Kevin Ryan Court Documents


 

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Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 48 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 1 of 2

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
INDIANAPOLIS DIVISION


KEVIN RYAN,
Plaintiff,
vs.
UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES, INC.,
Defendant.


1:06-cv-1770-JDT-TAB
_______________________________
John Daniel Tinder, Judge
United States District Court
ORDER OF DISMISSAL

For the reasons cited in the accompanying Entry, the court dismisses Count 1 of
First Amended Complaint. This count, which alleges a wrongful discharge pursuant to
Indiana’s public policy exception, is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

Count 2, alleging a wrongful discharge pursuant to Indiana’s private employer
whistle blower statute, is also DISMISSED. This dismissal is WITHOUT PREJUDICE
for fifteen days, after which it will be WITH PREJUDICE if no motion to amend the First
Amended Complaint has been filed or leave to amend has been refused.

All of which is ORDERED this 8th day of August 2007.

Laura A. Briggs, Clerk John Daniel Tinder, Judge
United States District Court United States District Court

By Evelyn A. Hollins, Deputy Clerk


Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 48 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 2 of 2

Copies to:

Magistrate Judge Tim A. Baker

Mick G. Harrison
The Caldwell Center
mickharrisonesq@earthlink.net

Rudolph William Savich
rsavich@aol.com

Kara L. Reagan
STAFFORD LAW OFFICE, LLC
kara@cstaffordlaw.com

Aviva Grumet-Morris
WINSTON & STRAWN LLP
agmorris@winston.com

Michael P. Roche
WINSTON STRAWN LLP
mroche@winston.com

Thomas E. Deer
LOCKE REYNOLDS LLP
tdeer@locke.com

Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 1 of 25

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
INDIANAPOLIS DIVISION


KEVIN RYAN,

Plaintiff,

vs. 1:06-cv-1770-JDT-TAB 


UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES, INC.,

Defendant.


ENTRY ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S FIRST AMENDED
COMPLAINT (Doc. No. 24)1

About two and a half years ago, Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (“UL”) fired Kevin
Ryan, a laboratory manager at its South Bend drinking water laboratory, after he sent
an e-mail letter to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”), the
federal agency that conducted a three-year building and fire safety investigation of the
collapse of the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001.2

In his November 11, 2004, letter, Mr. Ryan questioned the government’s
explanation for the collapses of the World Trade Center buildings following the terrorist
attacks. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21.) He also suggested that UL had tested and certified steel

1 This Entry is a matter of public record and will be made available on the court’s web
site. However, the discussion contained herein is not sufficiently novel to justify commercial
publication.

2 See National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST and the World Trade
Center, http://wtc.nist.gov/ (last visited Aug. 7, 2007). NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the
Technology Administration of the U.S. Commerce Department.


Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 2 of 25

used in the buildings (a charge UL reportedly denied).3 (Id. ¶ 21(c).) He dispatched a
copy of the letter, bearing his name and title with UL, to a citizens group, which
immediately posted the letter on the Internet. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Five days later, on
November 16, 2004, UL fired Mr. Ryan. (Id. ¶ 27.)

This litigation began November 16, 2006, when Mr. Ryan filed a lawsuit alleging
that UL had wrongfully discharged him. He claimed that even though he was an
employee at will, and therefore subject to discharge at any time for any reason or no
reason at all, his firing fell under a public policy exception to at-will employment. He
alleged that his discharge was actionable because UL fired him in retaliation for fulfilling
or exercising various rights or duties under federal and state constitutions and laws.4

UL describes Mr. Ryan’s claims of alleged flaws in the official explanation for the
World Trade Center collapses as the product of “outrageous conspiracy theories.”
(See, e.g., Def.’s (First) Mem. Supp. 2.) However, the substance of his allegations is
not presently an issue. Pending before the court is a motion to dismiss pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). At this stage, the key issue is simply whether
Indiana law recognizes the sort of wrongful discharge claims that Mr. Ryan alleges.

3 (See Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) Like much in this case, which is still in the initial pleading
stage, the facts are sometimes murky. The record before the court does not include a copy of
Mr. Ryan’s letter to NIST, and his Amended Complaint is unclear whether Mr. Ryan is alleging
that UL tested the steel prior to construction or following the collapses, and whether the steel
testing was in addition to or included the contracted work that Mr. Ryan alleges that UL
performed for NIST related to the collapses.

