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Ramirez v. AMPS, Staffing, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 27, 2018

Karina Ramirez, Plaintiff,
v.
AMPS Staffing, Inc., and Darana Hybrid, Inc., Defendants.

          ORDER

          BECKY R. THORSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Karina Ramirez sued AMPS Staffing, Inc. (“AMPS”), and Darana Hybrid, Inc. (“Darana”), under Minnesota law for alleged retaliation in violation of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act (“MWA”). (Doc. No. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 21-31.) This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint to add punitive damages. (Doc. No. 28.) A hearing was held on Plaintiff's motion on March 8, 2018.

         As has been done traditionally in this district, the parties briefed and argued Plaintiff's motion assuming that the procedure set forth in Minnesota Statute § 549.191 governed Plaintiff's request to amend her Complaint. Section 549.191 requires the motion to be supported by an affidavit, and requires the court to grant the motion if, after a hearing on the motion, the court finds prima facie evidence in support of the motion. Minn. Stat. § 549.191. Within the past year, however, courts in this district have freshly analyzed whether Minn. Stat. § 549.191 or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 should govern a request for leave to amend to add punitive damages in a request for relief. See Inline Packaging, LLC, v. Graphic Packaging Int'l, LLC, No. 15-cv-3183 (ADM/LIB), Doc. No. 534 (D. Minn. Mar. 8, 2018) (denying Plaintiff's motion to amend to plead punitive damages under a Minn. Stat. § 549.191 framework); In re Bair Hugger Forced Air Warming Devices Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 15-2666 (JNE/FLN), 2017 WL 5187832 (D. Minn. July 27, 2017) (denying Plaintiff's motion to amend to plead punitive damages under a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 framework). Given the procedural posture of this case and the evidence presented by Plaintiff, this Court need not decide whether the approach in In re Bair Hugger or Inline Packaging should prevail because, under either standard, the amendment is justified based on the evidence presented by Plaintiff to support her claim for punitive damages relief. Therefore, for the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that she was improperly fired under the MWA in retaliation for refusing to follow an order that violated state and federal law. (Compl. ¶¶ 21-27.) To summarize the pertinent facts, Plaintiff began working for AMPS and Darana[1] on December 7, 2015, as a human resources generalist. (Id. ¶ 11.) One of her job duties was to handle payroll. (Doc. No. 31, Decl. of Karina Ramirez in Supp. of Mot. for Leave to Am. Compl. (“Ramirez Decl.”) ¶ 2.) On June 30, 2017, Plaintiff processed new hire paperwork for an incoming human resources generalist. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff asked Jeff Marcum, Plaintiff's supervisor and Darana's Chief Financial Officer, if she was being replaced. Marcum explained to Plaintiff that, as far as he knew, she still had a future in the company. (Id. ¶¶ 4-5.)

         Later that day, Bart Tolleson, Darana vice president of operations, sent an email to Alison Meyer, director of recruiting, and Darryl Cuttell, Darana and AMP CEO, stating that a crew in New York was walking out on a job. (Id. ¶ 6; Doc. No. 30, Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. to Am. Compl. (“Pl.'s Mem.”) 2.) Tolleson stated in the email that the workers are “complete pieces of [****], they MUST go on the never [*******] hire list again and make sure they get not a [****] dime to go home of travel and that their hotels are shut down ASAP.” (Doc. No. 35, Pl.'s Ex. B (profanity omitted).) He continued to say, “If I knew a hit man in the area there would be some holes that needed digging real quick.” (Id.) Approximately forty minutes later, Tolleson sent another email. (Ramirez Decl. ¶ 8.) This email was a response to an email from Joe Holley, Darana mechanical installation supervisor, which went to six recipients, including Ramirez, Tolleson, and Cuttell. (Doc. No. 35, Pl.'s Ex. C at 1; Pl.'s Mem. at 3.) The body of the email listed the names of the six individuals who walked out on the job. (Id.) Tolleson responded to all the recipients, stating that, “Per Darryl, these 6 lower life forms are not to be paid this week for any hours worked this week.” (Id.) Darryl Cuttell also responded to Holley's email. Cuttell stated, “They will not be paid next week, as per Darryl Cuttell, have them call with any concerns and I will deal with [them] accordingly as they have done to us.” (Doc. No. 35, Pl.'s Ex. D at 3.)

