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Friedlander v. Edwards Lifesciences, LLC

Supreme Court of Minnesota

August 9, 2017

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

          Clayton D. Halunen, Kaarin Nelson Schaffer, Stephen M. Premo, Halunen Law, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Steven Andrew Smith, Matthew A. Frank, Nichols Kaster, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Adam W. Hansen, Apollo Law, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

          David P. Pearson, Thomas H. Boyd, Reid J. Golden, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents.

          Sharon L. Van Dyck, Van Dyck Law Firm, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Minnesota Association for Justice.

          Frances E. Baillon, Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Phillip Kitzer, Brian Rochel, Douglas A. Micko, Teske Micko Katz Kitzer & Rochel, PLLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae National Employment Lawyers Association-Minnesota Chapter.

          Leslie L. Lienemann, Culberth & Lienemann, LLP, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Justin D. Cummins, Cummins & Cummins, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amicus curiae Employee Lawyers Association of the Upper-Midwest.

          Marko J. Mrkonich, Holly M. Robbins, Joseph D. Weiner, Littler Mendelson, P.C., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for amici curiae United States Chamber of Commerce and Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

         SYLLABUS

         The 2013 amendment to the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 181.931-.935 (2016), defining the phrase "good faith, " eliminated the judicially created requirement that a putative whistleblower act with the purpose of exposing an illegality.

         Certified question answered in the affirmative.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, Chief Justice.

         This case presents a question the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota certified to us. We are asked to decide whether "the 2013 amendment to the Minnesota Whistleblower Act defining the term 'good faith' to mean 'conduct that does not violate section 181.932, subdivision 3' eliminate[s] the judicially created requirement that the putative whistleblower act with the purpose of 'exposing an illegality.' " Because we conclude that the 2013 amendment abrogates our prior interpretation of "good faith, " we answer the certified question in the affirmative.

         FACTS

         Appellant James Friedlander alleges that during his employment with respondents Edwards Lifesciences Corporation and Edwards Lifesciences, LLC (collectively "Edwards Lifesciences"), his superiors engaged in violations of law, including breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, and violations of California's Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200-17210 (West 2017). Friedlander claims that he expressed his concern about these practices to his superiors and others within the company. The parties do not dispute that those who were told about Friedlander's concern already knew about the conduct in question. After Friedlander reported his concern, Edwards Lifesciences terminated his employment.[1]

         In his complaint, which he filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, Friedlander alleges that Edwards Lifesciences wrongfully terminated his employment, in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act. Minn. Stat. §§ 181.931-.935 (2016). Edwards Lifesciences moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that it could not have violated the Act because Friedlander did not "blow the whistle." Specifically, Edwards Lifesciences argued that because Friedlander made his report only to people who already knew about the allegedly unlawful conduct, his report was not protected conduct under the Act. Edwards Lifesciences bases this argument on our interpretation of the Act in Obst v. Microtron, Inc., 614 N.W.2d 196, 202 (Minn. 2000), in which we held that "good faith" requires a putative whistleblower to act with the purpose of exposing an illegality. Friedlander contends that Obst is no longer good law following a 2013 amendment to the Act, which defines the phrase "good faith" to exclude "statements or ...


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