4 Mr. Ryan acknowledges that UL gave other grounds for his firing, including that he
had commented inappropriately on UL tests conducted for NIST and misrepresented his
opinions as UL’s, but he disputes these were the real reasons. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 30, 32.)

2



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 3 of 25

In his initial brief, Mr. Ryan asserted, for the first time, that his wrongful discharge
action also encompassed a claim under an Indiana whistle blower protection statute.
(Pl.’s Resp. Opp’n Mot. Dismiss Compl. [hereinafter Pl.’s First Resp.] 1.) When UL
replied that this claim was defective because Mr. Ryan did not allege any misconduct by
UL in its “execution of a public contract” (see Def.’s Reply Supp. Mot. Dismiss Compl.
13), Mr. Ryan attempted to cure this problem by filing a First Amended Complaint
(“Amended Complaint”). In it, he asserts that NIST contracted with UL to perform fire
resistance tests on models of, and/or flooring components from, the World Trade Center
buildings. (Am. Compl. ¶ 54.) He alleges he was also fired because he had made
written whistle-blowing reports about violations of law and misuses of resources in
public contracts “concerning” UL. (Id. ¶ 53.)

UL filed the pending Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 24)
and brief on June 1, 2007, and Mr. Ryan responded June 21. UL replied on July 5,
2007.

Mr. Ryan is seeking damages and front pay in excess of $75,000, exclusive of
costs and interest, and diversity of citizenship has been established. He is a citizen of
Indiana while UL is a not-for-profit corporation incorporated under the laws of Delaware
and its principal place of business is in Illinois. This matter is therefore properly before
the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1332(a)(1).

The court rules as follows.

3



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 4 of 25

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion the sufficiency of the litigant’s case is generally judged
from the complaint. Hernandez v. City of Goshen, 324 F.3d 535, 538 (7th Cir. 2003);
Rosenblum v. Travelbyus.com Ltd., 299 F.3d 657, 661 (7th Cir. 2002).5 The court must
accept as true plaintiff’s factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in
plaintiff’s favor. Cole v. U.S. Capital, 389 F.3d 719, 724 (7th Cir. 2004); Hentosh v.
Herman M. Finch Univ. of Health Scis./Chi. Med. Sch., 167 F.3d 1170, 1173 (7th Cir.
1999).

As the Seventh Circuit has repeatedly reminded, Rule 12(b)(6) must be applied
in the context of the liberal federal rules for notice pleading. See Hefferman v. Bass,
467 F.3d 596, 598-99 (7th Cir. 2006); McDonald v. Household Int’l, Inc., 425 F.3d 424,
427 (7th Cir. 2005); Cler v. Ill. Educ. Ass’n, 423 F.3d 726, 729 (7th Cir. 2005). Rule 8(a)
requires only a short and plain statement of the grounds for jurisdiction, a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and a demand
for judgment providing the relief sought. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). This is bare bones
pleading that merely seeks to provide the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff’s claim
and the grounds upon which it rests. Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 908 (7th Cir. 2005);
Cler, 423 F.3d at 729.

5 Aside from documents incorporated by a complaint, a court must confine its review to
the pleading or convert the motion to a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Tierney v.
Vahle, 304 F.3d 734, 738-39 (7th Cir. 2002).

4


Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 5 of 25

Until recently, courts often distilled these rules into the statement that dismissal is
appropriate only when it is clear that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts consistent
with the complaint that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. See McMillan v. Collection
Prof’ls Inc., 455 F.3d 754, 759 (7th Cir. 2006); Centers v. Centennial Mortgage, Inc.,
398 F.3d 930, 933 (7th Cir. 2005); Palay v. United States, 349 F.3d 418, 432 (7th Cir.
2003), Latuszkin v. City of Chicago, 250 F.3d 502, 504 (7th Cir. 2001).6

In May of this year, however, the Supreme Court sent this characterization of
Rule 12(b)(6), which sprang from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), to the
trash bin. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. ---, ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 (2007).
“Conley’s ‘no set of facts’ language . . . is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative
gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it
may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the
complaint.” Id.

