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George Widmar v. Sun Chemical Corporation

April 19, 2012

GEORGE WIDMAR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SUN CHEMICAL CORPORATION, PETER KLUG, CHARLES RAMSEY, AND THEODORE KNOTT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Strike the Amended Complaint, the Parties' Cross-Motions to Dismiss, and Plaintiff's Motion to Compel. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion to Strike is denied, Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss Defendant Klug is denied as moot, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's Motion to Compel is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff George Widmar ("Widmar" or "Plaintiff") was a plant manager for 16 years at Sun Chemical Corporation ("Sun Chemical"), and at its predecessor company, Rycoline. Evidently, both companies produced printing inks and pigments. Plaintiff Widmar claims that he was an exemplary employee, but that the company began receiving complaints in 2009 in response to cost-cutting changes that the company made to its product formulas. These problems, he alleges, were not attributable to manufacturing, his area of responsibility.

Plaintiff claims that he was repeatedly, publicly, and improperly blamed for the problems, and was fired in November 2009. He claims that after he was fired, he did not receive the severance that he expected - two weeks' salary in lieu of notice, one week's salary for each full year of service, and payment for unused vacation time. Although the allegations are not entirely clear, Plaintiff appears to allege in the Amended Complaint that he had a written contract for such a severance package while employed by Rycoline, and had been assured that that policy, not Sun Chemical's, would continue to apply to him once Sun Chemical took over the business. It is not clear who allegedly made those assurances. Plaintiff claims that other Sun Chemical employees over 40 years old were fired and not paid their severance, while some younger employees did receive severance packages. Plaintiff was told that he was terminated for cause.

After his termination in November 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the "EEOC"), and later added a retaliation charge to that Complaint. He received a Right-to-Sue Letter, and filed this suit. He claims that his firing violated the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (the "ADEA," 29 U.S.C. §621, et seq.), the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (the "IWPCA," 820 ILL. COMP. STAT. 115/1, et seq.), and the common law of contract. He also claims that certain statements by Defendants Charles Ramsey ("Ramsey") (a Sun Chemical Technical Service Manager) and Theodore Knott ("Knott") (a Sun Chemical sales manager), to the effect that Widmar had been performing poorly and/or sabotaging the company, constitute defamation. Plaintiff specifically alleges that in November 2010, Knott told one Ron Petzel of Fisher Printing that Plaintiff had been sabotaging Sun Chemical's products.

Plaintiff filed this Complaint on March 15, 2011, and the Defendants answered on or before July 29, 2011. On January 25, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel certain discovery responses. On February 10, 2012, Plaintiff moved to dismiss then-Defendant Peter Klug ("Klug") under FED. R. CIV. P. 41(b), having concluded that he did not participate in the alleged defamatory statement by Theodore Knott. On February 22, 2012, Defendants moved to dismiss Counts III and IV of the Complaint, and to dismiss Count V as to Defendants Klug and Knott. This Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint on March 7, 2012. Two days later, Defendants moved to strike the Amended Complaint. Since then, the parties have finished briefing their respective motions to dismiss, updated the status of the discovery disputes, and Defendants Sun Chemical, Ramsey, and Knott have answered the Amended Complaint.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draws all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Cole v. Milwaukee Area Tech. Coll. Dist., 634 F.3d 901, 903 (7th Cir. 2011). A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2).

Plaintiffs need not make "detailed factual allegations," but must offer more than conclusions or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action[.]" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement" will not suffice -- a complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009).

After a complaint and answer have been filed, a party may move for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), so long as the motion is not so late as to delay the trial. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c).

While not all of the 12(b) defenses are available in a 12(c) motion, defendants can argue that a plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(h)(2).

Motions under Rule 12(c) are reviewed under the same standards as motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009).

III. DISCUSSION

The Amended Complaint, if accepted, moots several arguments in Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Accordingly, the Court turns first to the Motion to Strike.

A. Motion to Strike Amended Complaint

FED. R. CIV. P. 15(a) dictates that once a responsive pleading has been filed, a party may amend their pleading only with the Court's permission or the other party's consent. However, courts take a liberal approach to amendments. Stern v. U.S. Gypsum, Inc., 547 F.2d 1329, 1334 (7th Cir. 1977). Absent a showing of undue prejudice, bad faith, futility, or other substantial cause, amendments are generally permitted. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

As noted above, Plaintiff sought leave to amend his complaint on March 7, 2012. Plaintiff's counsel explained that the amendment would fix a typographical error and some "pleading issues," and would moot some of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court granted Plaintiff's request. In addition to typographical corrections, the Amended Complaint includes several new factual allegations. See, e.g., Am. Compl. ¶20 (adding the allegation that a Sun Chemical employee knew certain statements were false when he made them); Id. ¶29 (adding the allegation that when Sun Chemical bought Rycoline, Plaintiff was told that Rycoline's personnel policies would still apply to him).

Defendants now move to strike the Amended Complaint, calling the substantive amendments "untimely, prejudicial, futile, made in bad faith, and contradict[ory to] Plaintiff's sworn interrogatory responses[.]" Defs.' Mem. in Support of Mot. to Strike, 1. Defendants ask this Court to strike the complaint and require Plaintiff to either file another complaint with no substantive amendments, or to seek leave again to amend, so that Defendants can oppose that motion on the merits.

Defendants claim that the Amended Complaint contradicts Plaintiff's interrogatory responses, arguing that Plaintiff has added a claim for (or least allegations of) the breach of an oral contract, whereas throughout discovery Plaintiff maintained that the only relevant contract was written. Defendants also argue that in Plaintiff's initial disclosures, he did not list any statements or witnesses relating to the new allegations that he was assured that Rycoline's policies would still govern his employment. The Court notes, however, that Plaintiff's response to Interrogatory Number 4 ends with the phrase "Investigation continues," and that Plaintiff has agreed to supplement his discovery responses. Nor is the Court persuaded, as Defendant appears to be, that the amendment added a claim for a breach of an oral contract. (However, as noted below, many facts surrounding the alleged contract remain unclear.) Although Plaintiff should have supplemented his discovery responses at the earliest practicable time after identifying these statements, the Court does not find the amendment to be in bad faith.

Defendants also argue that they are prejudiced by the amendments, because discovery is nearly complete. As Plaintiff points out, however, Defendants took the opposite position just a few weeks ago when they sought leave to file an amended answer to the original complaint. The Court finds that Plaintiff properly sought leave to amend, and that any additional discovery necessitated by the new allegations, while not negligible, is unlikely to be exceedingly burdensome. Accordingly, any prejudice to Defendants does not warrant striking the Amended Complaint.

Next, Defendants argue that the amendments are futile, because Plaintiff has already admitted that the document that he attached to his complaint was not a contract, and that he was subject to Sun Chemical's employment policies. These arguments, based on their motion to dismiss, are addressed below and are rejected for the same reasons here.

Finally, Defendants argue that the Amended Complaint merely stalls their dispositive motion. However, filing an amended complaint in response to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) - which is, in part, what Defendants' motion purports to be -- is hardly unusual. Furthermore, any delay in amending the complaint is attributable in significant part to Defendants' unusual decision not to file their motion to dismiss until many months after filing an answer.

The Court accordingly concludes that striking the Amended Complaint is not warranted. That being said, however, Plaintiff is to supplement his discovery responses as necessary before any remaining depositions and in any event no later than seven (7) days after the entry of this order. The Court will ...


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