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Stratton v. Arch Coal, Inc.

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

May 26, 2017

ARCH COAL, INC., et al., Defendants.



         The Court has reviewed the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike (Document 10) and the Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 11), the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to the Defendants, Arch Coal, Inc., Mingo Logan Coal Company, and Arch Coal Group, LLC's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike (Document 12), and the Reply Brief in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike (Document 14). The Court has also reviewed the Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 1-1) as well as all attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied in part.


         The Plaintiff, Jason K. Stratton, initiated this action by filing his complaint in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County, West Virginia, on November 16, 2016. The Plaintiff named Arch Coal, Inc., Mingo Logan Coal Company (“Mingo Logan”), and Arch Coal Group, LLC, as defendants. The Defendants removed the matter to this Court on December 15, 2016, citing diversity jurisdiction.

         The Plaintiff alleges that he was employed by Arch Coal, Inc., on February 18, 1997, as a dispatcher and that he consistently performed his duties in a safe and satisfactory manner always meeting the Defendants' expectations. On May 30, 2014, several of the Defendants' employees and vendors for Mingo Logan Coal Company were indicted for participation in a “pay-to-play” scheme in which certain vendors paid illegal kickbacks to members of the company. The Plaintiff claims that he cooperated with the FBI during the investigation of the “pay-to-play” schemes and that the Defendants learned that he possessed voice recordings, notes, and photographs relevant to the case. He also claims that the Defendants knew he intended to disclose that evidence and testify against the Defendants if subpoenaed.

         The Plaintiff contends that upon learning of his possession of this evidence and intent to testify, the Defendants began scheduling him for fewer work shifts and ostracizing him while at work. He alleges that the Defendants attempted to interfere with his marital relationship, and that the Defendants' actions caused him to develop Major Depressive Disorder. The Plaintiff was allegedly placed on leave due to his medical issues[1] on December 8, 2015. When he returned to work on January 29, 2016, he was terminated from his position.

         Mr. Stratton alleges in Count I of the complaint that he was terminated because of his intent to testify against the Defendants and that his termination was wrongful and in violation of West Virginia common law. In Count II, he claims that the Defendants entered into a civil conspiracy and fraud in order to terminate his employment. Count III alleges that Mr. Stratton's discharge was retaliatory in nature and done in violation of substantial public policy preventing pay-for-play schemes and preventing employers from intimidating employees in an effort to cover up bad acts. Count IV alleges that the Defendants' actions violate West Virginia statutes, and Count V alleges that the Defendants discriminated against the Plaintiff based on a disability or a perceived disability.

         The Defendants filed their motion to dismiss and motion to strike on December 22, 2016. The Plaintiff responded on January 4, 2017, and the Defendants replied on January 10, 2017. Both motions are fully briefed and ripe for review.


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         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 statements, do not suffice… [because courts] ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.) In other words, this “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than ‘a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.) In the complaint, a plaintiff must “articulate facts, when accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff has stated a claim entitling him to relief.” Francis, 588 F.3d at 193 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557.) “Determining whether a complaint states [on its face] a plausible claim for relief [which can survive a motion to dismiss] will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         B. ...

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