In Bell Atlantic, the Court dismissed a putative class action antitrust lawsuit
because the Plaintiffs’ complaint failed to plead sufficient facts to suggest an agreement
or conspiracy in restraint of trade. Id. at 1973. The plaintiffs accused the defendants of
forming agreements to refrain from competing with one another. Id. at 1962. They
alleged the existence of a conspiracy. Id. However, the court termed these to be

6 The Supreme Court itself used very similar language recently. See Swierkiewicz v.
Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (“Given the Federal Rules’ simplified standard for
pleading, ‘[a] court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted
under any set of of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.’ Hishon v. King &
Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 [parallel citations omitted] (1984)”).

5


Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 6 of 25

“ultimate allegations,” id., that do not necessarily satisfy Rule 8's requirement of giving
the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff’s claims “‘and the grounds upon which it rests,’”
id. at 1964-65 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47).

In Bell Atlantic, the existence of a conspiracy or an agreement was the heart of
the plaintiffs’ anti-trust claim. “Asking for plausible grounds to infer an agreement . . .
simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence of illegal agreement.” Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1965. The Court stressed it was
not imposing “heightened fact pleading of specifics.” Id. at 1974. Well pleaded
complaints may survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss even if the trial judge
disbelieves the factual allegations or considers recovery to be extremely unlikely. Id. at
1965 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002); Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).
However, plaintiffs must provide enough facts that “nudge[ ] their claims across the line
from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 1974.

Bell Atlantic’s mandate, that a plaintiff must provide “enough facts to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face,” id., no doubt appears at odds with the Seventh
Circuit’s instruction that a plaintiff need not plead particular facts. See Vincent v. City
Colleges of Chi., 485 F.3d 919, 923 (7th Cir. 2007) (stating that “a judicial order
dismissing a complaint because the plaintiff did not plead facts has a short half-life. . . .
[t]he possibility that facts to be adduced later, and consistent with the complaint, could
prove the claim, is enough for the litigation to move forward”). However, even prior to
Bell Atlantic, the Seventh Circuit has required plaintiffs to provide the grounds of their

6



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 7 of 25

entitlement to relief. See, e.g., Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 326 (7th Cir.
1996) (stating “there must be sufficient facts pleaded to allow the court and the
defendants to understand the gravamen of the plaintiff’s complaint”); Carl Sandburg
Village Condo. Ass’n No. 1 v. First Condo. Dev. Co., 758 F.2d 203, 207 (7th Cir. 1985)
(insisting on “direct or inferential allegations concerning all of the material elements
necessary for recovery under the relevant legal theory”); Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor
Co., 745 F.2d 1101, 1106 (7th Cir. 1984) (requiring a “reasonable likelihood that the
plaintiffs can construct a claim from the events related in the complaint”).7

Thus, while it remains true that a plaintiff need not provide specific facts, a
plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions.”8 Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1964


65. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative
level.” Id. at 1965. As one circuit has observed, Bell Atlantic “obliges a pleader to
amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification
is needed to render the claim plausible.” Iqbal v. Hasty, 2007 WL 1717803, at *11 (2d
Cir. June 14, 2007) (emphasis in original). In this regard, the Court added muscle to
Doherty’s familiar rule that a complaint must provide sufficient facts to comprehend the
gravamen of the claim.
7 Even Carl Sandburg would not require a plaintiff, aside from claims governed by Rule
9, to plead particular facts supporting every element of a legal theory, just sufficient facts to
make an inferential allegation possible, or in the language of Bell Atlantic, to make the claim
plausible.

8 Although many of the Court’s statements appear tailored to antitrust claims, the
comments in this paragraph all pertain to the Court’s observations about the “general
standards” of pleading required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2).

7


Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 8 of 25

II. DISCUSSION
There are two main issues before the court. The first is whether Indiana’s whistle

blower statute, Ind. Code § 22-5-3-3, protects the sort of activities that allegedly led to

Mr. Ryan’s firing.9 The second is whether Indiana’s public policy exception to the

doctrine of at-will employee applies to the sort of rights and duties he was allegedly

exercising prior to his dismissal.10

A. Whistle Blower Statute
In cases involving private employers under public contract, Indiana’s private

employer whistle blower statute, Indiana Code § 22-5-3-3, protects the employee from

discharge or other disciplinary action for having reported “in writing” a violation of

federal, state, or local law or regulation, or a misuse of public resources. Id.

