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Friedlander v. Edwards Lifesciences LLC

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 5, 2017

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

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

          David P. Pearson and Reid Golden, for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. No. 16]. This Memorandum Opinion and Order supplements this Court's prior Order dated September 19, 2017 [Doc. No. 63]. For the additional reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is denied.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff James Friedlander filed a complaint in Hennepin County District Court alleging that Defendants Edwards Lifesciences LLC, Edwards Lifesciences Corporation, and Matthew Borenzweig (collectively “Defendants”) fired him in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, and also that Defendant Matthew Borenzweig tortiously interfered with his contract with Edwards Lifesciences Corporation and Edward Lifesciences LLC (collectively “Edwards”). (Notice of Removal, Ex. A [Doc. No. 1-1], (“Compl.”), at 6-13.)[1] Defendants removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction, and now move for judgment on the pleadings.

         “In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court must ‘accept as true all facts pleaded by the non-moving party and grant all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the non-moving party.'” Dryer v. Nat'l Football League, 689 F.Supp.2d 1113, 1115 (D. Minn. 2010) (quoting Faibisch v. Univ. of Minn., 304 F.3d 797, 803 (8th Cir. 2002)). The following statement of facts is based on the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint.

         Plaintiff was employed by Edwards from August 2011 to July 2015, as Director of Corporate Accounts in Edwards' Heart Valve Therapy division. (Compl. at 7, 10.) Matthew Borenzweig was Vice President of Sales during that period, and he supervised Plaintiff. (Id. at 7.) In August 2014, Edwards entered into a contract with Novation, a group purchasing organization for health care facilities. (Id.) The contract included rebates, or “price concessions, ” for health care facilities that met certain growth metrics. (Id.) Several health care facilities in the Novation group showed growth metrics that would entitle them to rebates. (Id. at 8.)

         In a January 2015 meeting of Edwards' sales executives, “Mr. Borenzweig stated he did not want to give price concessions to facilities unless the facilities asked for it.” (Id.) Borenzweig's plan was backed by a “growing consensus, ” but Plaintiff opposed it, stating that the contract with Novation required Edwards to award rebates to all facilities that qualified, regardless of whether they asked for them. (Id.) Borenzweig was “infuriated” by Plaintiff's opposition. (Id.) In March 2015, the Edwards sales executives again discussed the Novation rebates. (Id.) At this meeting, Plaintiff “made clear he was not on board with Edwards' plan to willfully breach the Novation contract in bad faith.” (Id.) Borenzweig asked the President of National Accounts, Mark Schreiber, to weigh in. (Id.) Schreiber stated that Edwards would not issue rebates for the Novation contract to facilities who did not know that they were entitled to a rebate. (Id.)

         Sometime in April 2015, Borenzweig asked Area Director John Tanner to fire Plaintiff. (Id. at 9.) Tanner refused because he saw “no legitimate grounds” to do so. (Id.) Tanner also openly opposed the plan to withhold rebates from some Novation facilities, and Borenzweig fired Tanner “a short time later.” (Id.)

         Before Tanner was fired, Plaintiff joined him for a lunch with colleagues during a business trip in April 2015. (Id.) Tanner told Plaintiff to pay for the meal because Tanner had forgotten his wallet. (Id.) Plaintiff complied, though the cost of the meal exceeded his allowable expenses for the business trip. (Id. at 9-10.) When human resources questioned Plaintiff about the expense, Plaintiff explained the situation and offered to withdraw the reimbursement request. (Id.)

         Edwards fired Plaintiff on July 17, 2015. (Id. at 10.) As a reason for the termination, Edwards stated that Plaintiff failed to comply with Edwards' policies relating to expenses and expense reporting, and that this was “serious misconduct” reflecting “a lack of honesty and integrity and demonstrated poor judgment.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendants violated the Minnesota Whistleblower Act by firing Plaintiff for making a good-faith report of a violation of the law. (Id. at 10-11 (citing Minn. Stat. § 181.932, subdiv. 1).) Plaintiff also makes a claim of tortious interference with contractual relations against Borenzweig, alleging that he “procured Plaintiff's discharge” and that his conduct was motivated by malice and bad faith. (Id. at 11.)

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead: (1) that he was employed by Edwards; (2) that he made a good-faith report under the whistleblower statute; and (3) that his report was the cause of his termination. (Defs.' Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for J. on the Pleadings [Doc. No. 18] (“Defs.' Mem.”), at 13-22.) Defendants further argue that Plaintiff's tortious interference claim should be dismissed because Plaintiff fails to plausibly allege that Borenzweig acted with actual malice. (Id. at 22-26.)

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. ...


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