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Maeshall v. Montaplast of North America, Inc.

Supreme Court of Kentucky

June 13, 2019

DEBRA MARSHALL APPELLANT
v.
MONTAPLAST OF NORTH AMERICA, INC. APPELLEE

          ON REVIEW FROM COURT OF APPEALS CASE NO. 2017-CA-000345-MR FRANKLIN CIRCUIT COURT NO. 15-CI-00276

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: Joshua Stephen Harp Baughman Harp, PLLC

          COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Oliver Barrett Rutherford Smith 85 Smith Attorneys

          OPINION

          KELLER, JUSTICE

         Appellant, Debra Marshall, appeals from an order of the Franklin County Circuit Court granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in favor of Appellee, Montaplast of North America, Inc. The Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court. We affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Debra Marshall began employment with Montaplast of North America, Inc. (Montaplast) on October 19, 1998. She was an at-will employee and did not have an employment contract. On January 29, 2015, Marshall accurately informed some of her coworkers that one of their supervisors was a registered sex offender. On February 3, 2015, after approximately 16 years of employment, Marshall was terminated by Montaplast. On March 20, 2015, Marshall filed a complaint in Franklin Circuit Court alleging wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. She asserted that she was terminated in retaliation for informing other workers that one of their supervisors was a registered sex offender, or at the very least that this was a substantial motivating factor in her termination. She claimed that the Kentucky Sex Offender Registration Act establishes a public policy that the sex offender registry should be open and accessible to everyone. Prior to even filing an answer, Montaplast filed a motion to dismiss the complaint under CR[1] 12.02(f) for failure to state a claim as a matter of law. Montaplast argued that even if Marshall was terminated for her conversation about the supervisor, this conversation was not protected under Kentucky public policy. The Franklin Circuit Court granted Montaplast's motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Franklin Circuit Court. This Court granted discretionary review.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under CR 12.02(f), the trial court should take all of the allegations in the complaint as true. Morgan v. Bird, 289 S.W.3d 222, 226 (Ky. App. 2009). "[A] court should not dismiss an action for failure to state a claim unless the pleading party appears not to be entitled to relief under any set of facts which could be proven in support of his claim." Id. The trial court is not required to make any findings of fact, and the question is purely a matter of law. Fox v. Grayson, 317 S.W.3d 1 (Ky. 2010). "Accordingly, the trial court's decision will be reviewed de novo." Morgan, 289 S.W.3d at 226.

         Ordinarily, an at-will employee may be discharged "for good cause, for no cause, or for a cause that some might view as morally indefensible.". Firestone Textile Co. Div. v. Meadows, 666 S.W.2d 730, 731 (Ky. 1983) (citing Production Oil Co. v. Johnson, 313 S.W.2d 411 (Ky. 1958); Scroghan v. Kraftco Corp., 551 S.W.2d 811 (Ky. App. 1977)). However, there is "a narrow public policy exception" to the terminable-at-will doctrine, which is subject to the following limitations:

1) The discharge must be contrary to a fundamental and well-defined public policy as evidenced by existing law.
2) That policy must be evidenced by a constitutional or statutory provision.
3) The decision of whether the public policy asserted meets these criteria is a question of law for the court to decide, not a question of fact.

Grzyb v. Evans, 700 S.W.2d 399, 401 (Ky. 1985). See also Firestone, 666 S.W.2d at 731 (quoting Brockmeyer v. Dun & Bradstreet, 335 N.W.2d 834, 835 (1983)). Only three circumstances exist in which a discharge will be actionable as contrary to public policy: (1) when there are "explicit legislative statements prohibiting the discharge," (2) when "the alleged reason for the discharge ... was the employee's failure or refusal to violate a law in the course of employment," or (3) when "the reason for the discharge was the employee's exercise of a right conferred by well-established legislative enactment." Hill v. Kentucky Lottery Corp.,327 S.W.3d 412, 422 (Ky. 2010) ...


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