The first part of the statute reads:

An employee of a private employer that is under public contract may report in
writing the existence of: (1) [a] violation of a federal law or regulation; (2) [a]
violation of a state law or rule; (3) [a] violation of an ordinance of a political
subdivision . . . or (4) [t]he misuse of public resources; concerning the execution
of public contract first to the private employer, unless the private employer is the

9 UL initially asked the court to address possible violations of Mr. Ryan’s First
Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See Def.’s (First) Mem. Supp. 5-8.) Mr. Ryan
made no such claim, either in his initial Complaint or the Amended Complaint, and UL has not
renewed its argument in its brief supporting its pending motion to dismiss, so the court will not
address this issue.

10 The Amended Complaint does not state directly that he was an at-will employee but,
in seeking a wrongful discharge under the public policy exception, must be read in this light.
(See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-49.)

8


Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 9 of 25

person whom the employee believes is committing the violation or misuse of
public resources. In that case, the employee may report the violation or misuse of
public resources in writing to either the private employer or to any official or
agency entitled to receive a report from the state ethics commission. . . . If a
good faith effort is not made to correct the problem within a reasonable time, the
employee may submit a written report of the incident to any person, agency, or
organization.

Id. § 22-5-3-3(a) (emphasis added).

Thus, to bring a cause of action under the private employer whistle blower
statute, the plaintiff must be an employee of a private employer that is under contract,
and the plaintiff must report violations or misuse of resources “concerning the execution
of public contract.” Id. Mr Ryan asserts that the statute “clearly provides” that the
report may be about violations or misuse of resources “by any entity, not just the
employer.” (Pl.’s Resp. Opp’n Mot. Dismiss Am. Compl. [hereinafter Pl.’s Am. Resp.]
21.) However, aside from highlighting the italicized words in the passage above, he
does not provide any legal argument or citations as to why this would be so.

The statute as written, lacking any article or modifier before the word “execution,”
is somewhat ambiguous. Inserting “any” before “execution” would provide the meaning
that Mr. Ryan prefers; inserting “this” before “execution” would make it plain that the
violations or misuse of resources must concern the private employer’s public contract,
not just any contract. See Ind. Code § 22-5-3-3(a).

The latter meaning is a more reasonable interpretation of the General
Assembly’s intent. Under a longstanding rule of Indiana statutory construction, when
terms are used in one place in a statute, “‘they will be construed as used in that same

9



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 10 of 25

sense at other places in the statute, unless the clear context of the statute requires a
different meaning.’” 600 Land, Inc. v. Metro. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 863 N.E.2d 339,
347 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007) (quoting Jones v. State, 569 N.E.2d 975, 979 (Ind. Ct. App.
1991)); accord Ryan v. State, 92 N.E. 340, 342 (Ind. 1910). Here, the first mention of a
“contract” is to the private employer’s public contract, and absent any language
indicating otherwise, all subsequent uses of the word “contract” refer to the private
employer’s public contract.

The highlighted words do not suggest otherwise. Presumably Mr. Ryan would
like the court to infer that, by referring to times when the employer is not the person
believed to be the violator or misuser of public funds, the statute is referring to contracts
not involving the employer. However, there is no compelling reason to read the words
this way. First, contracts often involve multiple parties, including contractors and
subcontractors. Second, the term “employer” would ordinarily refer to the entity
individually, not necessarily its employees.

The most reasonable interpretation is that the General Assembly wanted
employees to report wrongdoing first to their employer to give the employer a chance to
correct the problem unless management themselves – those who could fairly be said to
represent the employer entity – were involved. This interpretation is supported by the
later sentence authorizing the employee to submit a written report of the problems to
any person, agency, or organization if no corrective action is taken within a reasonable
time.

10



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 11 of 25

For these reasons, the court finds that the private employer statute only applies
to reports about wrongdoing involving the employer’s public contract and turns to an
examination of the Amended Complaint.

