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Malia v. Amazon.Com, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 28, 2017

WILLIAM MALIA, Plaintiff,
v.
AMAZON.COM, INC., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff William Malia files suit against Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) and his former employer All Points Trucking and Courier Service, All Points Courier Service, Inc. d/b/a Thruway Direct, Kevin Meyer (“Meyer”), Leigh Hodge, Office Staff Consulting Inc. (collectively, “Thruway”), and other unnamed individuals and entities, alleging Amazon and Thruway violated the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) when they terminated him in retaliation for his whistleblowing activity.[1] The matter comes before the Court on Amazon and Thruway's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. No oral argument was held. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons below, the motions to dismiss are GRANTED.

         I.BACKGROUND[2]

         As president and owner of Thruway-a contracted company providing delivery and courier services to customers, including Amazon-Meyer hired Malia as its Regional Director of Operations. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 14-15, ECF No. 11-4. In offering, hiring, and then terminating Malia's position with Thruway, Meyer set the terms and conditions of Malia's employment. Id. ¶¶ 15, 49.

         While at Thruway, Malia's responsibilities included overseeing, managing, and directing packing and courier services in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania markets and handling personnel issues. Id. ¶ 18. Part of these responsibilities included interacting with Amazon management to address transportation and logistics matters. Id. ¶ 20. As a supplier, Amazon would conduct audits of contracted companies like Thruway to ensure compliance with its Supplier Code of Conduct. Id. ¶ 28. In overseeing Thruway's delivery operations, Malia avers Amazon and Thruway acted as joint employers. Id. ¶ 22.

         Malia received complaints from Thruway's New Jersey-based drivers that Thruway withheld “Pennsylvania, rather than New Jersey, workers' compensation deductions from their paychecks while living and delivering Amazon products in New Jersey.” Id. ¶ 37. Months later, unsure if they would receive coverage in a work-related accident, Thruway's drivers complained to Malia again about the workers' compensation deduction issue. Id. ¶¶ 41, 45. Malia reasonably believed the deductions were unlawful and complained to Meyer about this perceived unlawful practice because Thruway “exposed the drivers to medical and financial ruin in the event of a work related [sic] accident.” Id. ¶¶ 38-39, 42, 44-45.

         During this time, Amazon knew about Thruway's workers' compensation practices through its oversight and audits of Thruway's business records. Id. ¶ 47. For instance, while on a conference call with an Amazon auditor, Malia and Thruway representatives discussed Thruway's deliveries and payroll of its drivers. Id. Months later, Meyer terminated Malia's employment. Id. ¶ 49. Malia then filed suit in state court and Amazon timely removed. See ECF No. 1.

         Amazon and Thruway now move to dismiss the CEPA claims. Amazon argues it never employed Malia and thus he cannot be considered its “employee” under CEPA. See Amazon's Reply Br. 7, ECF No. 14. Also fatal to the CEPA claim, Amazon argues it had no part in Thruway's decision (through its owner, Meyer) to terminate Malia's employment. Id. at 9. Now Thruway contends Malia has failed to establish a prima facie CEPA case because he lacked an objectively reasonable belief as to its workers' compensation practice violating any law or policy and also there lacks a substantial nexus between the whistle-blowing activity and the retaliatory employment action. See Thruway's Reply 5, 7, ECF No. 15.

         Both Amazon and Thruway take issue with Malia's wholesale revision of the allegations and the basis for submitting the Amended Complaint. After filing its motions to dismiss, Malia changed the facts that formed the basis for the retaliatory discharge and chalked up filing the Amended Complaint as to having “inadvertently filed an unapproved draft of the complaint rather than the finalized and approved version.” Pl.'s Opp'n 2, ECF No. 11.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss, 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); Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 535 (3d Cir. 2002).

         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. Servs., 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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.” Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Amazon contends it never directly employed Malia, it cannot be considered a joint employer with Thruway, and it had no part in the adverse employment action required to sustain a CEPA retaliation claim. Malia insists he formed an ...


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