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Kovanen v. Fedex Ground Package System, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 1, 2018

DAN KOVANEN AND MEGAN KOVANEN, a marital community, Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDEX GROUND PACKAGE SYSTEMS, INC., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          SALVADOR MENDOZA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Dan and Megan Kovanen (together Kovanen)[1] filed this complaint in Chelan County Superior Court against Dan Kovanen's former employer Ground Package System, Inc. (FedEx). Kovanen alleges he was terminated by FedEx in violation of certain FedEx policies and promises and he asserts claims of breach of contract, specific performance, and promissory estoppel. FedEx removed the case to this Court, ECF No. 1, and now moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, ECF No. 4. Because Kovanen fails to allege facts plausibly establishing breach of contract or promissory estoppel, and because specific performance is not an independent legal basis for a cause of action, Kovanen fails to state any claim upon which relief may be granted. Accordingly, the Court grants FedEx's motion and dismisses Kovanen's complaint. However, because it is not clear amendment would be futile, the Court grants Kovanen leave to amend his complaint.

         II. FACTS ALLEGED

         Plaintiff Dan Kovanen began working for FedEx on May 30, 1991. ECF No. 1-2 at 5. He was promoted to a Senior Manager position in 2011. ECF No. 1-2 at 5. He was never subject to any corrective action, counseling, or progressive discipline during his career with FedEx. ECF No. 1-2 at 5. At some point in his career, his position at FedEx required him to move to Wenatchee. ECF no. 1-2 at 5. On January 10, 2017, FedEx terminated Kovanen's employment.

         Kovanen filed this complaint in Chelan County Superior Court in September 2017. ECF No. 1-2 at 4. He alleges that FedEx terminated his employment without complying with policies Kovanen relied on to remain employed with FedEx. ECF No. 1-2 at 5. Specifically, he argues that FedEx failed to comply with its “personal Improvement Policy-031, which provides that the employees “[w]ill be informed by management that their performance is below expectations and that improvement is required[, ]” and “will be provided a reasonable opportunity to correct performance problems.” ECF No. 1-2 at 5. Kovanen cites several examples of policies that require warnings or suspensions for unsafe driving, although he asserts that his “basis for termination did not include any claims of unsafe driving.” ECF No. 1-2 at 5-6.

         Kovanen alleges one cause of action for “BREACH OF CONTRACT/SPECIFIC PERFORMANCE/PROMISSORY ESTOPPEL.” ECF No. 4 at 6. Kovanen alleges that (1) FedEx breached its promises stated in its policies; (2) he reasonably believed FedEx would treat him in accordance with those policies; (3) the promise induced him to take action to his detriment and injustices can be avoided only by enforcement of those promises; and (4) he has suffered damages. ECF No. 4 at 6-7.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Kovanen cites primarily Washington cases interpreting Washington's pleading standards as establishing the standard for review of a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 5 at 2-4. These cases are inapposite. District courts sitting in diversity apply the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 1; Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1073 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)).

         A claim may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or failure to allege sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. Taylor v. Yee, 780 F.3d 928, 935 (9th Cir. 2015). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible on its face when “the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Kovanen alleges a single cause of action for breach of contract/specific performance/promissory estoppel. In the Court's view, and consistent with the parties' analysis, these should be treated as three separate causes of action. Because Kovanen fails to allege facts plausibly establishing breach of contract or promissory estoppel, and because specific performance is not an independent legal basis for a cause of action, Kovanen fails to state any claim upon which relief may be granted, and his complaint must be dismissed.

         A. Kovanen fails to state a breach of contract claim.

         “A breach of contract is actionable only if the contract imposes a duty, the duty is breached, and the breach proximately causes damage to the claimant.” Nw. Indep. Forest Mfrs. v. Dep't of Labor and Indus., 899 P.2d 6, 9 (Wash. App. 1995). FedEx argues that Kovanen's claim fails because he did not allege that he and FedEx were parties to a valid employment contract. ECF No. 4 at 4-5. Kovanen argues that FedEx's employment policies altered ...


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