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Witzke v. Kent County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc.

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

August 29, 2014

BROOKS WITZKE, Plaintiff,
v.
KENT COUNTY SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS, INC., and DELAWARE ANIMAL CARE & CONTROL, Defendants.

Submitted: May 19, 2014

Gregory A. Morris, Esq., Liguori & Morris, Dover, Delaware. Attorney for Plaintiff.

Shannon L. Brainard, Esq., Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Defendants.

OPINION

JAMES T. VAUGHN, JR. President Judge

This action was brought by the plaintiff, Brooks Witzke, after he was terminated from his position as an Animal Control Officer. The defendants are the Kent County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. and Delaware Animal Care & Control. It is a mandamus action seeking various relief including a hearing consistent with the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights ("LEOBOR"), Delaware law and the defendants' policies, reinstatement of his position, removal of documents relating to this action in his personnel file and the defendants' records, and compensatory damages.

The defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint under Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

FACTS

In the Amended Complaint the plaintiff alleges that in January 2011 he was hired by the defendants as an Animal Control Officer. On December 6, 2011, the plaintiff was terminated from his position. On December 9, 2011, the plaintiff filed a written rebuttal requesting an appeal and opportunity to be heard regarding his termination. There was no appeal or hearing.

On July 12, 2013, the plaintiff filed a Complaint against the defendants alleging three causes of actions. On April 25, 2014, the plaintiff amended his Complaint. Count I alleges that the defendants violated the LEOBOR by not granting a hearing in accordance with 11 Del. C. Ch. 29. Count II alleges that the defendants made direct post-hire promises to the plaintiff that he would be entitled to a full appeal hearing before being terminated and breached said promises when the defendants did not provide any appeal hearing. Additionally, in Count II, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants breached their own policies and longstanding practices by not allowing an appeal in his case and imposing punishment outside the penalty guidelines as set forth in their written policies. Count III alleges that the defendants breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by failing to grant the plaintiff's appeal request or provide a hearing.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

"[T]he governing pleading standard in Delaware to survive a motion to dismiss is reasonable 'conceivability.'"[1] The Court will limit its review of the motion to dismiss to the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, but will draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the non-moving party.[2] In considering the defendant's motion to dismiss, the court must deny the motion unless the plaintiff could not recover under any reasonably conceivable set of circumstances.[3] This "conceivability" pleading standard asks whether there is any, even a remote, possibility of recovery.[4]

CONTENTIONS

The defendants contend that the plaintiff was not entitled to LEOBOR procedures because he wasn't an officer under the LEOBOR definition; that the alleged company policy does not give rise to a claim for an at-will employee who is terminated; that the alleged post-hire promises do not modify the employee's at-will status; that the plaintiff did not reasonably rely on the alleged post-hire promises or take action to his detriment; and that the plaintiff failed to make any allegations sufficient to establish a claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in an at-will employment context.

The plaintiff contends that his supervisor promised the plaintiff that he would be given a full appeal hearing before the KCSPCA board before any termination but failed to provide such an appeal; and that he reasonably relied on the post-hire promises, longstanding policies and practices and took action to his ...


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