At the time of his discharge Mr. Ryan, a chemist, was a laboratory manager at
UL’s South Bend drinking water testing facility, formerly known as Environmental Health
Laboratories, Inc., and since renamed as UL’s Drinking Water Laboratory. (Am. Compl.
¶¶ 4, 5, 15.) Nothing in the Amended Complaint suggests that Mr. Ryan had any
connection to any public contract that UL may have had in connection with NIST or the
collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. Nor does Mr. Ryan provide any basis for
inferring that he possessed any particular knowledge about how UL executed its
contracts. Rather, he says he arrived at his concerns following a “period of study and
reflection” shortly after the terrorist attacks. (Id. ¶ 18.) Thus the Amended Complaint
strongly suggests that Mr. Ryan possessed no more knowledge about UL’s public
contracts than any like-minded citizen of similar background and training, and that in
writing to UL and NIST, he was attempting only to making them aware of his theories
and conclusions, not of particular problems with any UL conduct.

Mr. Ryan complied with the procedural requirements of the statute. He first
reported his concerns to UL’s chief executive officer and other officials on November 19,
2003, and December 2, 2003. (Am. Compl. ¶18). These officials responded in writing,
stating their belief in the generally well-known explanations for the buildings collapses.
(Id. ¶ 19.) They took no other action, and on November 11, 2004, Mr. Ryan wrote a

11



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 12 of 25

letter to NIST stating his concerns regarding the explanation and investigation of the
collapses. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.)

The key issue is whether, considering all of the facts alleged in the Amended
Complaint, the court can infer that is not merely conceivable but plausible that his letters
contained the sort of information that would qualify them as protected reports under the
statute. That is, did the written reports allege a violation of federal, state, or local laws
or regulations, or a misuse of public resources, regarding UL’s execution of its contract
with NIST?

In a claim under Indiana’s private employer whistle blower statute the existence
of a violation or misuse of public resources is nearly as much at the center of a wrongful
discharge claim as the existence of a conspiracy charge is to an antitrust claim under §
1 of the Sherman Act. See Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1964. The only major difference is
that a whistle blower claim is a derivative claim. A plaintiff must also allege the filing of
a written report about the claimed violation or misuse of public resources.

The whistle blower statute is not aimed at protecting plaintiffs who believe that
their employer’s conduct needs to be investigated because a thorough inquiry might
reveal violations of law or regulation or misuse or public resources. Rather it seeks to
protect employees who report that, in their employer’s execution of a public contract, a
law or regulation has been broken or public resources misused. At a minimum, a claim
under the whistle blower statute must provide some grounds for inferring (1) that such

12



Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 13 of 25

conduct occurred and (2) that this conduct was reported. Bell Atlantic requires this
much.

Mr. Ryan’s Amended Complaint falls short on both prongs. The closest it comes
to alleging that UL was violating the law or misusing public resources is in the statement
“Mr Ryan was fired because he made written whistleblowing reports in writing regarding
apparent violations of law and misuses of public resources concerning the execution of
public contracts by NIST contractors and NIST officials, and UL itself.” (Am. Compl. ¶
53.) However, this allegation does not directly assert that UL violated the law or
misused public resources. On close reading, the use of the word “concerning” is
ambiguous (and perhaps deliberately so). Mr. Ryan may be alleging that UL violated
the law or misused public funds. Or he may simply be alleging that UL’s testing should
have revealed violations of law or a misuse of public resources by others.

This same sort of ambiguity resurfaces four paragraphs later when the Amended
Complaint states “Mr. Ryan’s letter to NIST was somewhat less explicit than his internal
reports to UL but still explicit enough for UL, knowing what it did regarding his preceding
internal disclosures to UL, to interpret as an allegation that a crime had been committed
and public resources were being misused.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 57.) This statement asserts
that UL should have realized from Mr. Ryan’s letter that he was reporting a crime or
misuse of public resources, but a crime or misuse by whom?

In Bell Atlantic, the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of a case when the
complaint alleged a conspiracy among the defendants but failed to alleged sufficient

13



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facts from which a conspiracy could be inferred. See Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 196263,
1974. Here, under the most favorable reading, the Amended Complaint only offers
conclusory labels about violations of law or misuse of public resources in connection
with UL’s contract with NIST, and even these labels are ambiguous. The reader can
only speculate.

