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Romero v. Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 22, 2017

SILO ROMERO, Plaintiff,
v.
HELMERICH & PAYNE INTERNATIONAL DRILLING CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Nina Y. Wang United States Magistrate Judge.

         Magistrate Judge Nina Y. Wang This matter comes before the court on Defendant Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.'s (“Defendant” or “H&P”) oral, mid-trial Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law made at the close of evidence (“JMOL Motion”).[1] The JMOL Motion is before the court pursuant to the Order of Reference dated July 13, 2015 [#24], 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, and D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.2. On August 18, 2017, the court issued an oral ruling on the record disposing of the JMOL Motion. The court has carefully considered the Motion and related briefing, the entire case file, and the applicable case law, and now memorializes its oral ruling in a written order. For the following reasons, as well as those stated on the record, the JMOL Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Silo Romero (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Romero”) commenced this action on December 24, 2014, by filing a Complaint in the District Court for Mesa County, Colorado. [#5] Plaintiff asserts one claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, alleging that he was terminated from his employment with H&P in retaliation for seeking worker's compensation benefits for lost wages incurred after an on-the-job injury. H&P contends that Mr. Romero voluntarily resigned. H&P removed the action to this District and this court exercises diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See [#1].[2] Trial in this matter commenced before a jury on August 14, 2017. On August 17, 2017, Defendant moved orally, after the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and renewed the same motion, without any further argument, at the close of its case.[3]

         H&P argued it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff's claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy under two theories: (1) there was insufficient evidence under any theory of discharge (actual or constructive) to adduce a causal connection between Plaintiff's pursuit of a worker's compensation claim for lost wage benefits and Plaintiff's separation from employment at H&P; and (2) there was insufficient evidence of constructive discharge because Mr. Romero had testified that he had been fired, not that he had quit, and the record did not support a finding that his working conditions were objectively intolerable. The court denied the JMOL Motion on the first theory on the record on August 17, 2017, before Defendant offered its defense. As to the second issue related to constructive discharge, the court deferred ruling on the JMOL Motion and sought further briefing from the Parties on the issue. See Hillman v. U.S. Postal Serv., 169 F.Supp.2d 1218, 1223 (D. Kan. 2001) (“While the trial court has the authority under Rule 50(a) to grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of the plaintiffs' case, the more prudent course is to defer ruling until both sides have rested”) (citations omitted). See also [#125, #126]. The court now turns to the second theory offered in support of the JMOL Motion.[4]

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Rule 50(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

(1) In General. If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may: (A) resolve the issue against the party; and (B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

         A motion for judgment under Rule 50(a)(1) may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). In evaluating a defendant's Rule 50(a) motion, the court is required to consider all the evidence presented at trial, and must review the record “taken as a whole.” Reeves v. Sanderson, 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). “[T]he court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Id. at 150. “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.'” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-251 (1986)).

         Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe. That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that “evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that the evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151 (quoting 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 2529, p. 300 (2d ed. 1995)). In sum, the “standard for granting summary judgment mirrors the standard for judgment as a matter of law, such that the ‘inquiry under each is the same.'” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 250-251). The court may grant the motion only if the evidence points but one way and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences which may support the opposing party's position. Bristol v. Board of County Commissioners of County of Clear Creek, 281 F.3d 1148, 1161 (10th Cir. 2002).

         II. Wrongful Discharge in Violation of Public Policy

         Plaintiff has the burden of establishing each essential element of his claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Because this court exercises diversity jurisdiction, it applies the substantive law of the state of Colorado. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 85 S.Ct. 1136, 14 L.Ed.2d 8 (1965). In Colorado, a terminated employee may sue an employer for wrongful discharge if the employee “shows that he was discharged for exercising a specifically enacted right or duty.” Smith v. Colo. Interstate ...


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