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Finau v. Mountain Prairie, LLC

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 18, 2015

SIONE FINAU, Plaintiff,
v.
MOUNTAIN PRAIRIE, LLC, Defendant.

RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

KRISTEN L. MIX, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Renewed Motion to Dismiss [#15].[1] Plaintiff filed a Response [#16] in opposition to the Motion [#15], and Defendant filed a Reply [#19]. The Motion [#15] has been referred to the undersigned for a recommendation. See [#32]. The Court has reviewed the Motion, Response, Reply, the entire case file, and the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Motion [#15] be DENIED.

I. Summary of the Case

Plaintiff is an individual residing in the State of Washington. Am. Compl. [#11] ¶ 1. Defendant is a Colorado corporation operating a hog farm with approximately 100 employees in Las Animas, Colorado. Id. ¶¶ 2, 7. Defendant is Plaintiff's former employer. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff worked for Defendant in a variety of positions, the last of which was titled "Site Manager, Level III - Far Wean." Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff supervised about seventeen employees, and he asserts that he "discharged his duties for Defendant competently and loyally at all times." Id. ¶¶ 9-10.

Plaintiff and another of Defendant's employees, a woman named Kasi Leger ("Leger"), became acquaintances and associated outside of work. Id. ¶ 11. Each had children around the same age who were friends and classmates, and Plaintiff's family and Ms. Leger's family provided childcare services to each other and engaged in joint social activities outside of work. Id. ¶ 13. At some point, a human resources representative for Defendant purported to conduct an investigation into this association, although Plaintiff conclusorily asserts that the investigation was not conducted in a neutral and impartial manner. Id. ¶ 14. On December 9, 2013, Defendant terminated Plaintiff's employment because of a purported conflict of interest created by Plaintiff's activities with Ms. Leger, although Plaintiff asserts that all such activities were lawful and none affected Plaintiff's employment. Id. ¶¶ 11, 15-16. Plaintiff and his family were evicted by Defendant from the company-provided housing when Plaintiff was terminated. Id. ¶ 12.

On February 25, 2014, an administrative hearing was held to determine whether Plaintiff was eligible for unemployment compensation. Id. ¶ 17. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment hearing officer found that Plaintiff did not violate any company policies or procedures, engage in any favoritism with Ms. Leger, or otherwise act inappropriately in his interactions. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff was awarded full unemployment compensation, and Defendant did not appeal that decision. Id. ¶ 19. Plaintiff states that he was forced to relocate to the State of Washington to secure new employment and has been undergoing re-training as authorized by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Id. ¶ 20.

Based on these circumstances, Plaintiff asserts one cause of action against Defendant, i.e., violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402.5. Id. ¶ 23. He states that as a result of this violation, he suffered damages which include lost salary, benefits, and housing, and severe emotional distress. Id. ¶ 24. In the present Motion [#15], Defendant seeks dismissal of this claim.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) tests "the sufficiency of the allegations within the four corners of the complaint after taking those allegations as true." Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "[t]he complaint must plead sufficient facts, taken as true, to provide plausible grounds' that discovery will reveal evidence to support plaintiff's allegations." Shero v. City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[P]lausibility refers to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiff[ ] [has] not nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1190 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). However, "[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does the complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id. (citation omitted). That said, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests;" the 12(b)(6) standard does not "require that the complaint include all facts necessary to carry the plaintiff's burden." Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1192.

"The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citation omitted). As the Tenth Circuit has explained, "the mere metaphysical possibility that some plaintiff could prove some set of facts in support of the pleaded claims is insufficient; the complaint must give the court reason to believe that this plaintiff has a reasonable likelihood of mustering factual support for these claims." Ridge at Red Hawk, LLC v. Schneider, 493 F.3d 1174, 1177 (10th Cir. 2007) (emphasis in original). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

III. Analysis

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-34-402.5(1) provides:

It shall be a discriminatory or unfair employment practice for an employer to terminate the employment of any employee due to that employee's engaging in any lawful activity off the premises of the employer during nonworking hours unless such a restriction: (a) [r]elates to a bona fide occupational requirement or is reasonably and rationally related to the employment activities and responsibilities of a particular employee or a particular group of employees, rather than to all employees of the employer; or (b) [i]s ...

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