United States District Court, D. New Mexico
KENNETH S. CHAFFIN and TIFFANY CHAFFIN, Plaintiffs,
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
October 12, 2018, Defendants BHP Billiton Mine Management
Company (“BHPB MMCo”), BHP Billiton New Mexico
Coal, Inc. (“NMC”), Rudi Halgryn, and Ryan
Waggoner (collectively, “Defendants”) filed a
Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF
No. 14). Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs Kenneth and
Tiffany Chaffinâs claims for common-law wrongful discharge,
intentional infliction of emotional distress, and
interference with contract and prospective economic
advantage. The Court, having considered the motion,
pleadings, briefs, applicable law, and otherwise being fully
advised, concludes that Defendantsâ motion to dismiss should
be granted in part and denied in part as described herein.
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. From May
2013 through July 29, 2016, Mr. Chaffin worked as a Field
Supervisor for Defendants BHPB MMCo. and NMC. See Id
. ¶¶ 7-8, 14. Mr. Chaffin entered into a
written contract with the “BHP Group, ”
Plaintiffs’ collective reference to BHP Billiton
(“BHP”), BHP Billiton, PLC (“BHP
PLC”), BHPB MMCo, and NMC. See Id .
March 2016, Mr. Chaffin gave Defendants written notice of his
need to take leaves of absences regarding the
mental/emotional health of his wife, Plaintiff Tiffany
Chaffin. Id. ¶ 16(b). He asserts he was
entitled to make these requests under the Family and Medical
Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et
seq., the New Mexico Human Rights Act
(“NMHRA”), N.M. Stat. Ann. § 28-1-1 et
seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.,
and as amended. Id. ¶ 16(c).
March through July 2016, Mr. Chaffin’s direct
supervisor, Maintenance Superintendent Ryan Waggoner, began
treating Mr. Chaffin as if Defendants now found him
unfavorable because of his association with a person having
mental/emotional difficulties. Id. ¶ 16(d). Mr.
Waggoner also acted as if Mr. Chaffin was impaired or
disabled, including asking co-workers whether they felt like
Mr. Chaffin was still fit for duty. Id. ¶
16(e). Mr. Chaffin “was harassed, belittled, and
discriminated and retaliated against by Defendants for
incurring, having a record of, or being regarded as having
serious injuries and serious medical conditions, and/or for
having requested accommodations for the same.”
Id. ¶ 17. Mr. Chaffin made complaints of this
treatment within Defendants’ corporate structure to no
avail. Id. ¶ 18.
3, 2016, Mr. Waggoner instructed Field Supervisor John Marts
by radio to have Mr. Chaffin remove the Out of Service tag
from the left-hand overhead crane on the 7920 drag line.
Id. ¶ 16(f). Mr. Chaffin was present and within
hearing distance of this conversation. Id. Mr.
Waggoner said he had verified it was ok to operate.
Id. As Mr. Waggoner and Mr. Marts were aware, Mr.
Chaffin had no independent knowledge of what repairs or
inspections had occurred because he had taken periodic leaves
of absences. Id. Mr. Waggoner removed the tag as
week of July 5, 2016, Mr. Waggoner began changing and
limiting Mr. Chaffin’s supervisory responsibilities
without explanation. Id. ¶ 16(g). On July 18,
2016, Defendants requested more information on Mr.
Chaffin’s FMLA request. Id. ¶ 16(h). On
July 25, 2016, Tiffany Chaffin’s brother died, and the
funeral service was to occur on August 1, 2016. Id.
¶ 16(i). Defendants were aware of Mr. Chaffin’s
brother-in-law’s death. Id. Mr.
Chaffin’s need for a leave of absence and Mrs.
Chaffin’s reliance on the health insurance provided by
his employer was immediate and critical. Id.
terminated Mr. Chaffin by letter dated July 29, 2016, for
purportedly removing the Out of Service tag from the
left-hand overhead crane on the 7920 in violation of
BHP’s Log out – Tag out standards, work
management processes, Charter Values, and safety concerns.
See Id . ¶¶ 15, 16(j). The basis for the
termination was false and Mr. Chaffin was subject to
disparate treatment as compared to Mr. Waggoner and Mr. Marts
from the June 3, 2016 incident. See Id . ¶
16(j). The Mine Safety and Health Administration investigated
the June 3, 2016 incident and determined that the left-hand
overhead crane on the 7920 drag line was, in fact, safe to
operate when Mr. Chaffin removed the Out of Service tag at
Mr. Waggoner’s and Mr. Marts’ direction.
Id. ¶ 16(k).
this time, Defendants were negotiating and completing the
purchase of the Navajo Mine by a third-party. See Id
. ¶ 16(a). Mr. Chaffin’s termination of
employment before the closing date of the sale of the mining
operations interfered with and prevented him from securing
employment with the successor company that continues to
operate the mine. Id. ¶ 55. As a result,
Plaintiffs lost the benefit of their health insurance
filed suit in the First Judicial District Court in the State
of New Mexico against the BHP Group, Rudi Halgryn, an alleged
managerial agent of BHP, and Ryan Waggoner. See Id .
¶¶ 3-4, 9. Mr. Chaffin asserts claims for violation
of the FMLA (Count I), negligent or fraudulent
misrepresentation (Count II); and common-law wrongful
discharge (Count III). Id. ¶¶ 20-47. Both
Mr. Chaffin and Mrs. Chaffin set forth claims for intentional
infliction of emotional distress (Count IV), interference
with contract and prospective economic advantage (Count V),
and punitive damages. Id. ¶¶ 48-60.
motion to dismiss, the court assesses the legal sufficiency
of the allegations contained within the four corners of the
complaint. Archuleta v. Wagner, 523 F.3d 1278, 1281
(10th Cir. 2008). Rule 8 requires the complaint to contain
"a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). The court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts,
viewing them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party and allowing all reasonable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party. Archuleta, 523 F.3d at 1283. The
court "should disregard all conclusory statements of law
and consider whether the remaining specific factual
allegations, if assumed to be true, plausibly suggest the
defendant is liable." Kansas Penn Gaming, LLC v.
Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011). The
complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations,
" but “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
move to dismiss for failure to state a claim
Plaintiffs’ claims for intentional infliction of
emotional distress (Count IV), interference with contract and
prospective economic advantage, (Count V), and common law
wrongful discharge (Count III).
Interference with contract and prospective economic
Mexico adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts’
description of the tort of interference with prospective
intentionally and improperly interferes with another’s
prospective contractual relation … is subject to
liability to the other for the pecuniary harm resulting from
loss of the benefits of the relation, whether the
interference consists of
(a) inducing or otherwise causing a third person not to enter
into or continue the prospective relation or
(b) preventing the other from acquiring or continuing the
M & M Rental Tools, Inc. v. Milchem, Inc.,
1980-NMCA-072, ¶ 20, 612 P.2d 241 (quoting Restatement
(Second) of Torts § 766B). To establish tortious
interference with a contract, the plaintiff must prove that
(1) the defendant had knowledge of the contract between the
plaintiff and a third party, (2) performance of the contract
was refused, (3) the defendant played an active and
substantial part in causing the plaintiff to lose the
benefits of his contract, (4) damages flowed from the
breached contract, and (5) the defendant induced the breach
without justification or privilege to do so. Ettenson v.
Burke, 2001-NMCA-003, ¶ ...