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Treadway v. Bluestone Coal Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

May 22, 2017

FRANK G. TREADWAY, Plaintiffs,
v.
BLUESTONE COAL CORP., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA

         The Court has reviewed the Complaint (Document 1), the Motion of Defendants to Dismiss Complaint or in the Alternative for a More Definite Statement (Document 6) and the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss (Document 8). Although the Plaintiff submitted exhibits (Document 9) in support of their response in opposition, the Court finds that the exhibits were not integral to the complaint, and therefore, the Court did not consider them in analyzing or issuing the ruling herein. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion should be denied.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiffs, Frank G. Treadway, Joey Clark Hatfield, and Charles W. Hensley, initiated this putative class action on December 14, 2016. They name Bluestone Coal Corp., Bluestone Industries, Inc., and Mechel Bluestone, Inc., as Defendants. The Plaintiffs were employees of Mechel Bluestone and Bluestone Coal Corporation at the Burke Mountain Strip Mine. They allege that “Mechel Bluestone owned, controlled, operated, and maintained the Burke Mountain Strip Mine, in coordination with Bluestone Industries, through the subsidiary Bluestone Coal Corporation.” (Compl. at ¶ 9.) They assert that “at least approximately 105 employees” were employed at the Burke Mountain Strip Mine, which they allege is a single site of employment. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 11.)

         Mr. Treadway and Mr. Hatfield allege that they were laid off without prior written notice on March 2, 2012, and Mr. Hensley alleges that he was laid off without prior written notice on December 28, 2011. On December 28, 2011, management verbally informed employees that they were laid off indefinitely. Approximately forty (40) workers were called back on January 3, 2012, while approximately sixty-five (65) employees remained laid off. About five miners were laid off on February 11, 2012, and another thirty employees were laid off on March 2, 2012. Neither the miners nor their union received written notice of the layoffs in advance. The employees were not called back to work for a period lasting in excess of six months.

         The Plaintiffs allege that the layoffs violate the WARN Act. They bring their claim on their own behalf and on behalf of all employees subject to layoff from the Burke Mountain Strip Mine during the relevant time period. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and for a more definite statement, which is now ripe for review.

         MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT

         The Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs should be required to amend their complaint to provide a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. They argue that the Plaintiffs' allegations regarding the Defendants' corporate structure and status as employers are vague, ambiguous, and unclear, and that the Plaintiffs failed to allege which Defendant was responsible for each allegation. The Plaintiffs argue that the complaint complies with the applicable pleading standard. They contend that some of the allegations complained of do not relate to a material element of the claim, and none are so vague or ambiguous as to prevent a responsive pleading.

         Rule 12(e) permits a party to move for a more definite statement of a pleading that “is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). “[W]hen the complaint conforms to Rule 8(a) and it is neither so vague nor so ambiguous that the defendant cannot reasonably be required to answer, the district court should deny a motion for a more definite statement.” Hodgson v. Virginia Baptist Hosp., Inc., 482 F.2d 821, 824 (4th Cir. 1973). The Fourth Circuit further explained that a Rule 12(e) motion should be denied where discovery will permit the parties to ascertain the unpled information. Id.; see also Tilley v. Allstate Ins. Co., 40 F.Supp.2d 809, 814 (S.D. W.Va. 1999) (Haden, C.J.) (Rule 12(e) is “ordinarily restricted to situations where a pleading suffers from unintelligibility rather than want of detail.”) (quoting Robinette v. Griffith, 483 F.Supp. 28, 36 (W.D.Va.1979)).

         The Court finds that allegations in the complaint are sufficiently clear to permit a response. The Defendants primarily complain of a lack of clarity regarding which Defendant is allegedly liable. The Plaintiffs clearly pled that the Defendants jointly employed workers at the Burke Mountain Strip Mine and that representatives of each Defendant were involved in management. (Compl. at ¶¶ 7, 9, 13.) To the extent it is unclear which Defendant allegedly took an action, there is no impediment to each Defendant answering the allegation with a denial, affirmation, or explanation, as appropriate. Finally, the Court does not find that allegations regarding the relationship between the Defendants (Paragraphs 9 and 30) to be at all unclear. Therefore, the motion for a more definite statement should be denied.

         MOTION TO DISMISS

         A. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). “[T]he legal sufficiency of a complaint is measured by whether it meets the standard stated in Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] (providing general rules of pleading) . . . and Rule 12(b)(6) (requiring that a complaint state a claim upon which relief can be granted.)” Id. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, the Court must “accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erikson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The Court must also “draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, statements of bare legal conclusions “are not entitled to the assumption of truth” and are insufficient to state a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Furthermore, the Court need not “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship,213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory ...


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