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Parker v. Leaf River Cellulose, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

May 18, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment [69] filed by Plaintiff Joseph Edward Parker and the Motion for Summary Judgment [71] filed by Defendant Leaf River Cellulose, LLC. After considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [69] is well taken and should be granted. The Court further finds that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [71] is not well taken and should be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Joseph Edward Parker (“Plaintiff”) filed this suit on January 23, 2014, against Defendant Leaf River Cellulose, LLC (“Defendant”), claiming that he was wrongfully discharged in violation of Mississippi law. Plaintiff is a resident of Mississippi, and Defendant is a Delaware limited liability company. This Court has diversity jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant at its plant in New Augusta, Mississippi, in October 2008. (See Plaintiff Affidavit [69-1] at ¶ 2.) While employed at the plant, Plaintiff and other employees utilized a parking area which has no gate, fence, or security station, and which “is surrounded on all sides by roadways and open fields.” (See Id. at ¶ 6.) At the entrances of this lot, signs are posted which state, “THIS PARKING AREA IS FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF GP[1]EMPLOYEES AND THOSE CONDUCTING BUSINESS WITH GP. WEAPONS OF ANY KIND ARE PROHIBITED, TO INCLUDE THE CARRYING OF A PISTOL OR REVOLVER.” (Id. at ¶ 8.)

         On December 12, 2013, Defendant received a report that Plaintiff had a firearm in his locked personal vehicle, and Plaintiff granted permission for his vehicle to be searched. (Id. at ¶ 3.) After finding the firearm in the vehicle, Defendant suspended Plaintiff for violating its firearm policy and was ordered to leave the premises. (See Id. at ¶ 4.) Some time later, Plaintiff approached his supervisor, Don Garner (“Garner”), about the situation because he “was worried about the outcome of his job.” (Garner Affidavit [69-12] at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff showed Garner Miss. Code Ann. § 45-9-55, which prevents employers from “prohibiting a person from . . . storing a firearm in a locked vehicle in any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated parking area” unless “access is restricted or limited through the use of a gate, security station or other means . . . .” Miss. Code Ann. § 45-9-55(1)-(2). Upon becoming aware of the situation and this provision of Mississippi law, Garner contacted the head of security for Defendant and made him aware of the potential legal issue. (See Garner Affidavit [69-12] at ¶ 5.)

         On December 13, 2013, Plaintiff was terminated from his employment.

         Plaintiff filed suit on January 23, 2014, and this Court dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on December 19, 2014, on the basis that Defendant was immune from suit under § 45-9-55 and under Mississippi's at-will employment doctrine. (See Order [20].) The Fifth Circuit originally affirmed the dismissal, but reversed it on September 1, 2016, following the answer by the Mississippi Supreme Court of a certified question in a case involving the same issue. (See USCA Opinion [26].) The case was then remanded back to this Court for further proceedings.


         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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). “Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The nonmovant must then “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001)). “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable [fact-finder] to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812 (citation omitted).

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007)). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is mandatory “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Brown v. Offshore Specialty Fabricators, Inc., 663 F.3d 759, 766 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)).

         As most of the facts in this case are undisputed, both Motions for Summary Judgment [69][71] turn on the interpretation of Miss. Code Ann. § 45-9-55(2). Therefore, the Court begins its analysis there.

         B. Interpretation of Miss. Code ...

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