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Craft v. Burris

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

October 30, 2017




         Plaintiff William Craft brings this action under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a) against Lowell Burris, Paul Crnkovich, John Arrasmith, [1] and Stillwater Mining Company (“Stillwater”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) (the “Motion”). (Doc. 6.) As discussed below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion.

         This Court has federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, because Craft asserts claims under 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a) for alleged violations of rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

         I. Background

         For purposes of the pending motion, the Court accepts as true all factual allegations contained in the Complaint (Doc. 1), and construes them in the light most favorable to Craft. Kneivel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). Craft's Complaint contains the following factual allegations.

         Stillwater owns and operates the East Boulder Mine in Montana. Stillwater employed Craft until December 14, 2014. Defendants Burris, Crnkovich, and Arrasmith also were agents and employees of Stillwater. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 4.) On or about December 14, 2014, during a joint telephone conference call, Stillwater terminated Craft's employment, effective November 30, 2014. The decision to terminate was memorialized in writing and signed by Burris. (Id. at ¶ 5.)

         Craft suffered from gastrointestinal disorders. In 2014, prior to his termination, Craft took an undisclosed amount of leave, and had also requested an undisclosed amount of FMLA leave. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

         Craft alleges in Count I of his Complaint that Defendants denied and interfered with his FMLA rights, and in Count II that Defendants retaliated against him for the exercise of those rights. (See generally Doc. 1). Craft claims that the interference and retaliation resulted in his termination, which caused him to suffer damages, including: (1) loss of wages and benefits; (2) deterioration of his physical condition; (3) medical expenses; and (4) unspecified out of pocket costs. (Id. at ¶ 1.) Craft also seeks equitable relief, including but not limited to employment reinstatement. (Id.)

         II. Parties' Arguments

         Defendants advance several arguments in support of their Motion. (Doc. 7 at 3-12.) First, Defendants argue that Craft has not alleged sufficient facts to state a claim of interference under the FMLA. Specifically, defendants maintain that Craft has not alleged facts to establish his FMLA eligibility. They argue that his claims are based on the premises that Craft was eligible for FMLA and that Stillwater was an employer under the FMLA, but the Complaint does not allege facts supporting either premise. Rather, Defendants argue, Craft summarily concludes that he was eligible for FMLA benefits and that Stillwater was an FMLA employer. (Id. at 4-7.) Defendants further argue that Craft did not allege facts to show the Defendants' wrongdoing, and simply state that Defendants interfered with his FMLA rights without any factual basis. (Id. at 7-9.)

         The Defendants also contend that Craft has not alleged facts to state a claim for retaliation under the FMLA. In this regard, Defendants argue that Craft failed to allege facts to show when he requested leave, for what purpose, from whom the leave was requested, who denied the leave, and the temporal relationship between the leave request and his termination. Without these factual allegations, Defendants contend, Craft has not sufficiently alleged a claim for retaliation. (Id. at 9-10.)

         Additionally, Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to state a claim against Burris, Crnkovich, and Arrasmith in their individual capacities, because the Complaint includes nothing but a formulaic recitation of the elements required for personal liability. (Id. at 10-12.)

         In response, Craft argues that: (1) Defendants are aware of the factual basis for the claims because Craft filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Labor after his termination (Doc. 10 at 2-3); (2) the omitted factual allegations are more properly asserted as affirmative defenses, and thus are not Craft's burden to plead (Id. at 3-5); and (3) if the Court deems the Complaint deficient in some manner, Craft should be allowed the opportunity to amend to cure the Complaint (Id. at 4-6).

         In reply, Defendants argue that: (1) Craft bears the burden to prove an employee's eligibility and an employer's FMLA coverage as elements of an FMLA claim; thus, those requirements are not affirmative defenses (Doc. 11 at 1-3); (2) Craft does not address any of the authority Defendants cited for the proposition that Craft's Complaint must contain more than a recitation of elements of FMLA interference and retaliation claims in order to survive a motion to dismiss (Id. at 3-4); and (3) ...

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