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Chaffin v. BHP Billiton

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 18, 2018

KENNETH S. CHAFFIN and TIFFANY CHAFFIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
BHP BILLITON (f.k.a. BROKEN HILLS PROPRIETARY COMPANY LIMITED and a.k.a. BHP BILLITON LIMITED or BHP BILLITON GROUP), BILLITON, PLC (a.k.a. BHP BILLITON, PLC), BHP BILLITON MINE MANAGEMENT COMPANY, BHP BILLITON NEW MEXICO COAL, INC., RUDI HALGRYN, and RYAN WAGGONER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         On July 13, 2018, Defendants BHP Billiton Limited and BHP Billiton, PLC (collectively, “Defendants” or “BHP Parent Companies”) filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (ECF No. 4). The Court, having considered the motion, pleadings, briefs, evidence, applicable law, and otherwise being fully advised, concludes that Defendants’ motion to dismiss should be granted and Defendants BHP Billiton Limited and BHP Billiton, PLC, should be dismissed without prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Since 1994, Plaintiff Kenneth Chaffin worked as an independent contractor and then employee at the Navajo Mine in Fruitland, New Mexico. First Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 1-1. On February 24, 2016, Mr. Chaffin signed a written Employment Agreement. See Employment Agreement, ECF No. 11-1 at 13 of 13. Mr. Chaffin alleges he was terminated in retaliation for giving written notice in March 2016 of his need to take leaves of absences regarding the mental/emotional health of his wife, Tiffany Chaffin. See First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16, ECF No. 1-1. Plaintiffs assert that on June 3, 2016, Mr. Chaffin’s direct supervisor, Maintenance Superintendent Ryan Waggoner, instructed Field Supervisor John Marts to have Mr. Chaffin remove the Out of Service tag from the left-hand overhead crane on the 7920 dragline because Mr. Waggoner said he had verified it was ok to operate. Id. ¶ 16(d) & (f). Plaintiffs contend that Defendants terminated him on July 29, 2016, for purportedly violating BHP’s Log out – Tag out standards, work management processes, Charter Values, and safety concerns, for the June 3, 2016 incident, but that his termination was pretext for his use of medical leave. See Id. ¶¶ 15-19.

         On March 11, 2018, Plaintiffs filed suit in the First Judicial District Court in the State of New Mexico, and subsequently amended their complaint to assert claims for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.; negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation; common-law wrongful discharge; intentional infliction of emotional distress; interference with contract and prospective economic advantage; and punitive damages. See Compl. & First Am. Compl., ECF No. 1-1. The claims all stem from the termination of Mr. Chaffin’s employment. See Id. Plaintiffs sued members of what they term the “BHP Group,” a collective reference to BHP Billiton, LLC (“BHP”); BHP Billiton, PLC (“BHP PLC”); BHP Billiton Mine Management Company (“MMCo”); BHP New Mexico Coal Company, Inc. (“NMC”), see First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 1-1, as well as Rudi Halgryn, an alleged managerial agent of BHP, and Ryan Waggoner, see Id. ¶ 9.

         BHP is incorporated in Australia, headquartered in and doing business in Australia, while BHP PLC is incorporated in the United Kingdom, headquartered in and doing business in the United Kingdom. See Decl. of Jennifer Lopez ¶ 3, ECF No. 4-1; Decl. of Shawn Goeckner ¶ 3, ECF No. 4-2. Although they operate as a single economic entity, they are separate legal entities with separate share listings and share registers. Lopez Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 4-1. Neither BHP nor BHP PLC had any involvement in any personnel or employment decision concerning Mr. Chaffin. Id. ¶ 7. BHP was the indirect owner of MMCo, and at all times indirectly owned all shares of stock in MMCo, which did business only in New Mexico operating the Navajo Mine from January 1, 2014 through December 31, 2016. Goeckner Decl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 4-2. BHP also was and is the indirect owner of all shares of stock in NMC, which was and is registered with the New Mexico Secretary of State and did business in New Mexico. Id. ¶ 5. NMC at all relevant times directly owned all shares of stock in MMCo, but effective January 1, 2017, NMC sold all shares of MMCo to Navajo Transitional Energy Company. Id. ¶ 6. Neither BHP nor BHP PLC was or is registered to do business in New Mexico, and neither did or does business in New Mexico. Id. ¶ 8.

         The written Employment Agreement signed by Mr. Chaffin contains a section entitled “Commencement of Employment & Employer” stating:

Your employer is BHP Billiton Mine Management Company (BHPB MMCo). Generally, a reference to “Company” refers to your employer.
BHP Billiton is the ultimate parent Company of BHPB MMCo. Employment for all three Companies is administered by a single company, which is currently BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal, Inc.

         Employment Agreement ¶ 2, ECF No. 11-1. The Employment Agreement explained, “You are employed in a global resources company. Accordingly, you may be required to travel to other locations including to another city or overseas in the course of your work.” Id. ¶ 4.

         The Employment Agreement contained a “Termination by the Company” section, which provided: “The Company may terminate your employment at any time, for any reason or no reason, by giving you the period of written notice shown in Schedule 1 or payment in lieu of some or all of the notice.” Id. ¶ 20. The Employment Agreement further stated: “The Company may immediately terminate your employment” when certain conditions were met. Id. According to the “Definitions” section, “Company means the employing company specified in Schedule 1.” Id. ¶ 30. Schedule 1 in turn provided under Item “Employing Company” the following “Detail”:

Generally, your employer is BHPB MMCo if you perform work only for Navajo Mine.
BHP Billiton is the ultimate parent Company of BHPB MMCo.
The administrator of your employment is:
BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal ...

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