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Smith v. Westlake Vinyls, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

July 24, 2019



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant Westlake Vinyls, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss. (R. 6). Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, (R. 6), is HEREBY GRANTED.


         The following background information is taken from Plaintiff Kemble Smith's Complaint and, at this stage of the litigation, treated as fact by the Court.

         Smith worked for Westlake Vinyls in the chlorine unit of Westlake's chemical processing plaint in Calvert City, Kentucky as a chemical operator/bulk handler. As a part of his job, Smith was responsible for issuing safe work permits (“SWP”) when maintenance or repair work orders were presented to him. Prior to issuing the SWP, the equipment to be repaired or worked on was to be made safe and prepared for maintenance by the chemical operator/bulk handler. This generally included shutting the equipment down or insuring that it was “locked out.” Plaintiff alleges that, contrary to Westlake's written policy, it was common practice for one chemical operator/bulk handler to sign the initials of another chemical operator/bulk handler to an SWP if that other chemical operator/bulk handler had “locked out” the equipment.

         On September 28, 2017 conforming to that common practice, Smith signed the initials of another chemical operator/bulk handler, Dallas Ridenour, to an SWP. After it became clear that Ridenour had not performed the lock out properly on the equipment related to the SWP to which Smith had signed Ridenour's initials, Smith was instructed by his supervisor to properly lock out the piece of equipment in question. The SWP bearing Ridenour's initials was provided to the production superintendent, Ronnie Wright. Wright suspended Smith the next day, and on October 18, 2017 smith was terminated. Dallas Ridenour was not terminated.

         When Smith was terminated, he was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, and Local Lodge No. 2781 (“Union”). The Union and Westlake had in place a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) spanning from November 1, 2014 to October 31, 2019.

         On November 28, 2018, Plaintiff file the instant lawsuit against Westlake. Smith's Complaint contains three Counts: I - Violation of KRS § 336.130, II - Violation of Collective Bargaining Agreement, and III - Punitive Damages. Under Count I, Smith alleges that Westlake “by and through its employees, agents, and representatives, terminated Plaintiff's employment based on personal grievances stemming from the hostile and intimidating work environment created by the Defendant's employees, agents, and representatives, and such actions of Defendant were wrongful, intentional, willful, deliberate, knowing, and malicious, and are contrary to the fundamental and well-defined policy as evidenced in KRS § 336. 130.” Next, Under Count II, Smith claims that “to the extent Plaintiff's state law-based claims in Count I are found by the Court to be preempted by application of § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's termination of Plaintiff's employment was in violation of the CBA referenced herein.” Smith goes on to assert that “Plaintiff suffered damages for which reference to the subject CBA is required to determine the amount thereof to which Plaintiff is entitled as a direct and proximate result of Defendant's wrongful termination of Plaintiff's employment.” Finally, under Count III, Smith claims that his wrongful termination warrants the imposition of punitive damages against Westlake. Westlake now moves to dismiss Smith's Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 (b)(1) and 12(b)(6).


         A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant 12(b)(1).

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may assert by motion the defense of “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “A Rule 12(b)(1) motion can either attack the claim of jurisdiction on its face, in which case all allegations of the plaintiff must be considered as true, or it can attack the factual basis for jurisdiction, in which case the trial court must weigh the evidence and the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists.” DLX, Inc. v. Kentucky, 381 F.3d 511, 516 (6th Cir. 2004). “A facial attack on the subject-matter jurisdiction alleged in the complaint questions merely the sufficiency of the pleading.” Gentek Bldg. Prods. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 491 F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007). In a challenge to the factual basis, however, the court “is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case . . . no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.” RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996) (quoting Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 890-91 (3d Cir. 1977)). Therefore, while, “when a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is converted to a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, the court, upon finding genuine issues as to material facts, must deny the motion; . . . on a Rule 12(b)(1) challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the court is empowered to resolve factual disputes.” Id. (quoting Rogers v. Stratton Indus., Inc., 798 F.2d 913, 915 (6th Cir. 1986)). Finally, “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Bauer v. RBX Indus. Inc., 368 F.3d 569 (6th Cir. 2004).

         B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         The 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted “governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under [§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 471 (6th Cir. 2010). Under that standard, 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). In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a party must “plead enough ‘factual matter' to raise a ‘plausible' inference of wrongdoing.” 16630 Southfield Ltd. P'ship v. Flagstar Bank, F.S.B., 727 F.3d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). A claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

         When applying the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, the court must presume all of the factual allegations in the complaint are true. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Great Lakes Steel v. Deggendorf, 716 F.2d 1101, 1105 (6th Cir. 1983)). “The court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences.” Id. (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)). Should the well-pleaded facts support no “more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” then dismissal is warranted. Iqbal, 556 U.S at 679. The Court may dismiss the case “only if, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, the complaint still fails to allege a plausible theory of relief.” Garceau v. City of Flint, 572 Fed.Appx. 369, 371 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-79). “Pro se complaints are to be held ‘to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,' and should therefore be liberally construed.” Otworth v. Budnik, 594 Fed.Appx. 859, 861 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted)).

         Under the 12(b)(6) standard, the Court may consider “exhibits attached [to the complaint] . . so long as they are referred to in the [c]omplaint and are central to the claims contained therein.” Bassett v. NCAA,528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Amini v. Oberlin Coll., 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001)). “Under certain circumstances, however, a document that is not formally incorporated by reference or attached to a complaint may still be considered part of the pleadings” for the purpose of a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Greenberg v. The Life Ins. Co. of Va.,177 F.3d 507 (6th Cir. 1999). When a document is mentioned in the complaint and is a necessary part of the plaintiffs claim, the defendant may submit a copy of the document to the court ...

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