United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION OF U.S. MAGISTRATE
TIMOTHY J. CAVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Misty Metcalf (“Metcalf”) brings this action and
asserts a claim against ONEOK, Inc. for alleged violation of
the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act
(“WDEA”). Presently before the Court is
ONEOK's motion for summary judgment, which has been
referred to the undersigned under 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B). (Doc. 20.) The motion is fully briefed and ripe
for the Court's review. (Docs. 21, 25, 26.) Having
considered the parties' arguments, and for the following
reasons, the Court recommends ONEOK's motion be
is in the natural gas business, and is involved in connecting
natural gas supply basins with market centers. (Doc. 22 at
¶1.) In furtherance of its operations, ONEOK enters into
“Enterprise Agreements” with right-of-way service
entities. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3. The right-of-way
companies provide services for ONEOK under their respective
service agreements through the right-of-way companies'
employees, agents, and contractors. Id. at ¶ 3.
ONEOK receives invoices from the right-of-way companies for
the services provided, and ONEOK remits payment through a
direct deposit to the entities.
Land Professionals Inc. (“U.S. Land”), a Florida
corporation, is one of the right-of-way companies that
provides services to ONEOK's operations in Montana, North
Dakota, and Wyoming. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.
Metcalf was an employee or independent contractor for U.S.
Land and worked on ONEOK projects. Id. at ¶ 10.
Metcalf also previously performed services on ONEOK projects
for a different right-of-way company, Dakota Land Services,
Inc. Id. at ¶ 10.
in 2015, ONEOK's need for right-of-way services
decreased. Id. at ¶ 5. It communicated its
declining need for services to the right-of-way companies and
reduced their services. Id. U.S. Land reduced its
employee and contractor base accordingly, and it discontinued
employing or contracting with Metcalf. Id. at
¶¶ 11-12. Metcalf filed the instant action on March
8, 2017, alleging ONEOK violated the WDEA. (Doc. 7.)
STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
judgment is appropriate where the moving party demonstrates
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and
entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 322 (1986). Material facts are those which may affect
the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a
material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for
a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the
nonmoving party. Id. “Disputes over irrelevant
or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary
judgment.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec.
Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir.
party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial
burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving
party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting
evidence that negates an essential element of the non-moving
party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the non-moving
party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an
element essential to that party's case on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at
322-23. If the moving party fails to discharge this initial
burden, summary judgment must be denied, and the court need
not consider the non-moving party's evidence. Adickes
v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).
moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden
then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine
issue as to any material fact actually does exist.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the
existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party must
“go beyond the pleadings and by ‘the depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,'
designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.'” Celotex, 477
U.S. at 324 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). The opposing party
cannot defeat summary judgment merely by demonstrating
“that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586;
Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216,
1221 (9th Cir. 1995) (“The mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's
position is not sufficient.”) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
complaint, Metcalf asserts that ONEOK violated the WDEA by
discharging her without good cause. (Doc. 7 at ¶ 5.)
Specifically, she argues that her discharge was wrongful
because ONEOK did not have a reasonable, job-related reason
for terminating her employment. Metcalf also contends that
she entered an Independent Contractor Agreement with ONEOK
that violated Montana's public policy and does not
absolve ONEOK's violation of the WDEA.
issue is whether the WDEA applies to Metcalf and ONEOK's
relationship, and whether Metcalf has a viable claim for
relief. ONEOK disputes the WDEA's application because it
contends it was not ...