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St. Jude Medical, SC, Inc. v. Hanson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

June 4, 2014

St. Jude Medical, S.C., Inc., Plaintiff,
v.
Neal J. Hanson and Biotronik, Inc., Defendants.

Jonathon C. Marquet, Edward F. Fox, Jessica L. Klander, Kevin B. Hickey, Bassford Remele PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Plaintiff.

Margaret E. Dalton, Andrew J. Pieper, Eric A. Bartsch, Todd A. Hanchett, Stoel Rives LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD H. KYLE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this action, Plaintiff St. Jude Medical, S.C., Inc. ("SJM") alleges its former employee, Defendant Neal J. Hanson, breached his employment agreement by resigning from SJM and then working for a competitor, Defendant Biotronik, Inc. ("Biotronik"). With discovery ongoing, SJM now moves for partial summary judgment against Hanson to recover relocation expenses it paid Hanson months before he resigned. For the reasons set forth below, its Motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are recited in the light most favorable to Hanson.

SJM markets and sells medical devices, including cardiac rhythm management ("CRM") devices. These are implantable devices, such as pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators, designed to address heart rhythm problems. In 2009, SJM hired Hanson to work with CRM devices. Initially, he worked in Kansas City as a Field Clinical Engineer and later as an Electrophysiology Technical Service Specialist. In May 2011, he was promoted to work as a CRM sales representative in Wichita. In 2012, Hanson wished to return to Kansas City, so his manager at the time, Gray Fleming, offered him a position there. (Hanson Aff. ΒΆ 3.) Hanson accepted the offer and signed an amendment to his employment agreement ("the Amendment") with a three-year term, effective October 28, 2012. The Amendment outlines his title and compensation structure and further provides:

In order to perform the duties hereunder, Employee agrees to relocate to the Kansas City area within ninety (90) days of the effective date of this Amendment. As consideration for entering into this Amendment, SJM[] will assist with the costs of Employee's relocation.... The relocation benefits come with the condition that if Employee's employment with SJM[] terminates within two (2) years of the date of benefits received, Employee will repay the entire relocation amount on a pro-rata basis as follows: 100% payback if employment terminates within one (1) year of the receipt of benefits.... In such event, Employee's obligation to repay the relocation allowance amount will be considered a debt that is immediately due and payable....

(Klander Aff. Ex. 1.)

In December, Hanson's family moved to Kansas City and SJM paid $47, 007.82 total for the relocation. In January, a new supervisor, Butch Peltz, replaced Fleming and asked Hanson to stay in Wichita because there was no work available for him in Kansas City. Peltz prepared a new employment agreement for Hanson to stay in Wichita. Hanson read the agreement and asked for information about it, but never actively negotiated its terms because he did not wish to remain in Wichita. On April 23, 2013, Peltz offered Hanson a sales position in Wichita and Hanson rejected the offer and resigned from SJM, believing SJM to be in breach of the Amendment to his employment agreement.

On June 14, 2013, Hanson accepted a position with Biotronik, one of SJM's competitors, selling CRM products. In August, SJM commenced the instant action in Ramsey County, Minnesota, district court alleging three counts: Hanson breached his fiduciary duty to SJM; Hanson breached his employment agreement with SJM; and Biotronik induced Hanson's breach of the employment agreement. Defendants removed the action to this District. Discovery is ongoing, but SJM now moves for partial summary judgment against Hanson on its breach-of-contract claim, seeking repayment of the relocation expenses, plus prejudgment interest. Hanson asks the Court to deny the Motion or, in the alternative, to stay the Motion pending further discovery.

STANDARD OF DECISION

Summary judgment is proper if, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Ricci v. DeStefano , 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009). The moving party bears the burden of showing that the material facts in the case are undisputed. Torgerson v. City of Rochester , 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). The Court must view the evidence, and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Beard v. Banks , 548 U.S. 521, 529-30 (2006); Weitz Co. v. Lloyd's of London , 574 F.3d 885, 892 (8th Cir. 2009). The nonmoving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must show through the ...


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