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Seaman v. Empire Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 3, 2017

JASON SEAMAN, an individual residing in the State of California, Plaintiff,
v.
EMPIRE AIRLINES, INC., an Idaho corporation; and DOES 1 - 50 inclusive, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          EDWARD J. LODGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Empire Airlines, Inc.'s (“Empire”) Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 3.) The parties filed responsive briefing and the Motion is now ripe. Having fully reviewed the record herein, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Motion shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument. The Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's Motion.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Empire, an Idaho corporation, hired Plaintiff Jason Seaman (“Seaman”) as an ATR Captain in February 2015. (Dkt. 1.) On February 13, 2015, Seaman signed a Pilot Agreement (“Agreement”) memorializing his employment as an at-will employee. (Dkt. 1, Ex. 1.) As required under the Agreement, Seaman completed 9 weeks of training in Idaho before starting work in Santa Barbara, California on May 2, 2015. (Dkt. 1.)

         On the morning of February 25, 2016, while in Idaho for training, Empire's Human Resources Department asked Seaman to take a random drug/alcohol test. (Dkt. 1.) A breathalyzer test was administered at 8:15 a.m., followed by a second test 15 minutes later; the tests registered blood alcohol concentrations of “.051” and “.043” respectively. (Dkt. 1.) Empire terminated Seaman's employment at its headquarters in Hayden, Idaho later that day referencing his failed drug/alcohol test and its zero tolerance policy. (Dkt. 1.)

         On July 6, 2016, Seaman filed his complaint alleging four causes of action arising out of the drug/alcohol test and his subsequent termination, including tortious termination in violation of public policy, breach of the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing under California law, breach of contract, and declaratory relief. (Dkt. 1.) Empire filed a Counterclaim alleging breach of contract. (Dkt. 6.) Both parties filed Motions to Dismiss, which the Court now takes up. (Dkt. 3, 10, 11.)[1]

         DISCUSSION

         1. Motion to Dismiss under 12(b)(6) - Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a party's claim for relief. When considering such a motion, the Court's inquiry is whether the allegations in a pleading are sufficient under applicable pleading standards. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) sets forth minimum pleading rules, requiring only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         In general, a motion to dismiss will only be granted if the complaint fails to 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 has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted lawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted).

         When deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court assumes the allegations in the complaint are true and construes them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when, taking all the allegations in the complaint as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Milne ex rel. Coyne v. Stephen Slesigner, Inc., 430 F.3d 1036, 1042 (9th Cir. 2005); Westlands Water Dist. v. Firebaugh Canal, 10 F.3d 667, 670 (9th Cir. 1993). Although “we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Therefore, “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” Caviness v. Horizon Comm. Learning Cent., Inc., 590 F.3d 806, 811-12 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must normally convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into one for summary judgment under Rule 56 if the court considers evidence outside of the pleadings. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 907 (9th Cir. 2003). However, "a court may consider attachments to the complaint and documents referred to in (but not attached to) the complaint, where the authenticity of such document is not in question." Mueller v. Correction Corp. of America, 2013 WL 431796, at *1 (D. Idaho 2013) (citing Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616 (9th Cir. 1997)).

         The Court will evaluate each of Seaman's claims using the above standard. But, first the Court must take up whether to apply Idaho or California law.

         2. Choice of Law

         Empire asserts Seaman's claims based on California law should be dismissed because the choice of law provision of the Agreement specifies that Idaho law governs any breach claims. (Dkt. 3, 15.) The choice of law provision reads: “Empire and Employee agree that this Agreement and performance under it, and all proceedings that may ensue from its breach, be construed in accordance with and under the laws of the State of Idaho.” (Dkt. 15, Ex. 1.)[2] In arguing for the application of California law, Seaman states he was employed for the purpose of operating out of Santa Barbara; he paid income taxes in California; he resided in California while employed by Empire; and he was terminated while living and working in California. (Dkt. 9.) Seaman does not contest that the Agreement contains a choice of law provision, instead he seems to contend the Court should apply California law in spite of it because California has a materially greater interest in his claims than Idaho does. (Dkt. 9.)

         “Federal courts sitting in diversity look to the law of the forum state in making a choice of law determination.” Ticknor v. Choice Hotels Int'l, Inc., 265 F.3d 931, 937 (9th Cir. 2001). The complaint was filed in Idaho, thus Idaho's choice of law rules apply. Idaho applies the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws to determine what law governs a contract, which states: “The law of the state chosen by the parties to govern their contractual rights and duties will be applied if the particular issue is one which the parties could have resolved by an explicit provision in their agreement directed to that issue.” Carroll v. MBNA America Bank, 220 P.3d 1080, 1084 (Idaho 2009) (quoting ...


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