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HUTCHINS v. TNT/REDDAWAY TRUCK LINE

August 7, 1996

ALAN HUTCHINS, Plaintiffs,
v.
TNT/REDDAWAY TRUCK LINE, INC.; DOES through 25 inclusive, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WATERS

 TO ALL PARTIES AND THEIR ATTORNEYS OF RECORD:

 Defendant brought this motion for summary judgment on June 14, 1996, and the Court held a telephonic hearing on the motion on July 30, 1996. Having considered the papers and arguments of counsel, the Court issues the following order:

 FACTS:

 Plaintiff began working for defendant TNT Reddaway Truck Line ("TNT") on October 22, 1986. There is evidence that over the next few years, he received commendations and merit bonuses from TNT, and that he got oral reassurances from TNT's agents that if he continued to do his job properly he would not be terminated arbitrarily.

 In 1993, the plaintiff received an copy of TNT's employee handbook, which explicitly stated that the plaintiff's employment was at will. On December 15 of that year, the plaintiff signed an "Acknowledgment and Agreement" stating that he had received the employee handbook and that he would abide by the rules it contained. The agreement also specifically stated that the plaintiff's employment was at will and could be terminated at any time. The plaintiff states that he received this document just before he went out to work, and that he only had time to "briefly" look through it. He also states that he did not completely understand the meaning of the language in the document.

 ANALYSIS:

 I. Summary judgment standard

 It is the burden of the party who moves for summary judgment to establish that there is "no genuine issue of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 951 (9th Cir. 1978) cert. denied, 440 U.S. 981, 60 L. Ed. 2d 241, 99 S. Ct. 1790 (1979).

 If the nonmoving party has the burden of proof at trial, as in the present case, then the moving party has no burden to negate the opponent's claim. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In other words, the moving party does not have the burden to produce any evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 325. "Instead, . . . the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'--that is, pointing out to the district court--that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id.

 Once the moving party satisfies this initial burden, "an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings . . . The adverse party's response . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (emphasis added). A "genuine issue" of material fact exists only when the nonmoving party makes a sufficient showing to establish each essential element to that party's case, and on which that party would bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in its favor. Id. at 248; Griffeth v. Utah Power & Light Co., 226 F.2d 661, 669 (9th Cir. 1955).

 II. The existence of an implied-in-fact contract

┬áCalifornia Labor Code ┬ž 2922 states that an employee's term of employment will be presumed to be "at will" in the absence of an employment contract or other agreement. According to Foley v. Interactive Data Corp., 47 Cal. 3d 654, 254 Cal. Rptr. 211, 765 P.2d 373 (1988), however, this standard presumption can be overcome by evidence of an implied-in-fact agreement to the contrary. Such an agreement could arise from "the personnel policies or practices of the employer, the employee's longevity of service, actions or communications by the employer reflecting assurances of continued employment, and the practices of the industry in which the employee is engaged." Id. at 680. In Foley, the plaintiff alleged that he had worked for his employer for almost seven years, and the employer had ignored its own "termination guidelines" in ...


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