 12-808(b)
(1985). But even though the Court accepts Newby's factual
allegations as true, his legal conclusions nevertheless fail.
Plaintiff does not hold a cognizable claim against the
Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), summary judgment should be "rendered
forthwith 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." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., ___
U.S. ___, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511-12, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Such
is the case here. Viewing the evidence in a light most
favorable to Plaintiff, Defendant is entitled to a judgment as
a matter of law.
Despite Newby's assertion to the contrary, the public policy of
Illinois is to be found in the State's constitution, statutes,
and judicial decisions, not in a jury of his peers. Although no
precise definition of the term exists, public policy may be
said to concern "what is right and just and what affects the
citizens of the state collectively." Palmateer v.
International Harvester Co., 85 Ill.2d 124, 130, 52 Ill.Dec.
13, 15, 421 N.E.2d 876, 878 (1981); La Buhn v. Bulkmatic
Transport Co., 644 F. Supp. 942, 947 (N.D.Ill. 1986).
Consequently, the issue is clearly for a Court to decide. See
Dodge v. Stine, 739 F.2d 1279, 1282 n. 1 (7th Cir. 1984)
(application of public policy exception in negligence action is
of law); Local No. P-1236 v. Jones Dairy Farm, 680 F.2d 1142
(7th Cir. 1982) (district court had authority to vacate
arbitration award which it believed was contrary to public
policy); Boyar-Schultz Corp. v. Tomasek, 94 Ill. App.3d 320,
49 Ill.Dec. 891, 418 N.E.2d 911 (1st Dist. 1981) (whether a
contract is contrary to public policy is a question of law). To
suggest otherwise is absurd. Public policy must rest upon a
uniform body of principles promulgated by experienced
lawmakers, not individual juries' potentially inconsistent
concepts as to right and wrong. Cf. Gould v. Campbell's
Ambulance Service, Inc., 111 Ill.2d 54, 94 Ill.Dec. 746,
488 N.E.2d 993 (1986) (plaintiffs had no cause of action for
retaliatory discharge where relevant statutory provisions and
ordinances failed to show a violation of any public policy).
Admittedly, Illinois courts recognize a cause of action for
retaliatory discharge where an employee's dismissal is in
violation of a clearly mandated public policy. Price v.
Carmack Datsun, Inc., 109 Ill.2d 65, 67, 92 Ill.Dec. 548, 549,
485 N.E.2d 359, 360 (1985). The common law doctrine, however,
that an employer may discharge an employee-at-will for any
cause or for no cause is otherwise still the law in Illinois.
Barr v. Kelso-Burnett Co., 106 Ill.2d 520, 525, 88 Ill.Dec.
628, 630, 478 N.E.2d 1354, 1356 (1985). "The termination, then,
may permissibly be for a good reason, a bad reason, or no
reason at all." Loucks v. Star City Glass Co., 551 F.2d 745,
747 (7th Cir. 1977). See also Zick v. Verson Allsteel Press
Co., 623 F. Supp. 927, 930-31 (N.D.Ill. 1985).
In this instance, Newby does not contest his employee-at-will
status with the Defendant. Instead, he maintains that his
position was not terminable at will "for the alleged
retaliatory purpose." Loucks, 551 F.2d at 747. Thus, the
Court need only ascertain Illinois public policy with respect
to the discharge of an employee following garnishment of his
The indisputable answer lies in the Illinois Civil Practice
Act, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 110, ¶ 12-818 (1985): "No employer may
discharge or suspend any employee by reason of the fact that
his or her earnings have been subjected to a deduction order
for any one indebtedness." (emphasis added). Apparently, an
Illinois state court has yet to interpret the law.
Nevertheless, applying the familiar canon of statutory
construction that the starting point for interpreting a statute
is the language of the law itself, this Court finds Wal-Mart to
have acted well within the confines of the State's public
Unquestionably, the Illinois General Assembly in enacting ¶
12-818 balanced the respective interests of employers and their
employees, and chose to protect only those workers whose wages
are garnished for one debt. By giving debtors limited,
incomplete protection from discharge, the legislature elected
not to burden employers with those chronically unable to manage
their financial affairs. Employees with many debts and
garnishments on their records may properly be exposed to
termination, while workers falling into debt and experiencing
garnishment for the first time will find protection under
Unfortunately, Plaintiff falls within the former category. The
undisputed facts show Newby's earnings were subjected to
several deduction orders for numerous debts. Thus, Wal-Mart
justifiably released Plaintiff regardless of the timing or
nature of the February 4 wage deduction order. The former
employee's attempt to shield himself from termination under the
guise of Illinois public policy must falter.
Finally, a warning to Plaintiff's counsel: The present
complaint appears to be warranted neither by existing law nor
any good faith argument for an extension or modification of
existing law. Nowhere in Plaintiff's submissions does he
address the legislative concerns of ¶ 12-818. This action then
is arguably ripe for Rule 11 sanctions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11.
Since no case law is present, however, interpreting the
relevant statute, the Court in this instance gives counsel the
benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, counsel for Plaintiff is admonished that the
docket of this Court is extremely large. Cases which have no
chance of succeeding on the merits simply clog the docket and
waste the time of everyone involved: the judge, his staff, the
Clerk's staff, opposing counsel, and — indeed — the parties
Counsel is directed to heed this warning. Next time, the Court
will not be so understanding.
Ergo, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is ALLOWED.
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