recover on his contract claim only if he demonstrates that the parties actually agreed to a definite term of duration. But Cactus never guaranteed Corrigan, either orally or in writing, that he would remain employed for any specific length of time.
Since Corrigan has not identified a clear and definite term of duration, the employment contract is terminable at will. See Simmons v. John F. Kennedy Medical Center, 727 F. Supp. 440, 443 (N.D. Ill. 1989). As an at-will employee, Corrigan cannot maintain a breach-of-contract claim based on his termination.
B. Failure to Supply Materials
In paragraph 12 of the complaint, Corrigan alleges that "CACTUS breached its contract with CORRIGAN by failing to supply him with tile samples, support, and other materials required for his duties, and by refusing to allow him the opportunity to perform his job duties as provided for in the parties agreement." Corrigan further alleges that Cactus has not reimbursed him for the reasonable and necessary expenses he incurred in connection with his employment. Complaint, para. 13. Presumably, these unreimbursed expenses stem from Cactus' failure to provide Corrigan with the "materials required for his duties."
If Corrigan's allegations are true (and for purposes of this motion, they are considered true), then he is entitled to reimbursement from Cactus. Having provided no basis for dismissal, Cactus' motion to dismiss is denied with respect to this claim.
C. Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
Corrigan contends that "CACTUS failed to deal fairly and in good faith, in further breach of its contractual duties." Complaint, para. 12. As a matter of law, a duty of good faith and fair dealing is implied in every contract. Hugo v. Tomaszewski, 155 Ill. App. 3d 906, 911, 508 N.E.2d 1139, 1142 (1987). In the employment at-will setting, however, no Illinois court has explicitly recognized an independent cause of action for breach of the implied duty of good faith. See Harrison v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 189 Ill. App. 3d 980, 991, 546 N.E.2d 248, 255 (1989). The covenant of good faith may be used in this context only as a construction aid for ascertaining the intent of the parties. Id. at 993, 546 N.E.2d at 256; Martin v. Federal Life Ins. Co., 109 Ill. App. 3d 596, 605, 440 N.E.2d 998, 1005, 65 Ill. Dec. 143 (1982).
Acknowledging that no independent cause of action exists, Corrigan states that he is using the covenant of good faith merely as an aid in construing the contract. In Corrigan's words, "the contract may be construed to require a 'reasonable' duration pursuant to the covenant of good faith and fair dealing which is implied in every contract." Response to Motion to Dismiss, at 5. Although Corrigan does not specify what length of time is "reasonable," he does note that it is longer than twenty-one days -- the length of time that he was employed by Cactus.
The implied covenant cannot be used to impose a durational requirement, as Corrigan suggests, for this would be inconsistent with the at-will employment relationship. By its very nature, the at-will relationship may be terminated 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). "The implied duty of good faith is inherently incongruous with an employment contract which gives the employer the right to terminate employment without cause." Foy v. City of Chicago, 194 Ill. App. 3d 611, 615, 551 N.E.2d 310, 313 (1990). Corrigan's interpretation of the at-will contract places an undue restriction on the employer's right to terminate an at-will employee at any time and for any reason. Regardless of whether it is used as a construction aid or asserted as a separate cause of action, the implied duty of good faith is of no value to Corrigan, an at-will employee.
In connection with its motion to dismiss, Cactus asks the court to impose sanctions against Corrigan for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Indeed, "the most important purpose of Rule 11 sanctions is to deter frivolous litigation and the abusive practices of attorneys." Fred A. Smith Lumber Co. v. Edidin, 845 F.2d 750, 752 (7th Cir. 1988).
At this stage of the litigation, Corrigan still has a viable cause of action against Cactus. For this reason, the lawsuit is not entirely frivolous. Nonetheless, a district court may "sanction a party for frivolous conduct, even if some of the party's claims are not frivolous." Teamsters Local No. 579 v. B & M Transit, Inc., 882 F.2d 274, 280-81 (7th Cir. 1989).
With regard to the portion of the suit that has been dismissed, the court does not believe that sanctions are appropriate. The circumstances of this case do not indicate that Corrigan openly disregarded the law or otherwise asserted his claim in bad faith. While the case law concerning at-will employment is firmly rooted in Illinois, it is highly fact specific, turning on the particular contractual language employed and the circumstances surrounding the execution of the contract. An award of sanctions here would not serve the primary goal of Rule 11: deterring frivolous litigation. It would merely deter creative application of the law to the unique facts of a specific case.
For the foregoing reasons, Cactus' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part: insofar as Corrigan's cause of action is based on Cactus' failure to supply the necessary job-related materials, the motion is denied; in all other respects, the motion is granted. Furthermore, Cactus' request for sanctions is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.