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Jessie Capers, Patrick Ngei, Tariq Baskerville, and Gitonga v. Fedex Ground

June 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.


THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons provided below, the Court GRANTS the motion IN PART and DENIES it IN PART.

I.Factual and Procedural Background

This case has a long procedural and factual history that the Court need not recite at length to address the pending motion. Plaintiffs Jessie Capers, Patrick Ngei, Tariq Baskerville, and Gitonga Waiguchu are individual contractors who owned and operated trucks and performed delivery services on behalf of Defendant FedEx Ground Package Systems, Inc. ("FXG"). Defendants Tyrone Gaskins, Albeit Rettinger, Jim Gelhausen, Joe Collins, and Tom DiMaio (collectively, the "Individual Defendants"), are or were officers, principals, or other employees of FXG. Plaintiffs allege that from as far back as 1992 and continuing to as late as April of 2002, Defendants engaged in a series of illegal acts against Plaintiffs, including, among other conduct, frustrating Plaintiffs' attempts at advancement, breaching contractual obligations, and otherwise favoring white employees over Plaintiffs, who are black.

Plaintiffs filed their original complaint in New Jersey state court in 2002, and Defendants removed the action to this Court on November 7, 2002. On December 13, 2002, Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint. On September 24, 2003, this Court granted in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. Thereafter, the case proceeded with pretrial preparations on the remaining claims. In early 2005, FXG moved to transfer the matter to the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation for pretrial management, and this Court stayed further proceedings. On September 15, 2005, the Judicial Panel ordered the case transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. At some point after the transfer, Plaintiffs appear to have amended their complaint a second time. On March 7, 2011, after the Northern District of Indiana made its rulings, the Judicial Panel remanded the matter back to this Court. With the consent of the parties and in the wake of those rulings, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint and granted Plaintiffs leave to make further amendments. Plaintiffs filed the Third Amended Complaint (the "TAC") on September 18, 2011, and Defendants filed this motion to dismiss thereafter.

II.Legal Analysis

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998). This assumption of truth is inapplicable, however, to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009).

B. First Count: Promissory Estoppel

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' claim for promissory estoppel must fail because the factual allegations are insufficient to support the elements of the claim. Defendants are correct.

In order to state a claim for promissory estoppel under New Jersey law, the plaintiff must plead: (1) that the defendant made a clear and definite promise; (2) with the expectation that the plaintiff would rely upon it; (3) that the plaintiff reasonably relied on the promise; and (4) that the reliance resulted in definite and substantial detriment. East Orange Bd. of Educ. v. New Jersey School Const. Corp., 963 A.2d 865, 875 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2009).

The allegations of the TAC are insufficient to state a claim for promissory estoppel in several ways. The TAC alleges that Defendants promised Plaintiffs that as individual contractors they would have exclusive control over their routes, vacation times, sick time, lunch breaks, and other details of their performance but that Defendants reneged on those promises and maintained control over all of these aspects of Plaintiffs' work. The TAC also baldly alleges that Defendants made these promises with the expectation that Plaintiffs would rely on them, that Defendants did rely on them, and that that reliance harmed Defendants. These allegations are little more than a recitation of the elements of a claim for promissory estoppel. Other than the allegations regarding the kinds of promises that Defendants made, the TAC does not allege any specific facts supporting the claim. The TAC does not even allege that Plaintiffs' reliance was reasonable -- a necessary element of the claim. Plaintiffs' brief in opposition to Defendants' motion explains that Defendants used the promises to induce Plaintiffs to accept their positions with FXG and that Defendants' reliance on those promises ...

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