United States District Court, D. Maryland
EDWARD A. BATES, Plaintiff,
MOUNTAIRE FARMS, INC., Defendant.
DAVID COPPERTHITE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Mountaire Farms, Inc., moves this Court for summary judgment
(the "Motion") (ECF No. 25). Defendant seeks a
ruling from the Court that it did not breach its Broiler
Production Agreement (the "Agreement") with
Plaintiff, Edward A. Bates, but rather that it was entitled
to terminate the Agreement and properly did so due to
Plaintiffs alleged deficient performance. Plaintiff filed an
opposition to Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 26) and
Defendant replied (ECF No. 27).
considering the Motion and responses thereto, the Court finds
that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.R. 105.6
(D.Md. 2018). In addition, having reviewed the pleadings of
record and all competent and admissible evidence submitted by
the parties, the Court finds that there are genuine issues of
material fact as to the claim asserted. Accordingly, the
Court will DENY Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 25).
Mountaire Farms, Inc. is a producer in the poultry business
and runs a "Growing Program" in which it contracts
with third-party growers to raise flocks of broiler chickens.
ECF No. 1 at 2, ¶ 6; ECF No. 1-3 at 1; ECF No. 4 at 2,
¶ 6. Through the Growing Program, Defendant engages
third-party growers who own or occupy land to raise the
broilers and memorializes the relationship with the growers
in Broiler Production Agreements. ECF No. 25-2 at 1, ¶
4. Pursuant to these Agreements, growers "take
possession of flocks of broiler chickens owned by [Defendant]
and use their own knowledge, skill, experience, and
discretion to provide care to the flocks in accordance with
applicable industry and animal welfare standards," and
Defendant retains title and ownership of the broilers while
they are in the growers' possession. Id. at 2,
¶ 5. Defendant's employees, including Flock
Supervisors and Broiler Service Managers, periodically visit
the third-party growers' farms to check on the
flocks' progress. Id.
February 2016, Plaintiff met with Defendant's employee
and Broiler Services Manager, . Brian Smith, to discuss
joining the Growing Program as a third-party grower. ECF No.
1 at 3, ¶¶ 8-9; ECF No. 4 at 2, ¶¶ 8-9.
On March 8, 2016, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into the
Agreement in which Defendant agreed to "furnish
[Plaintiff] with a flock... of birds to raise for broiler
production" and Plaintiff agreed to furnish and provide
the facilities and personnel necessary to properly care for
the broilers. ECF No. 25-6 at 1-2, 10. Thereafter, Plaintiff
hosted three flocks of broilers between April 2016 and March
2017. ECF No. 1 at 3-6, ¶¶ 10, 12, 17, 19. During
this time, Paul Akers, Defendant's employee and Flock
Supervisor, made regular visits to Plaintiffs farm to conduct
inspections and monitor the care of the flocks. Id.
at 4-6, ¶¶ 13-14, 17, 20; ECF No. 1-4; ECF Nos.
26-7, 26-9, 26-11. After each visit, Mr. Akers completed
Chick Placement Reports and Farm Visitation
Reports. ECF Nos. 26-7, 26-9, 26-11.
about April 26, 2016, Defendant placed the first flock with
Plaintiff. ECF No. 26-3 at 8-9; ECF No. 26-7 at 1; ECF No.
26-8. Chick Placement Reports and Farm Visitation Reports
completed by Mr. Akers between April 26 and June 13, 2016
demonstrate that Plaintiffs care was consistently rated
"ok." ECF No. 26-7. Plaintiff received "not
ok" ratings on only two reports during that period,
id. at 5, 6, and remedied those issues prior to the
final report, which stated that "[e]verything... looks
good," id. at 7. On June 25, 2016, Defendant
moved the first flock. ECF No. 26-8.
about July 12, 2016, Defendant placed the second flock with
Plaintiff. ECF No. 26-10 at 1. Chick Placement Reports and
Farm Visitation Reports completed by Mr. Akers between July
13 and August 30, 2016 again demonstrate that Plaintiffs care
was rated "ok" for the majority of the criteria.
