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Mourning v. Allison Transmission, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 15, 2017

Virginia E. Mourning, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Allison Transmission, Inc., Appellee-Defendant

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable James A. Joven, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 49D13-1504-MI-12620

          Attorney for Appellant Steven T. Fulk Fulk & Associates, LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Andrew J. Miroff Emmanuel V. Boulukos Derek R. Molter Ice Miller LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          Vaidik, Chief Judge.

          Case Summary

         [¶1] This case involves the interplay between Indiana Trial Rules 12(C) and 12(B). A Trial Rule 12(C) motion for judgment on the pleadings is typically directed toward a determination of the substantive merits of the controversy. A Trial Rule 12(B) motion to dismiss, in contrast, is directed solely toward procedural defects or the statement of the plaintiff's claim for relief and does not seek to determine the substantive merits of the controversy. However, a defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted can be raised under either Trial Rule 12(B)(6) or Trial Rule 12(C). When raised in a Trial Rule 12(C) motion, the court must treat the motion pursuant to Trial Rule 12(B)(6) and, if granted, give the plaintiff ten days to amend the complaint once as of right.

         [¶2] Here, Virginia Mourning sued Allison Transmission, Inc. claiming that it played a role in getting her fired from her long-time employer, Ternes Packaging. Mourning alleged tortious interference with an employment contract and defamation. Allison Transmission then filed an ambiguously worded "12(C) Motion to Dismiss" alleging that Mourning "failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted" and that her claims failed "as a matter of law." The trial court granted Allison Transmission's motion and entered final judgment in its favor. Applying the above principles here, we find that Mourning sufficiently pled her defamation claim but not her tortious-interference claim. We therefore reverse and remand this case to the trial court to give Mourning an opportunity to amend her complaint once as of right.

          Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] In accordance with our standard of review for judgments on the pleadings, our review is confined to the pleadings, accepting well-pled material facts in the complaint as true. Mourning became an at-will employee with Ternes Packaging in 1997. Ternes provides supply-chain-management services to Allison Transmission.

         [¶4] From early February 2013 to late March 2013, Mourning took time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). While Mourning was on medical leave, a group of employees under her supervision filed a complaint against her. Mourning's manager at the time assisted these employees in making their complaint. The complaining employees were further assisted in making their complaint by individuals at Allison Transmission.

         [¶5] Mourning was first informed of the complaint when she returned from medical leave on April 1, 2013, at which point she was suspended for two weeks and then terminated on April 16, 2013.

         [¶6] In May 2014, Mourning sued Ternes in federal court alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and FMLA. Mourning later added state-law claims against Allison Transmission for tortious interference with an employment contract and defamation, but these claims were dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. For the claims against Ternes, the district court granted summary judgment in its favor. See Mourning v. Ternes Packaging-Ind., Inc., 1:14-cv-00772-SEB-DML (S.D. Ind. Feb. 22, 2016).[1]

         [¶7] Mourning then filed a complaint against Allison Transmission in Marion Superior Court in September 2015. Mourning made the same claims that she had made in federal court: tortious interference with an employment contract and defamation. The tortious-interference count (Count I) specifically alleges:

16.During the period of Plaintiff's medical leave from early February, 2013, until her return on or about April 1, 2013, and during her suspension upon her return to work until her termination on or about April 16, 2013, Defendant Allison by and through its agents including without limitation Ron Sauer, Senior Director of Global Parts and Customization Centers, and Dennis Nicholas, Director of Orders Administration, intentionally induced the breach of the employment contract between Ternes and Plaintiff by communicating with Ternes (specifically beginning at a meeting initiated by Sauer and Nicholas on February 26, 2013, and continuing through Plaintiff's termination on April 16, 2013) that Plaintiff was not competent to continue working in her position with Ternes in their provision of bundled services to Allison, and that Plaintiff was not to continue in her position of employment with Ternes.
17.Defendant Allison had no justification for inducing the breach of the employment contract between Ternes and Plaintiff, as Defendant willfully failed to abide by established procedure regarding staffing requests or complaints/discipline directed to Ternes Packaging, and as Defendant leveraged its continued business relationship with Ternes (which was at ...

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