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Paul Blakeslee v. Shaw Industries

September 8, 2011

PAUL BLAKESLEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHAW INDUSTRIES, INC.,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John W. Sedwick United States District Judge

[RE: Motions at Dockets 52, 55, and 58]

ORDER AND OPINION

I. MOTIONS PRESENTED

Defendant Shaw Industries, Inc. ("Shaw") filed a series of motions in limine. The court has ruled on the first motion.*fn1 This order addresses three of the remaining motions, those at dockets 52, 55, and 58, all of which have been fully briefed. Oral argument would not assist the court.

The other motions will be addressed in another order or orders which will be issued as time and other demands permit.

II. BACKGROUND

The Second Amended Complaint filed by plaintiff Paul Blakeslee ("Blakeslee") sought to recover in excess of $100,000 in damages from Shaw.*fn2 Blakeslee commenced the litigation in state court. Shaw removed the case to this court based on diversity of citizenship. The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The Second Amended Complaint set out five claims relating to Blakeslee's employment by government contractor Shaw to work on various military installations in Alaska. Blakeslee's first claim was that Shaw terminated his employment in retaliation for his having made an internal report indicating that Shaw had engaged in fraudulent contracting practices as a government contractor. Blakeslee sought redress for the retaliation pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3130(h) Blakeslee's second claim alleged that the termination of his employment violated AS18.80.220; more specifically, sub-sections 220(a)(1) (prohibiting various forms of discrimination including age discrimination) and 220(a)(4) (prohibiting, inter alia, retaliation for exercising a right protected by AS18.80-200-280). The third claim alleged Blakeslee was terminated in violation of public policy. The fourth claim alleged Shaw violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied in Blakeslee's employment contract. The last claim asserted that Shaw's conduct was outrageous and asked for punitive damages.

Shaw filed a motion for summary judgment*fn3 which was granted in part and denied in part by Judge Beistline, who was then presiding in this case.*fn4 Judge Beistline's order granted summary judgment on the claim of retaliation based on the False Claims Act, because he concluded that Blakeslee's September 19 letter did not present a fraud on the government, an element needed to support the False Claims Act retaliation claim. He also granted summary judgment on the claim that Blakeslee's discharge violated public policy, holding that such a claim cannot be pursued where, as here, there is a statute that can provide relief.

The order denied summary judgment on the other claims, but narrowed the dispute somewhat with respect to them. Concerning the state law claim for retaliation under AS 18.80.220(a)(4), Judge Beistline explained that disputed issues of fact remained as to whether the elimination of Blakeslee's job was a retaliatory action taken because the September 19 letter raised a concern about sexual harassment of a pregnant worker, as well as age discrimination against Blakeslee. Judge Beistline also found that there were disputed issues of fact as to whether Shaw's elimination of Blakeslee's position was undertaken because of his advanced age in violation of (AS 18.80.220(a)(1). Concerning the claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, Judge Beistline held that disputed issues of fact remained, noting that the "lynchpin" of Shaw's argument--the proposition that nobody at Shaw who participated in the decision to eliminate Blakeslee's position actually knew of the September 19 letter--was in dispute.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion at Docket 52

In the motion at docket 52, Shaw seeks to sweep a very broad swath of information off the table: "Defendant moves the Court to Order Plaintiff, his attorneys, witnesses, and other representatives not to mention or imply before the jury at any time, in any manner or from evidence or argument related to Shaw's relationship with the U.S. Army including financial details related to Shaw."*fn5 In its memorandum supporting the motion, Shaw asks the court to exclude from evidence any information which might tend to show Shaw breached its contract with the Army, which might tend to show Shaw "whitewashed" information it provided the Army in connection with its investigation, and which discloses financial information relating to Shaw's contracts with the army.*fn6 Shaw argues that this information should be excluded under Rule 402 as irrelevant, and if relevant, then should be excluded under Rule 403 as unduly prejudicial.

Certainly much of the information Shaw seeks to exclude would have been relevant to the False Claims Act retaliation claim, but that claim has been dismissed. Nevertheless, at least some information regarding Shaw's relationship with the Army is relevant to Blakeslee's effort to demonstrate that Shaw's explanation for the elimination of his job was mere pretext and possibly to rebut an assertion by Shaw that the September 19 letter was falsely contrived by Blakeslee. The fact that information is relevant does not end the inquiry. Information which is relevant may be excluded under Rule 403 if its probative value is "substantially outweighed by the danger of ...


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