         In response, Plaintiff sent Cuttell, Holley, and Meyer an email, copying Tolleson, Gene Mercer, Rodney Caudill, and Wayne Nelums.[2] In her email, Plaintiff inquired, “Just to confirm, you do not want to pay them for hours worked?” (Id.) In less than one hour, Cuttell responded “NO!!!!!!!” (Id. at 2.) His email was sent to all the recipients of Holley's original email. (Id.) Plaintiff then sent an individualized email to Cuttell, which stated, “I do not feel comfortable, not paying these employees for hours worked because it is illegal (Dept. of Labor Laws).” (Id. at 1.) Within minutes, Cuttell replied, “I DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU THINK, WE ARE NOT PAYING THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (Id.) Cutell copied Tolleson, Marcum, Meyer, Dawn Shaffer, and Brenda Dane.[3] (Id.)

         Plaintiff asserts that, “[m]inutes after [she] received this email, [she] received a phone call. [Plaintiff] recognized the voice on the other end: it was Mr. Cuttell. He told [Plaintiff] that [she] was being terminated, effective immediately.” (Ramirez Decl. ¶ 13.) At 3:54 p.m., eighteen minutes after Plaintiff emailed Cuttell that she did not feel comfortable withholding pay, Cuttell sent Plaintiff an email with a one page termination letter. (Doc. No. 35, Pl.'s Ex. E.) Two hours and forty-one minutes passed between Holley's original email and Plaintiff's termination. (Id.; Pl.'s Ex. D at 4.)

         DISCUSSION

         Based on the above alleged facts, Plaintiff seeks to amend her Complaint to assert punitive damages as a request for relief. She asserts she has met her burden under Minn. Stat. § 549.191-Minnesota's state procedural law-to do so. Defendants disagree.

         Although not raised by either side, Plaintiff's motion also implicates the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In particular, Rule 15 governs the amendment of pleadings:

(a) Amendments Before Trial.

         (1) Amending as a Matter of Course. A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within:

(A)

         (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier.

(2) Other Amendments

         (3) Time to Respond. Unless the court orders otherwise, any required response to an amended pleading must be made within the time remaining to respond to the original pleading or within 14 days after service of the amended pleading, whichever is later.

(Fed. R. Civ. P. 15.) Relevant here, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 states that when a party is seeking the court's leave, “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Despite this liberal standard, a party does not have an absolute right to amend. Sherman v. Winco Fireworks, Inc., 532 F.3d 709, 715 (8th Cir. 2008). It is well established that a motion to amend should be denied if “there are compelling reasons such as undue delay, bad faith, or dilatory motive, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the non-moving party, or futility of the amendment.” Moses.com Sec., Inc. v. Comprehensive Software Sys., Inc., 406 F.3d 1052, 1065 (8th Cir. 2005). The determination as to whether to grant leave to amend pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 is within the sound discretion of the court. See, e.g., Kozlov v. Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc., 818 F.3d 380, 394 (8th Cir. 2016).

         Under Minn. Stat. § 549.191, a party is barred from seeking punitive damages upon the commencement of the complaint or upon amendment as a matter of course, and a claim for punitive damages may only be brought only as follows:

549.191 CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES.
Upon commencement of a civil action, the complaint must not seek punitive damages. After filing the suit a party may make a motion to amend the pleadings to claim punitive damages. The motion must allege the applicable legal basis under section 549.20 or other law for awarding punitive damages in the action and must be accompanied by one or more affidavits showing the factual basis for the claim. At the hearing on the motion, if the court finds prima facie evidence in support of the motion, the court shall grant the moving party permission to amend the pleadings to claim punitive damages. For purposes of tolling the statute of limitations, pleadings amended under this section relate back to the time the action was commenced.

Minn. Stat. § 549.191 (2017).[4] Therefore, unlike Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, Minn. Stat. § 549.191 requires that a motion to amend to add a punitive damages claim “allege the applicable legal basis under section 549.20 or other law for awarding punitive damages in the action, ” requires “one or more affidavits showing the factual basis for the claim, ” and requires the court to determine whether there is prima facie evidence to support the motion. If the court finds prima facie evidence, the ...


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