ECF No. 26-9. While the reports reflect "not ok"
ratings in some criteria during that period, they show that
Plaintiff remedied many of the issues promptly after each
inspection and report. See Id. However, several of
the reports also demonstrate that Plaintiff consistently
struggled to maintain proper migration of the broilers
throughout the chicken houses and properly dispose of dead
broilers. Id. at 4-11. Additionally, a report dated
August 26, 2016 reflects that Plaintiff failed to respond to
alarms indicating problems with chicken house temperature and
ventilation, which then prompted Mr. Akers to call for a
formal meeting. Id. at 10. Finally, on or about
September 11, 2016, a flood occurred when a pipe burst in one
of the chicken houses. ECF No. 26-4 at 8-9. Plaintiff failed
to fence the flooded area off for the health and safety of
the broilers, despite instructions to do so, which then
required Mr. Smith and Mr. Akers to step in. Id. The
following day, on September 12, 2016, Defendant moved the
second flock. ECF No, 26-10 at 1.
about January 2, 2017, Defendant placed the third and final
flock with Plaintiff. ECF No. 26-12 at 1. Chick Placement
Reports and Farm Visitation Reports completed by Mr. Akers
between January 3 and February 20, 2017 demonstrate that
Plaintiffs care was consistently rated "ok." ECF
No. 26-11. While Plaintiff received a few "not ok"
ratings over the course of several reports during that
period, id. at 5-8, 10, the reports generally
reflect that he remedied these issues promptly, id.
at 5-10. As compared to reports from the second flock,
Plaintiffs migration improved, and several notations stated
that the broilers, conditions, and equipment were in good
shape. Id. at 1-5, 9. On March 3, 2017, Defendant
moved the third flock. ECF No. 26-12 at 1.
February 2017, during the placement of the third flock,
Plaintiff was diagnosed with cancer and began undergoing
chemotherapy treatments. ECF No. 26-3 at 14-15. Due to his
diagnosis and treatments, Plaintiff was absent from his farm
for approximately one week. Id. at 15. Plaintiffs
employees, Stephen MacEmcy and Denise Jones, managed the
broilers and the farm in his absence. ECF Nos. 26-14, 26-15.
Around this time, Plaintiff informed Mr. Akers that he had
been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy
treatment. ECF No. 26-3 at 14-15. Shortly thereafter, Mr.
Smith informed Plaintiff that Defendant was terminating the
Agreement. Id. at 16; see ECF No. 25-2 at
6, ¶ 23.
April 5, 2018, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court, alleging
that Defendant breached the Agreement by failing to give
Plaintiff written notice of the termination, provide
Plaintiff with the reason for the termination, or place
Plaintiff on a performance improvement plan prior to
termination. ECF No. 1 at 9, ¶¶ 29-34. Plaintiff
also alleged that Defendant terminated the Agreement due to
Plaintiffs cancer diagnosis. Id. at 11, ¶¶
38-39, Defendant filed an answer on May 11, 2018. ECF
April 15, 2019, Defendant filed its Motion, seeking summary
judgment against Plaintiff on his breach of contract claim.
ECF No. 25. On April 29, 2019, Plaintiff filed an opposition.
ECF No. 26. Defendant filed a reply on May 13, 2019. ECF No.
matter is now fully briefed, and the Court has reviewed
Defendant's Motion as well as the responses thereto. For
the following reasons and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56(d), Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 25) is
Standard of Review
to Rule 56, a movant is entitled to summary judgment where
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Supreme Court has clarified
that not every factual dispute will defeat a motion for
summary judgment but rather, there must be a genuine issue of
material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) ("[T]he mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact."
(emphases in original)). An issue of fact is material if,
under the substantive law of the case, resolution of the
factual dispute could affect the outcome. Id. at
248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact "if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.; see also
Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330
(4th Cir. 2012). On the other hand, if after the court has
drawn all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party, "the evidence is merely colorable, or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50
(internal citations omitted).
party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of
either establishing that no genuine issue of material fact
exists or that a material fact essential to the
non-movant's claim is absent. Celotex Corp., 477
U.S. at 322-24. Once the movant has met its burden, the onus
is on the non-movant to establish that there is a genuine
issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In order
to meet this burden, the non-movant "may not rest upon
the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleadings," but
must instead "set forth specific facts showing that