Moreover, the majority of the Amended Complaint (and all of Mr. Ryan’s initial
Complaint) would lead most readers to conclude that Mr. Ryan was not complaining
about UL’s violations of laws or misuse of public resources but about the competency of
the post-attack investigations and NIST’s and (perhaps) UL’s failure to uncover or
consider evidence that other, as yet unknown conspirators were involved in the terrorist
attacks. He complained to UL and NIST that scientific analysis did not support the
government’s conclusion that the impact of the airplanes and resulting jet fuel fires
caused the structural steel to fail. (Am. Compl. § 18, 21.) He notified UL as well that
“substantial evidence” suggested a “well-engineered controlled implosion resulting from
the use of explosive devices placed in the buildings. (Id. ¶ 18(c).) He observed that UL
had certified the steel as capable of withstanding much higher temperatures than those
resulting from the fires (id. ¶ 18(a)) and he urged the company “to act on this
information at a minimum to protect its reputation . . . [and] to prevent future deaths” (id.
¶ 18(f)).

In short, the letters he sent to NIST and UL state his concerns about the
adequacy of NIST’s investigation and, by extension, UL’s. However, UL’s competence
is irrelevant to a whistle blower claim.

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has concluded that a misuse of public resources
under the private whistle blower statute “contemplates a direct expenditure or use of
public funds, property, or resources for a purpose other than that contemplated by the
contract in question.” Coutee v. Lafayette Neighborhood Housing Servs., Inc., 792
N.E.2d 907, 914 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003). In this respect, misuse would include the
spending of funds for personal use or for any purpose not allowable under the contract,
“whether legitimate or not.” Id. However, it would not include the waste of money
through mismanagement or incompetence.

So even if UL’s failure to investigate Mr. Ryan’s concerns about terrorist attacks
or arrive at his conclusions could be termed a waste of money, as Mr. Ryan so evidently
believes it was, its conduct was not the sort of wrongdoing, the report of which the
private employer whistle blower statute is aimed to protect. In short, Mr. Ryan has not
alleged a statutory claim.

The Amended Complaint provides no reasonable basis for inferring that UL broke
any laws or federal regulations, or spent public resources on an unallowed purpose.
Nor does it provide any basis for inferring that Mr. Ryan reported such conduct to UL or
NIST. Even under the most favorable reading of the Amended Complaint, in which the
court accepts all of his factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in
his favor, Mr. Ryan’s right to relief under Indiana’s private employer whistle blower
statute is speculative at best.

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Case 1:06-cv-01770-JDT-TAB Document 47 Filed 08/08/2007 Page 16 of 25

The court therefore GRANTS UL’s motion to dismiss this claim. Given the
possibility, however remote, that Mr. Ryan can allege facts showing, or at least from
which it can be inferred, that UL violated laws or regulations, or misused public
resources, in its execution of a public contract, and that he reported such facts to UL
and NIST, the dismissal will be WITHOUT PREJUDICE subject to the filing of an
amended complaint within fifteen days. However, in considering whether to seek leave
to amend the Amended Complaint, Mr. Ryan and his counsel should be mindful that,
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, assertions of wrongdoing by UL that are
made without any evidentiary support11 could be a basis for monetary sanctions against
Mr. Ryan, his counsel, or both.

B. Public Policy Exception
Indiana traditionally has acknowledged two forms of employment: at will and
employment for a definite or ascertainable term. Orr v. Westminster Village N., Inc.,
689 N.E.2d 712, 717 (Ind. 1997). An employee who serves at will can generally be fired
“at any time for a ‘good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all.’” Montgomery v. Bd. of
Trs. of Purdue Univ., 849 N.E.2d 1120, 1128 (Ind. 2006) (quoting Sample v. Kinser Ins.
Agency, 700 N.E.2d 802, 805 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998)). Nonetheless, the Indiana Supreme
Court has recognized a “public policy exception” to the employment at will doctrine.12

11 Or, if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable
opportunity for further investigation or discovery.

12 The other two exceptions are consideration, which rebuts the presumption of at-will
employment, and promissory estoppel, which enforces an employer’s promise under
(continued...)

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An at-will employee can bring a wrongful discharge lawsuit against his employer if he or
she is fired in contravention of a “clear statutory expression of a right or duty.”
Westminster Village, 689 N.E.2d at 718.

