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Couture v. Amerigas Propane, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 3, 2016

ROBERT COUTURE, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERIGAS PROPANE, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          NANCY TORRESEN UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before me is the Defendant's motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted (ECF No. 16). For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff is Robert Couture. Couture began working for Defendant AmeriGas Propane, Inc. in November, 1998. Am. Compl. ¶ 5 (ECF No. 15). On Thursday, October 23, 2014, AmeriGas Operations Manager for the Lewiston District Fred Clavet asked Couture to respond to a suspected gas leak at the Biddeford Olive Garden. Am. Compl. ¶ 7. Couture told Clavet that he was not certified to work on commercial gas equipment, and so he was “not qualified to do anything at this location if there was an issue.”[1] Am. Compl. ¶ 8. In the course of that conversation, however, Clavet prevailed on Couture to go to the Olive Garden, and Couture agreed to “turn off the gas to secure the area.” See Am. Compl. ¶ 8.

         After speaking with Clavet, Couture called Russell Bryant, a technician with certification to work on commercial gas equipment. Am. Compl. ¶ 9. Couture arrived at the Olive Garden thirty minutes before Bryant and turned off the gas supply. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Once Bryant arrived, he and Couture walked around the restaurant and smelled gas in two areas. Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Bryant fixed the problem in the first area, but could not fix the problem in the second “because it was too corroded.” Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Bryant later told AmeriGas that he “released Couture from this call out (as he is a driver . . .)[, ]” performed “a check of every ‘appliance' in the building as well as the gas piping, ” and found “everything in order.” Am. Compl. ¶ 22.

         The following Friday and Saturday, the Olive Garden called AmeriGas twice more to complain that the gas leak had not been resolved. Am. Compl. ¶ 12. On Monday, October 27th, the AmeriGas district manager called a meeting with Couture and Bryant. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. The manager asked Couture why he had not performed a “pressure test” at the Olive Garden, “as it was policy to do so whenever a client complained of a leak.” Am. Compl. ¶ 13. Couture responded that he had not performed the pressure test because he was “not certified to work on commercial equipment and that it would have been illegal for him to do so.” Am. Compl. ¶ 13. The manager suspended both Couture and Bryant, pending an investigation. Am. Compl. ¶ 15.

         Later that day, Couture called the AmeriGas ethics hotline to complain that he had been wrongfully suspended. Am. Compl. ¶ 15. The following day, AmeriGas terminated Couture and Bryant. Am. Compl. ¶ 16. Couture believes he was wrongfully terminated for his refusal to perform the test despite his lack of certification. Am. Compl. ¶ 17.

         On October 28th, the day Couture was terminated, he wrote an email to Warren Patterson in AmeriGas “upper management, ” describing the recent events and complaining that he had been “unlawfully” and “wrongfully” terminated. Am. Compl. ¶ 19. On October 29th, Couture also wrote an email to Kevin Rumbelow in AmeriGas “upper management” with the same information and complaint. Am. Compl. ¶ 20. On November 16th, the AmeriGas area manager reinstated Couture. Am. Compl. ¶ 23. Couture observed that the area manager “was clearly forced” to rehire Couture because upper management determined that the area manager “had made a bad judgment call for firing [Couture] for something [he] was not responsible to handle.” Am. Compl. ¶ 23.

         Two months later, on January 22, 2015, AmeriGas terminated Couture again. Am. Compl. ¶ 24-25. Earlier that day, Couture was sitting in his stopped truck when an AmeriGas employee named Sullivan unexpectedly approached the vehicle to “check up on him.” Am. Compl. ¶ 24. Sullivan noticed that Couture had covered the truck's driving camera with a napkin. Am. Compl. ¶ 24. Couture explained that he had done so because he wanted privacy while taking a “coffee break.” Am. Compl. ¶ 24. Approximately thirty minutes later, an AmeriGas employee named Dennis called Couture to the office and terminated him. Am. Compl. ¶ 25. Couture asserts that other employees' driving cameras “go off numerous times while in motion, ” but they have never been “written up.” Am. Compl. ¶ 26.

         Couture believes that this termination was retaliation for his refusal to perform the pressure check and for his complaints to upper management. Am. Compl. ¶ 27. He received a right to sue letter from the Maine Human Rights Commission. Am. Compl. ¶ 28.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint need not demonstrate that the plaintiff is likely to prevail, nor even “plead facts sufficient to establish a prima facie case.” Rodríguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodríguez, 711 F.3d 49, 54 (1st Cir. 2013). The complaint only must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The First Circuit follows a two-step plausibility inquiry:

Step one: isolate and ignore statements in the complaint that simply offer legal labels and conclusions or merely rehash cause-of-action elements. Step two: take the complaint's well-pled (i.e., non- conclusory, non-speculative) facts as true, drawing all reasonable inferences in the pleader's favor, and see if they plausibly narrate a claim for relief.

Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). This is “a ‘context-specific' job” that requires the Court to “ ‘draw on' [its] ‘judicial experience and common ...


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