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Miller v. Amerigas Partners, L.P.

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 8, 2014

JAMES MILLER, Plaintiff,


KIMBERLY J. MUELLER, District Judge.

On March 19, 2014, this court granted the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant AmeriGas Partners. ECF No. 45. On April 16, 2014, plaintiff Miller filed a motion for reconsideration of this order. ECF No. 49. The court ordered it submitted without argument. As discussed below, the court denies the motion for reconsideration.


On October 31, 2012, Miller filed a complaint in Mono County Superior Court alleging generally that he had been employed as a District Manager by Heritage Propane in Mammoth Lakes, California since 1997; in October 2011, Heritage announced that its rival AmeriGas had acquired Heritage; in January 2012, Heritage employees received a transition packet from AmeriGas, including a "Confidentiality and Post Employment Agreement" providing that any employee would not solicit AmeriGas employees or sell propane within a fifty mile radius from an AmeriGas District Office for two years after leaving AmeriGas; Miller refused to sign the agreement; AmeriGas let employees know there would be some layoffs because, for example, there could be only one manager in an area that had had both Heritage and AmeriGas offices; within a month of his second refusal to sign the agreement, plaintiff was interviewed for the position of manager of the combined Bishop/Mammoth Lakes region; about a month after the interview Lisa Thomas, one of the interviewers, arrived at the Mammoth Lakes office, and informed plaintiff he had not been selected for the manager position. ECF No. 1-1 at 8-14. The complaint contains two claims: (1) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and (2) unfair business practices in violation of California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200, et seq.

On December 10, 2012, AmeriGas removed the case to this court. ECF No. 1. It filed its motion for summary judgment on December 20, 2013, arguing that Miller had not established a nexus between the public policy at stake and his termination. Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 21 at 13. In opposition, plaintiff contended he was terminated because he refused to sign the illegal confidentiality agreement and that "[d]efendant's suggestion that it terminated Plaintiff based exclusively on information gleaned from an impartial interview process is a farce and clear evidence of pretext." Opp'n, ECF No. 34 at 6.

On March 19, 2014, the court granted defendant's motion, evaluating the claim by applying the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-04 (1973). ECF No. 45. On April 16, 2014 Plaintiff argues that McDonnell Douglas does not apply to non-FEHA based claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Mot. for Recons., ECF No. 49.


Under Rule 59(e), a party may move to "alter or amend a judgment" within twenty-eight days of the entry of the judgment. Although the Rule does not list specific grounds for such a motion, the Ninth Circuit has said that a Rule 59(e) motion may be granted if "(1) the district court is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) the district court committed clear error or made an initial decision that was manifestly unjust, or (3) there is an intervening change in controlling law." Zimmerman v. City of Oakland, 255 F.3d 734, 740 (9th Cir. 2001). This court has "wide discretion" when considering such a motion. Turner v. Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R. Co., 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003). The rule provides "an extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources.'" Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 59.30[4] (3d ed. 2000)). A party filing a motion for reconsideration should not ask the court "to rethink what the Court has already thought through" simply because of a disagreement with the result of that thought process. Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc., 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983). A motion to amend the judgment "is a proper vehicle for seeking reconsideration of a summary judgment ruling." Tripati v. Henman, 845 F.2d 205, 206 n.1 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam).

As explained below, plaintiff has not shown the court committed clear error in its analysis of his wrongful discharge claim nor that any interpretation of the evidence had an impact on the outcome of the case.


A. Wrongful Discharge And Burden Shifting

Plaintiff argues that the court committed clear error in applying the McDonnell Douglas framework to evaluate the motion. He acknowledges that courts have indeed applied this analytic tool to wrongful discharge claims, but says it is limited to wrongful termination claims based on California Government Code section 12940, which proscribes retaliation against an employee who complains about practices forbidden under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). CAL. GOV'T CODE §§ 12900, et seq. He argues that the framework is not applied to claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, so-called Tameny [1] claims.

In Loggins v. Kaiser Permanente International, the California Court of Appeal said:

When a plaintiff alleges retaliatory employment termination either as a claim under the FEHA or as a claim for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and the defendant seeks summary judgment, California follows the burden shifting analysis of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973), 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 ...

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