This exception, however, is not so broad as it first sounds (or as Mr. Ryan would
have it). The Indiana Supreme Court has allowed a wrongful discharge lawsuit when an
employee has been fired for filing a workmen’s compensation claim, Frampton v. Cent.
Ind. Gas Co., 297 N.E.2d 425, 428 (Ind. 1973), and when an employee refused to
commit an illegal act for which he could be charged, McClanahan v. Remington Freight
Lines, Inc., 517 N.E.2d 390, 393 (Ind. 1988). Yet the court has expressly stated its
unwillingness to create a “generalized public policy exception.” McClanahan, 517
N.E.2d at 393; accord Wior v. Anchor Indus., Inc., 669 N.E.2d 172, 177 n.5 (Ind. 1996).

In Cantrell v. Morris, 849 N.E.2d 488, 498 (Ind. 2006), the Indiana Supreme
Court declared that a state constitutional provision can, just as much as a statute,
supply the duty that is an element of a wrongful discharge claim. However, in making
this comment, the court was not announcing a public policy exception to at-will
employment based on retaliatory discharge for an employee’s exercise of a
constitutional right. Rather, in Cantrell, the court was merely stating a general principal
that constitutional provisions are, like statutes, legislative provisions. Id. at 497. The

12(...continued)
circumstances meeting the requirements of Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 90.

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court did not expand the public policy exception beyond the confines set by Frampton
and McClanahan.13

Only earlier this year, the Indiana Supreme Court reaffirmed the narrowness of
the public policy exception. Meyers v. Meyers, 861 N.E.2d 704, 706 (Ind. 2007). The
court noted that the Frampton exception was based on express statutory language
prohibiting employers from evading the obligations of the Indiana Worker’s
Compensation Act. Id. The Act provided that “no rule, regulation, or other device” shall
relieve an employer from its obligations, and the Frampton court had found the threat of
discharge to be such a device. Id. (quoting Frampton, 297 N.E.2d at 427-28). The
McClanahan exception was based on the recognition that the absence of a remedy
would encourage criminal conduct. Id.

Following the Indiana Supreme Court’s lead, the Indiana Court of Appeals has
generally allowed the public policy exception only in cases involving worker’s
compensation claims or in cases in which a plaintiff was “allegedly terminated in
retaliation for refusing to violate a legal obligation that carried penal consequences.” Id.
at 707 (citing McGarrity v. Berlin Metals, 774 N.E.2d 71, 78-79 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002)

13 In Cantrell, a decision involving issues that had been certified, the court declined to
decide if a public employee could bring a wrongful discharge lawsuit alleging a violation of the
employee’s freedom of speech in violation of Article I, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution. It
merely ruled that such an action, if possible, would be a common law claim governed by the
Indiana Tort Claims Act. Id. at 507. Cantrell also emphasis the narrowness of the public policy
exception and circumscribed prior statements that might seem to imply a broader exception.
Compare Westminister, 689 N.E.2d at 718 (stating “we have recognized a public policy
exception to the employment-at-will doctrine if a clear statutory expression of a right or duty is
contravened”) with Cantrell, 849 N.E.2d at 494 (declining to embrace the general principle that a
wrongful discharge lawsuit may be brought whenever an employee has been fired “for
exercising a statutory right or for refusing to violate the law”).

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(refusal to file fraudulent tax return); Haas Carriage, Inc. v. Berna, 651 N.E.2d 284, 288
(Ind. Ct. App. 1995) (refusing to haul unlawful road); Call v. Scott Brass, Inc., 553
N.E.2d 1225, 1230 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990) (refusing to disregard jury summons)).

Likewise, in keeping with this narrow view of the public policy exception, Indiana
appellate courts have not allowed wrongful discharge lawsuits based on alleged
retaliation for filing an unemployment claim, Lawson v Haven Hubbard Homes, Inc., 551
N.E.2d 855, 860 (Ind. Ct App. 1990), for refusing to submit to a polygraph examination,
Hamblen v. Danners, Inc., 478 N.E.2d 926, 929 (Ind. Ct. App. 1985), for internally
reporting misconduct affecting the validity of a drug company’s federal drug safety
reports, Campbell v. Eli Lilly & Co., 413 N.E.2d 1054, 1061-62 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980), and
for reporting to a company official a supervisor’s alleged illegal kickbacks, Martin v.
Platt, 386 N.E.2d 1026, 1028 (Ind. Ct. App. 1979). (Aside from Lawson, these cases
were decided prior to McClanahan. However, in Meyers, the Indiana Supreme Court
cited all four as examples of the decisions establishing that the public policy exception is
“quite a limited exception.” Meyers, 861 N.E.2d at 707.)

