The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castillo, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Phillip K. Dougherty filed this diversity lawsuit against Akzo
Nobel Salt, Inc. ("Akzo") alleging claims for promissory estoppel
and negligent misrepresentation. Akzo now moves for summary
judgement under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. For
the reasons stated in this opinion, Akzo's motion is granted in
its entirety and this action is dismissed with prejudice.
Dougherty was employed as regional manager of Akzo's Grocery
Group, a corporation that engages in substantial business in
Chicago. In December 1996, Akzo executed an agreement whereby
Cargill Incorporated ("Cargill") purchased Akzo. In April 1997,
when the acquisition became final, Cargill interviewed
former-Akzo employees for the purpose of determining who would be
retained. On April 17, 1997, Cargill informed Dougherty that he
would not be rehired. Dougherty alleges that his supervisor at
Akzo, Art Armstrong, promised that his job would survive
Cargill's acquisition of Akzo. Additionally, he claims he
reasonably relied on Armstrong's assurances and that Armstrong
either knew or should have known his job was at risk. We discuss
the facts in greater detail below.
Summary judgment principles require a party seeking summary
judgment to establish the lack of a genuine issue of material
fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct.
2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). This Court must view the facts in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party, although it "is
not required to draw unreasonable inferences from the evidence."
St. Louis North Joint Venture v. P & L Enters., Inc.,
116 F.3d 262, 265 n. 2 (7th Cir. 1997). As a practical matter, the inquiry
is "whether the nonmovant has a fighting chance at trial."
Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 403 (7th Cir. 1990).
PROMISSORY ESTOPPEL CLAIM
In Count I of his complaint, Dougherty sues Akzo for promissory
estoppel. The elements of a promissory estoppel claim in Illinois
are well established:
promissory estoppel requires proof of the following:
(1) an unambiguous promise of employment communicated
from the employer to the employee; (2) reasonable
reliance on the promise of employment by the
employee; (3) the reliance was expected and
foreseeable by the employer; and (4) the reliance was
to the employee's detriment.
Kalush v. Deluxe Corp., 171 F.3d 489, 490 (7th Cir. 1999)
(quoting Quake Constr. v. American Airlines, 141 Ill.2d 281,
152 Ill. Dec. 308, 565 N.E.2d 990, 1004 (1990)); see also
All-Tech Telecom, Inc. v. Amway Corp., 174 F.3d 862, 869 (7th
Cir. 1999) ("Promissory estoppel is not a doctrine designed to
give a party a second bite at the apple in the event it fails to
prove a breach of contract.") (quoting Walker v. KFC Corp.,
728 F.2d 1215, 1220 (9th Cir. 1984)). A promise is unambiguous if it
is "clear enough that an employee would reasonably believe that
an offer has been made." Duldulao v. Saint Mary of Nazareth
Hosp. Ctr., 115 Ill.2d 482, 106 Ill.Dec.
8, 505 N.E.2d 314, 318 (1987); see also Tolmie v. United Parcel
Serv. Inc., 930 F.2d 579, 581 (7th Cir. 1991). "This
determination need not be made by a jury." Tolmie, 930 F.2d at
At issue in this case is the reasonableness of Dougherty's
belief that a promise was made, and whether he suffered any
injury as a result of his reliance. Dougherty alleges Akzo made
two promises. First, he claims that Armstrong, his supervisor,
told him he did not qualify for an early retirement package
because he was a critical employee (the "critical statement").
This promise occurred in November of 1996, approximately five
months before the acquisition. Second, Dougherty alleges that on
the evening before his Cargill interview, Armstrong relayed a
message from Cargill's President: "[t]ell your men not to worry,
the Grocery Group is coming over" (the "last supper
Tolmie is instructive as to the "critical statement." In
Tolmie, the plaintiff expressed concern to his supervisor about
the loss of his "good cause" status if he accepted a promotion to
management. 930 F.2d at 580. The supervisor "assured him that he
would have nothing to worry about, insofar as job security was
concerned, because `it is harder to fire management than other
employees' of UPS." Id. at 580. Soon after the plaintiff
accepted the promotion, UPS discharged him. Id. The court held
that the supervisor's assurances did not qualify as an
unambiguous promise because of the statement's "general nature"
and its many possible interpretations. Id. at 581.
The first of the two Armstrong statements, the "critical
statement," is too general to constitute an unambiguous promise.
Dougherty asked a question about retirement plans and he received
an answer that addressed his inquiry. Even drawing all
permissible inferences in Dougherty's favor, the Court cannot
interpret Armstrong's response as a definite promise of continued
employment. Therefore, the "critical statement" cannot provide a
basis for Dougherty's promissory estoppel claim.
We need not decide whether the "last supper statement" was an
unambiguous promise because Dougherty cannot establish that he
reasonably relied on that statement. Immediately after making the
"last supper statement", Armstrong informed the Grocery Group
members that he would deny making the statement if anyone tried
to hold him to it. See Luciani v. Bestor, 106 Ill. App.3d 878,
62 Ill.Dec. 501, 436 N.E.2d 251, 256 (1982) (holding
circumstances surrounding the transaction and the parties' prior
business experience determine justifiable reliance); see also
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