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Harley v. Minerals Technologies Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 26, 2014

JAMES MICHAEL HARLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MINERALS TECHNOLOGIES INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff James Michael Harley ("Harley") brings this action alleging that his former employer, Defendant Minerals Technologies, Inc. ("MTI"), failed to make the severance payments to which he is entitled. Specifically, Harley asserts causes of action for (1) breach of his employment contract with MT[; (2) a violation of the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (the "PAWPCL"); and (3) quantum meruit. Now before the Court is MTI's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, MTI's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Harley began working for MTI as its Treasurer and Vice President for Corporate Development in November 2010.[1] (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 3.) In that capacity, Harley earned an annual salary of $280, 000 and was entitled to "severance amounting to 15 months' pay in the event that MTI chose to terminate his employment." ( Id. ¶ 5.) Harley worked from MTI's New York headquarters ( id. ¶ 8), and he was supervised by Joseph Muscari ("Muscari") and Doug Dietrich, both of whom also worked from MTI's New York headquarters ( id. ¶¶ 9-11). Harley's employment contract contained a New York choice-of-law provision. ( See Declaration of Holly Rich, dated Nov. 20, 2013, Doc. No. 50 ("Rich Decl."), Ex. C ¶ 12 ("November 2010 Contract").) Harley was eventually relieved of his Treasurer duties (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 18), and, in July 2011, Harley's employment status was again adjusted when Muscari informed Harley of the decision to replace Harley as Vice President for Corporate Development with Jonathan Hastings ("Hastings"), who would "decide whether there would be a place for Mr. Harley in corporate development going forward" ( id. ¶ 24).

In early September 2011, following that demotion, Harley signed a new employment contract in MTI's New York office. ( Id. ¶¶ 24-28.) This new contract reduced Harley's annual salary to $230, 000 and limited his severance package to four months' salary. ( Id. ¶ 27 (citing Affirmation of James Harley, dated Dec. 20, 2013, Doc. No. 57 ("Harley Aff."), Ex. 1 ("September 2011 Contract") ("In the event your employment with MTI should end, you will receive a severance payment equal to four months of salary within 90 days of [the] termination date.")).)[2] Thereafter, Harley was transferred to the MTI office in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania but was placed under the supervision of Hastings, who was based in New York. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 29-31.)

In late March 2012, Harley attended a meeting with Hastings, his immediate supervisor, in Hastings's New York office. ( Id. ¶ 34.) At this meeting (the "March meeting"), Hastings notified Harley of his decision to terminate Harley's employment. ( Id. ) Following a discussion of future options and severance payments, Hastings sent Harley an email on April 3, 2012, which memorialized the March meeting and confirmed that Harley would be permitted to retain his employee status through the four-month severance period while spending time on both transitioning out of MTI and searching for new employment. ( Id. ¶ 38; see also Rich Decl. Ex. I at 2.) Harley ultimately returned to the MTI office in Bethlehem as his base of operations and continued to conduct activity on behalf of MTI through late July 2012. ( See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 42-46, 54; Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 42-46, 54.) Harley also searched for a new job throughout this period. (Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 49-50; Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 49-50.)

B. Procedural History

Harley filed a complaint in this matter on February 11, 2013, alleging that MTI's refusal to pay Harley four months' severance pay following his termination on July 31, 2012 constituted a breach of the September 2011 Contract and a violation of the PAWPCL. (Doc No. 1.) On April 24, 2013, MTI filed its motion to transfer venue to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1404(a) (Doc. No. 16), which the Court denied on July 10, 2013 ( see July 10 Order). On June 21, 2013, the Court granted Harley leave to file an Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 23), which Harley then filed on June 26, 2013, adding a quantum meruit claim in the alternative (Doc. No. 24). Following the close of discovery, MTI filed the instant motion for summary judgment on November 20, 2013 (Doc. No. 47), and the motion was fully submitted on January 6, 2014 (Doc. Nos. 59-60).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be rendered "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). There is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" where (1) the parties agree on all facts (that is, there are no disputed facts); (2) the parties disagree on some or all facts, but a reasonable fact-finder could never accept the nonmoving party's version of the facts (that is, there are no genuinely disputed facts), see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); or (3) the parties disagree on some or all facts, but even on the nonmoving party's version of the facts, the moving party would win as a matter of law (that is, none of the factual disputes are material), see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

In determining whether a fact is genuinely disputed, the court "is not to weigh the evidence but is instead required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and to eschew credibility assessments." Weyant v. Okst, 101 F.3d 845, 854 (2d Cir. 1996). Nevertheless, to show a genuine dispute, the nonmoving party must provide "hard evidence, " D'Amico v. City of N.Y., 132 F.3d 145. 149 (2d Cir. 1998), "from which a reasonable inference in [its] favor may be drawn, " Binder & Binder PC v. Barnhart, 481 F.3d 141, 148 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Conclusory allegations, conjecture, and speculation, " Kerzer v. Kingly Mfg., 156 F.3d 396, 400 (2d Cir. 1998), as well as the existence of a mere "scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, are insufficient to create a genuinely disputed fact. A moving party is "entitled to judgment as a matter of law" on an issue if (1) it bears the burden of proof on the issue and the undisputed facts meet that burden; or (2) the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof on the issue and the moving party "show[s]' - that is, point[s] out... - that there is an absence of evidence [in the record] to support the nonmoving party's [position], " see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Choice ...


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