Ismael Torres, Jr.
Sussex County Council
Barry M. Willoughby Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP
Julianne E. Murray Murray Law
T. HENLEY GRAVES, JUDGE
Before the Court is Sussex County Council's ("Defendant") Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Civil Rule 12(b)(6) as to Ismael Torres, Jr.'s ("Plaintiff") remaining causes of action. In his amended complaint, Plaintiff asserts six claims against Defendant: (1) Wrongful Termination; (2) Wrongful Termination in Violation of Sussex County Personnel Code §29-15; (3) Wrongful Termination in Violation of Sussex County Personnel Code §29-18; (4) Breach of Contract pursuant to Sussex County Personnel Code §29-24; (5) Breach of Contract pursuant to Sussex County Personnel Code §29-25; and (6) Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED for all six claims.
Plaintiff began his employment with Defendant on May 20, 2011. He was hired as a deputy sheriff and reported directly to Chief Deputy Dennis Lineweaver and Sheriff Jeff Christopher ("Christopher"). Plaintiff's primary duty was to serve legal papers for the Sussex County Courts. Plaintiff served court papers using a county owned vehicle, which was equipped with a personal computer he used to log his daily activities. The county vehicle was also equipped with a GPS device that automatically recorded the vehicle's location, speed, odometer values, and when the vehicle was turned on or off.
On March 27, 2012, Plaintiff was on duty and attended a County Council meeting. County policy prohibited deputy sheriffs from attending County Council meetings unless they were there on official business. Plaintiff was not present at the meeting on official business. When Plaintiff submitted his weekly overtime report, it included the time he spent at the County Council meeting.This prompted Defendant, through the County Administrator, Todd Lawson ("Lawson"), to investigate Plaintiff's overtime reports. A comparison of Plaintiff's daily logs and the vehicle's GPS records showed Plaintiff was inflating his overtime. Defendant then terminated Plaintiff for misconduct, namely misappropriated overtime, falsifying documents, and abuse of County time.
After his termination, Plaintiff invoked his rights under the Sussex County Personnel Code ("the Ordinance") §29-15 (C)-(F) and participated in a two-day hearing before the County Personnel Board. The County Personnel Board upheld Plaintiff's termination.
After his termination, Plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Delaware Department of Labor–Division of Unemployment Insurance. Plaintiff was awarded benefits at the referee level, but denied benefits by the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ("UIAB"). Plaintiff appealed the UIAB's denial of benefits to the Delaware Superior Court, which affirmed the UIAB's decision, finding:
[Plaintiff] falsified his daily logs, causing the County to pay him for overtime he was not entitled to receive. This amounts to willful and wanton misconduct in violation of his employer's interest, his duties, and his expected standard of conduct. The Board's decision is based upon substantial evidence in the record and is free from legal error.
On May 22, 2014, Plaintiff initiated the instant matter against Defendant when he filed his initial complaint. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff amended his complaint, and served it to Defendant, the Department of Human Resources of Sussex County ("the Department"), Lawson, and Karen Brewington ("Brewington") (collectively "the Defendants"). The Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss, which was subsequently granted. Thereafter, by stipulation, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Count III  of his amended complaint. This letter addresses the remaining counts of Plaintiff's complaint.
Standard of Review
The standards for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in Delaware are clearly defined. The Court must accept all well pled allegations as true. The Court must then determine whether a plaintiff may recover under any reasonable set of circumstances that are susceptible of proof.Dismissal will not be granted if the complaint "gives general notice as to the nature of the claim asserted against the defendant." A claim will not be dismissed unless it is clearly without merit, which may be either a matter of law or fact." Vagueness or lack of detail in the pleaded claim are insufficient grounds upon which to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). If there is a basis upon which the plaintiff may recover, the motion is denied. However, if allegations are merely conclusory, i.e. without specific allegations of fact to support them, they may be deemed insufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss.
There are two preliminary matters that must be addressed prior to an analysis of the remaining claims. First, Plaintiff's claims against the Department, Lawson, and Brewington were voluntarily dismissed by Plaintiff because they are not necessary parties to the action. Plaintiff noted in his Answering Brief that he was suing the Department, Lawson, and Brewington in their official capacities. The Stipulation dated September 29, 2014 disposed of any claims against these parties.
Second, Counts I and VII are in fact one cause of action. Count I alleges wrongful termination and Count VII alleges Defendant breached the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing ("the Implied Covenant"). Defendant notes that Delaware does not recognize the claim of wrongful termination due to the Doctrine of At-will employment ("At-will Doctrine"). However, Plaintiff is correct that Delaware will recognize wrongful termination in limited circumstances, such as when the Implied Covenant is breached. Because Plaintiff asserts these ...