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Menard v. Targa Resources LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

September 6, 2019

KIRK MENARD
v.
TARGA RESOURCES LLC.

          RULING AND ORDER

          BRIAN A. JCKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Targa Resources LLC's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss the Petition for Damages. (Doc. 10). In response, Plaintiff Kirk Menard filed a First Amending and Superseding Complaint for Damages (Doc. 14), in addition to an opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15). Also before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Amended Complaint. (Doc. 19). Plaintiff filed an opposition to this motion. (Doc. 20). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motions are DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This matter arises from allegations that Plaintiff was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for alerting his immediate supervisor of Targa's alleged attempts to deceive the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality ("LDEQ"). Plaintiff was employed by Targa as an environmental Safety & Health Specialist.[1] (Doc. 1 at ¶ 4). Plaintiff alleges that on October 5, 2108, he participated in a conference call with the Targa operations team, during which he informed company officials that the levels of total suspended solids ("TSS") in Targa's septic tanks exceeded regulatory limits. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff asserts that near the end of the call, Targa's district manager, Perry Berthelot, asked Plaintiff to call him to discuss possible solutions to the high TSS levels. (Id. at ¶ 6). Plaintiff claims that despite being warned to be wary of Berthelot by other employees, Plaintiff felt compelled to call him. (Id. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff avers that during the conversation, Berthelot encouraged him to dilute the septic system water samples with tap water to deceive the LDEQ. (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff claims that he found Berthelot's suggestions to be inappropriate and possibly unlawful, and reported the conversation to his immediate supervisor, David Smith. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-13). Plaintiff claims that he did not dilute any of the water samples. (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiff avers that on October 10, 2018, he received a phone call from Harrod Gregg, a safety supervisor, alleging that he had received a complaint of "inappropriate comments" and that on the next day, Plaintiff was fired. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15). Plaintiff brought claims against Defendant for violations of the Louisiana Environmental Whistleblower Statute ("LEWS")[2] and the Louisiana Employee Whistleblower Statute. ("LWS")[3]

         Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiffs petition for damages on the grounds that Plaintiffs LWS claim was superseded by the more specific LEWS claim, and that the petition failed to alleged sufficient facts to show that Plaintiff believed that Targa's actions constituted a violation of an environmental law. (Doc. 10-1 at pp. 1-2). In response to Defendant's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed a "First Amending and Superseding Complaint for Damages" which abandoned the LWS claim. (Doc. 14). Defendant also moved to dismiss the first amending complaint. (Doc. 19).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8, which requires "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 motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] ... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679.

         "[F]acial plausibility" exists "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Hence, the complaint need not set out "detailed factual allegations," but something "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" is required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. When conducting its inquiry, the Court "accepts all well-pleaded facts as true and views those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Bustos v. Martini Club Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010) (quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that the LEWS claim supersedes the LWS claim, as the LEWS statute is a more specific version of the LWS statute, and therefore should apply to this lawsuit. Collins v. State ex rel. Dept of Natural Resources, 2012-1031 (La.App., 1 Cir. 5/30/2013) (holding that where both a general statute and a specific statute covers the same subject matter, the more specific statute should govern). The Court need not reach the merits of this claim, as Plaintiffs First Amending Superseding Complaint for Damages abandons any claims made under LWS.

         What remains are Plaintiffs 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss both the original petition for damages and the amended complaint.

         A. Petition for Damages

         Defendant argues that Plaintiff fails to allege facts showing that Plaintiff believed that an activity, policy, or practice of Targa constituted a violation of constitutional law, rule, or regulation. (Doc. 10-1 at p. 5). Defendant further argues that Plaintiff hasn't established any causal connection between his firing and the conversation Plaintiff had with Berthelot. Specifically, Defendant claims that at the time Plaintiff alerted Smith of the conversation with Berthelot, no illegal activity had occurred. (Doc. 10-1).

         The Court disagrees. "To make a claim for retaliation under LEWS, there must be a showing of illicit motivation." Powers v. Vista Ghent. Co.,109 F.3d 1089, 1094 (5th Cir. 1997). Further, an employee must allege that he reasonably believed the complained of action violated an environmental law, rule or ...


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