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Friedlander v. Edwards Lifesciences, LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 29, 2016

James Friedlander, Plaintiff,
v.
Edwards Lifesciences, LLC, Edwards Lifesciences Corporation, and Matthew Borenzweig, Defendants.

          Clayton D. Halunen, Barbara J. Felt, Kaarin S. Nelson, and Stephen M. Premo, Halunen & Associates, for Plaintiff.

          David P. Pearson and Reid Golden, Winthrop & Weinstine, for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Richard Nelson United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff James Friedlander brought this suit against Defendants Edwards Lifesciencs, LLC (“Edwards LLC”), Edwards Lifesciences Corp. (“Edwards Corp.”), [1]and Matthew Borenzweig, alleging claims for violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (“MWA” or, the “Act”) by Edwards LLC and Edwards Corp., and tortious interference with contractual relations by Borenzweig. Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings as to both counts. (See Doc. No. 16.) Of particular relevance here, Defendants argue that Friedlander's MWA claim fails as a matter of law because Friedlander “blew the whistle” on conduct Defendants were already aware of. According to Defendants, Minnesota law requires whistleblowers to act with the purpose of “exposing an illegality”-a requirement that cannot be met where the employer already knows of the allegedly illegal conduct. In contrast, Friedlander contends that while the expose-an-illegality rule was the law, it has been abrogated by recent amendments to the MWA. By his reading of the Act, a report made for purposes of “blowing the whistle” constitutes statutorily protected conduct so long as it is not knowingly false or made in reckless disregard of the truth.

         Resolution of these competing interpretations of the MWA will likely prove determinative of Defendants' motion as to Friedlander's whistleblower claim. Because no controlling appellate decision, constitutional provision, or statute of the state of Minnesota exists to guide the Court in making a determination, the Court concludes- after careful consideration-that the interests of justice would be best served by certifying the issue to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Accordingly, the Court will stay proceedings in this case pending a response to the certified question presented below.

         II. CERTIFICATION PROCEDURE

         Pursuant to the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act (1997), Minn. Stat. § 480.065, the Minnesota Supreme Court may answer a question of law certified to it by a federal court “if the answer may be determinative of an issue in pending litigation in the certifying court and there is no controlling appellate decision, constitutional provision, or statute of [the state of Minnesota]” that would resolve the issue. Minn. Stat. § 480.065, subd. 3. The Eighth Circuit has indicated that the power to certify a question should be utilized sparingly, such as when there is a particularly close question of state law lacking controlling judicial or legislative guidance. See Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Cmty. v. City of Prior Lake, 771 F.2d 1153, 1157 n.2 (8th Cir. 1985). It is clear, however, that the decision ultimately “rests in the sound discretion” of the district court. Lehman Bros. v. Schein, 416 U.S. 386, 391 (1974).

         Several procedural requirements are mandated by Minnesota law in order to effectuate certification. Most pertinently, the certifying court must issue an order containing:

(1) the question of law to be answered;
(2) the facts relevant to the question, showing fully the nature of the controversy out of which the question arose;
(3) a statement acknowledging that the Supreme Court of [Minnesota], acting as the receiving court, may reformulate the question; and
(4) the names and addresses of counsel of record and parties appearing without counsel.

Minn. Stat. § 480.065, subd. 6. The Minnesota Supreme Court may also require delivery of all or part of the underlying record. Id. at subd. 5.

         III. ...


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