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Roberts v. Tennier Industries, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 9, 2018

RANDY ROBERTS
v.
TENNIER INDUSTRIES, INC.

          Session February 21, 2018

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Scott County No. 8956 John D. McAfee, Judge

         This appeal arises from a claim of retaliatory discharge. Randy Roberts ("Roberts") was fired by Tennier Industries, Inc. ("Tennier") for several stated reasons, including that he kept an unmarked bottle of pills at his desk and was insubordinate. Roberts contends that he was, in fact, fired for having complained about a manager who harassed him. Roberts sued Tennier in the Circuit Court for Scott County ("the Trial Court"). Tennier filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that it fired Roberts for valid, non-pretextual reasons. Roberts filed a motion to continue in which he requested more time for discovery in order to probe Tennier's practices in situations similar to his. The Trial Court denied Roberts' motion to continue and granted Tennier's motion for summary judgment. Roberts appeals to this Court. We hold, inter alia, that the information for which Roberts sought additional time for discovery could have assisted his case and that the Trial Court erred in denying his motion to continue. We vacate the judgment of the Trial Court and remand for further proceedings.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Vacated; Case Remanded

          Jessica A. Burke, Whitley City, Kentucky, and Ashley King-Kidd, Oneida, Tennessee, for the appellant, Randy Roberts.

          Howard B. Jackson and Ann E. Sartwell, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennier Industries, Inc.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Thomas R. Frierson, II and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         On March 28, 2016, Roberts sued his former employer, Tennier, for, among other things, retaliatory discharge. According to Roberts, he was suspended and later fired for complaining about a certain manager, James Bond, who had harassed him. Tennier asserts that Roberts' dismissal had nothing to do with his complaint but rather was based on independent grounds.[1]

         Tennier filed its motion for summary judgment on December 29, 2016. In March 2017, Roberts filed a motion to continue pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and 56.07 in which he sought additional time for discovery. Roberts stated in his motion, in part:

The entirety of this case centers around the actions, and the motivations for those actions, of employees and former employees of Tennier Industries, Inc. Plaintiff Randy Roberts has not had the opportunity to depose the individuals who were largely responsible for the actions at the crux of his complaint. Individuals to be deposed include Lynn Human, Lane Duncan, and Carla Miller. These individuals have information that is central to Mr. Roberts' claims against Tennier Industries. The information these individuals possess and that is expected to be borne out through depositions includes, but is not limited to, information related to Mr. Roberts' exemplary employment records from 2004 through his abrupt termination in 2015, information related to other complaints against plant manager James Bond, the method and manner in which other similar situations were handled by Tennier Industries, the method and manner in which investigations against both James Bond and Randy Roberts were initiated and conducted, and the motives and through processes behind actions taken.
Due to the schedule of Plaintiff's attorney and a desire to wait until after Plaintiff was deposed by Defendants to undertake his own depositions, Plaintiff has not yet had the opportunity to depose these individuals. This action was filed less than a year ago, and there has been no scheduling order or agreement between the parties regarding the timing of discovery. As such, it is wholly reasonable that Plaintiff has not yet been able to take the depositions vital to his case.
Without the opportunity to depose these individuals and introduce the evidence gleaned from those depositions, Mr. Roberts cannot completely and fully respond to Defendant Tennier Industries, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Roberts, in support of his opposition to Tennier's motion for summary judgment, filed the following affidavit:

1.My name is Randy Roberts.
2. I am the Plaintiff in Randy Roberts v. Tennier Industries, Inc., Case No. 8956.
3. The entirety of my case centers around the actions, and the motivations for those actions, of employees and former employees of Tennier Industries, Inc.
4.I have not had the opportunity to depose the individuals who were largely responsible for the actions at the crux of my complaint.
5. Individuals to be deposed include Lynn Human, Lane Duncan, and Carla Miller. These individuals have information that is central to my claims against Tennier Industries. The information these individuals possess and that is expected to be borne out through depositions includes, but is not limited to, information related to my exemplary employment records from 2004 through my abrupt termination in 2015, information related to other complaints against plant manager James Bond, the method and manner in which other similar situations were handled by Tennier Industries, the method and manner in which investigations against both James Bond and myself were initiated and conducted, and the motives and through processes behind actions taken.
6.Due to the schedule of my attorney and a desire to wait until after I was deposed by Defendants to undertake my own depositions, I have not yet had the opportunity to depose these individuals. This action was filed less than a year ago, and there has been no scheduling order or agreement between the parties regarding the timing of discovery.
7.Without the opportunity to depose these individuals and introduce the evidence gleaned from those depositions, I cannot completely and fully respond to Defendant Tennier Industries, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment.

         8. FURTHER AFFIANT SAYETH NAUGHT.

         Tennier filed its opposition to Roberts' motion to continue, stating as follows, in part:

Plaintiff requests that the Court put off ruling on the motion so that Roberts can conduct deposition discovery. Roberts has had ample time to take discovery and has not done do.
The Complaint in this matter was filed on March 28, 2016. Roberts was deposed on October 4, 2016. The instant motion was filed on December 29, 2016. Roberts has had almost a year in which to depose witnesses, and over two months to do so after the motion for summary judgment was filed. This is more than ample time to conduct depositions.
In addition, the motion for summary judgment was filed well over thirty days before the date of the hearing, in compliance with Rule 56.04, and counsel for Plaintiff confirmed that March 14, 2017 was an acceptable date for the hearing. (Exh. 1, Affidavit of Karalea Longworth.)
Tennier Industries requests that the Court deny the motion for a continuance, and hear and rule upon the motion for summary judgment.

         Although no written order regarding the Trial Court's disposition of Roberts' motion to continue is found in the record on appeal, it is plain from the Trial Court's grant of summary judgment to Tennier that the Trial Court denied Roberts' motion to continue. Further, both parties on appeal acknowledge that the Trial Court denied Roberts' motion. In April 2017, the Trial Court entered its final order in which it granted Tennier's motion for summary judgment. The Trial Court stated:

This matter is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by the Defendant pursuant to Rule 56 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. After conducting oral argument and reviewing the submissions of the parties, the Court sets out its findings of fact per the ...

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