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Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 30, 2015

WILLIAM BRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW HOLLAND LOGANSPORT, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES T. MOODY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on defendant New Holland Logansport, Inc.'s (Defendant or "NH Logansport") motion for summary judgment. (DE # 21.) NH Logansport sells and services heavy agricultural equipment ( e.g., tractors)[1] and employed plaintiff William Bridge (Plaintiff or "Bridge") in its parts department where he performed sales and customer service functions. On or about March 15, 2011, NH Logansport terminated Bridge's employment. After pursuing the necessary prerequisite charge with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Bridge brought this action alleging that his termination was on account of his age and in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. 621, et seq. The ADEA only applies to employers who have twenty or more employees for each working day of at least twenty weeks in the year. 29 U.S.C. § 630(b). NH Logansport requests summary judgment on the basis that it did not have that many employees, and that is the only issue raised in its motion for summary judgment.

Legal Standard

Summary judgment must be granted when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate: "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id.

To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Matz v. Klotka, 769 F.3d 517, 522 (7th Cir. 2014). A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely merely on allegations or denials in his or her own pleading, but rather must "marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case." Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which he or she bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Sterk v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, 770 F.3d 618, 627 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)).

Facts

The pertinent undisputed facts[2] in this case are as follows. NH Logansport was incorporated by James Straeter in 1994 when he acquired an existing farm equipment dealer at that location. (DE #22-4 at ¶4; DE #22-5.) NH Logansport is incorporated in the form commonly known as an "S" corporation, and during the relevant time period had two shareholders: James Straeter who holds 87.5% of the shares, and Michael Stephenson, the manager of NH Logansport, owning the remaining 12.5%. (DE #22-4 at ¶4.)

Straeter also owns other companies that operate stores selling and servicing agricultural equipment, including one called New Holland Rochester ("NH Rochester"). ( Id. at ¶ 5.) NH Rochester is a "C" corporation which Straeter founded in 1989, and during the relevant times he owned all of its shares. ( Id. at ¶6.) NH Logansport and NH Rochester are approximately 25 miles apart from each other, and in general each serves its own geographical area. ( Id. at ¶7.) Each corporation has its own federal employer identification number, files its own tax returns (although NH Logansport's federal tax returns for 2010 and 2011 used NH Rochester's address, see DE #22-6), reports its own state tax contributions, has its own set of bank accounts, and has its own bills, invoices and third-party relationships. ( Id. ) NH Logansport does its own radio and print advertising in its geographical area, and is billed for that advertising at its address in Logansport. (DE #22-11.)

However, the two corporations do share some resources. NH Logansport advertises on the website "newhollandrochester.com, " as do all of the companies owned by Straeter. (DE #22-12.) On the website each business is identified separately with a separate address, phone number and hours. ( Id. ) Personnel records, tax records, and employment documents for both are kept at NH Rochester's location. ( Id. at ¶8.) Payroll for both locations is managed by Melinda Straeter (owner James Straeter's spouse) from NH Rochester. ( Id. ) An employee (of which corporation NH Logansport never explicitly states[3]) named Robert Cannedy manages human resources for both corporations from NH Rochester. ( Id. ) Cannedy spends at least one day a week at NH Logansport, however. (DE #26-4 at 2, ¶ 4.)

NH Logansport itself never employed twenty or more employees at any one time in either 2010 or 2011. ( Id. at ¶9.)[4] However, as explained in the analysis below, Bridge argues that this fact is not true or is at least disputed because NH Rochester employees should be counted as NH Logansport employees, which is the reason he gives for the court to deny summary judgment.

As Bridge characterizes it, there is a "close integration of operations" between NH Logansport and NH Rochester. (DE #25 at 3.) The evidence supporting Bridge's characterization, as he organizes it but as abbreviated by the court, [5] consists of 12 points:

1. Straeter's common ownership of both corporations;
2. A common board of directors consisting of Straeter and his spouse, with the addition of Stephenson to NH Logansport's board;
3. Cannedy, a NH Rochester employee, performs human resources functions for both corporations and keeps personnel records in his office at NH Rochester;
4. NH Logansport employees often attend training sessions at NH Rochester;
5. Both corporations use the same software to track their inventory, can look at the other's inventory using it, and Bridge and other NH Logansport employees have occasionally gone to NH Rochester to help with inventory issues;
6. The common website mentioned above, which on its home page states: "Here you can find information involving New Holland, search our used equipment, and find out what is happening at our locations in Rochester, Logansport, Rossville, Bluffton, and Centerville in Indiana;"
7. The two locations frequently share tools and equipment, and order some supplies together to obtain a larger quantity discount;
8. Employee benefits at both locations are the same and the employees are on the same group health insurance plan;
9. Stacy Conner, a NH Rochester employee, does all of the accounting functions for both corporations, and keeps all financial records, at NH Rochester;
10. As stated above, both corporations use NH Rochester's address on their federal tax returns, and keep all tax records at NH Rochester, which is also where ...

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