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Reed v. Tennessee Valley Authority

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

March 22, 2018

RICHARD REED, MARY HUGHES, and ROBERT VERSA, Plaintiffs,
v.
TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY and TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITY BOARD OF GOVENORS, Defendants.

          LEE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REEVES JUDGE

         This action arises from a false report signed by plaintiffs while working as contractors for Williams Plant Services, LLC, at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant operated by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Plaintiffs take issue with TVA's decision to revoke their security clearances at TVA's nuclear facilities based on their participation in preparing the false report. Plaintiffs contend that Williams terminated their employment solely because TVA revoked their security clearances and that TVA's decision tortiously interfered with their continued employment with Williams.

         Before the court is TVA's motion to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that (1) plaintiffs' claims are barred by the one-year statute of limitations found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104, and (2) applicable federal law precludes judicial review of executive agency decisions concerning security clearances. For the following reasons, defendants' motion is granted and this action dismissed.

         I. Background

         Williams contracted with TVA to provide laborers to work at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant. TVA operates Watts Bar as agent for the United States. Plaintiffs were full-time employees of Williams assigned to work at Watts Bar during the period April 27, 2015 through August 27, 2015. As a condition of their continued employment at Watts Bar, plaintiffs were required to maintain a security clearance issued by TVA. Plaintiffs' primary duty was “standing fire watches.” Laborers performing fire watches were required to sign a “Continuous Fire Watch Turnover Form” at the beginning and end of each shift indicating they conducted a continuous compensatory fire watch requiring an individual to be in the specified area at all times.

         On April 27, 2015, plaintiffs were assigned the “Pipe Chase” fire watch. Plaintiffs were only allowed to enter the Pipe Chase at brief intervals due to radiation exposure, just enough time to walk the length of the Pipe Chase which took less than a minute every 15 minutes.

         TVA pipefitters with a welding assignment were working in the Corridor, a short walk from the entrance to the Pipe Chase. Plaintiffs aver they were not informed of the work on the Corridor or any fire watch established for it, and had they been informed of the work, they could have stood the Pipe Chase and the Corridor watch at the same time.

         The next morning, management instructed plaintiffs to sign a Turnover Form for the Corridor Watch indicating they conducted a continuous fire watch “in the specified area” of the Corridor Watch during the time period of the Pipe Chase Watch. Plaintiffs expressed reservations about signing the Turnover Form for the Corridor Watch; however, they ultimately signed the form.

         A fourth Williams' employee working that day, Deborah Settles, refused to sign the Turnover Form, and reported the matter to TVA management and later to TVA Employee Concerns. Employee Concerns referred the matter to TVA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to investigate. On August 27, 2015, OIG issued a report finding that Williams' employees, TVA employees, and others had attempted to violate federal law by “making or using a false writing or document . . . knowing the same to contain a materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement.” TVA's Director of Nuclear Safety revoked plaintiffs' security clearances and permanently restricted plaintiffs from working at TVA Nuclear Power Group locations.

         Plaintiffs timely appealed the decision to revoke their security clearances and on October 16, 2015, plaintiffs were informed that TVA denied their appeal and that the denial of their security clearances was upheld. Williams immediately terminated plaintiffs' employment.

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in state court naming TVA and TVA's Board of Governors as defendants. The Complaint asserts claims for common law interference with employment and statutory interference with employment under Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-50-109. TVA removed the action from state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1442 and 1446.

         TVA moves to dismiss plaintiffs' claims for interference with employment on statute of limitations grounds because the Complaint was filed more than one year after accrual of the claims. TVA also argues that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs' claims because TVA's revocation of plaintiffs' security clearances is not reviewable.

         II. ...


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