To invoke the public policy exception to at-will employment then, under existing
Indiana law, a plaintiff must show that he or she was fired either for (1) exercising a
specific right and a statute (or constitutional provision) clearly restricts the employer’s
ability to terminate the employee for exercising this right or (2) fulfilling a specific duty
for which the law imposes criminal penalties upon those who fail to do so.

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Thus in Meyers, 861 N.E.2d at 705, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed that an
employee’s general right to be paid for his work would not trigger the public policy
exception, and in Montgomery, 849 N.E.2d at 1130-31, it held that neither would an
alleged violation of Indiana’s Age Discrimination Act. As the court explained, “[g]eneral
expressions of public policy do not support new exceptions to the employment-at-will
doctrine.” Id. at 1128.

Mr. Ryan has cited in his Amended Complaint seven possible sources for a
public policy exception. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-49.) All stem from a citizen’s rights under
the U.S. and Indiana Constitutions to engage in free speech and to petition the
government, or a citizen’s general rights and duties under federal and state law to report
safety hazards and wrongdoing. In his brief, these seven duties become fourteen, but
the substance remains generally the same: Mr. Ryan had a right to speak out and a
duty to report safety hazards, material facts in a government investigation, and potential
felonies and terrorist threats. (Pl.’s Am. Resp. 15-30.)

All of these rights and duties, however, are general rights and duties. They are
are not specific to employment, as in Frampton. They do not impose, as the Indiana
Worker’s Compensation Act does, a specific requirement on employers to refrain from
firing or threatening to fire an employee for the exercise of these rights.14 Neither the
First Amendment, which limits government action, nor Section 1, Article 9 of the Indiana

14 Mr. Ryan has dropped his claim of a public policy exemption arising under the
Occupational Safety and Health Act, and therefore this statute will not be examined further.
(See Pl.’s Am. Resp. 23.)

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Constitution restricts a private employer’s ability to terminate an employee for exercising
their right of free speech or right to petition the government. Yatvin v. Madison Metro.
Sch. Dist., 840 F.2d 412, 420 (7th Cir. 1988) (noting that “[t]he First Amendment
retaliation concept applies only to public employment, since private employers are not
subject to the amendment”); Cantrell, 849 N.E.2d at 492 (declaring that Section 9 only
restrains government actors and “[a] termination by a private employer, therefore, can
have no Section 9 implications”).15

In his response to UL’s first motion to dismiss, Mr. Ryan states that his claim to a
public policy exception arising from his right and duty to report occupational safety
hazards was not based on rights and duties arising from statutory workplace safety
laws. (Pl.’s First Resp. 23.) Laws such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act
generally provide their own remedial schemes. See 29 U.S.C. § 660(c)(2). Such
schemes make a public policy exception in such circumstances unnecessary. See
Groce v. Eli Lilly & Co., 193 F.3d 496, 504 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding that employee did not
state a cognizable claim under the public policy exception when he did not pursue a
statutory remedy for discharge in retaliation for reporting violations of the Indiana
Occupational Safety and Health Act). Mr. Ryan asserts rather that these claims also
arise from his rights and duties under the First Amendment and the Indiana

15 Section Nine of Article One of the Indiana Constitution reads: “No law shall be passed,
restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or
print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be
responsible.”

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Constitution. (Pl.’s First Resp. 23.) As stated above, these are general rights and
duties that do not restrict a private employer’s right to fire an employee.

Nor would Mr. Ryan’s failure to speak out or to report information to NIST expose
him to criminal liability, as in McClanahan. Mr. Ryan presents himself as a general
manager of a drinking water laboratory, a facility that, presumably, seems highly unlikely
to have had any responsibility or participation in tests, if any, that UL performed with
regard to the World Trade Centers collapses.

Even supposing that Mr. Ryan had some inside knowledge regarding the quality
of UL’s tests or of some related misfeasance, he faced no criminal penalty for failing to
report this information. Mr. Ryan cites the misprision of felony statute and unnamed
anti-terrorist statutes for establishing his duty to report potential felonies and terrorist
activity. However, as UL points out, the misprision statute, 18 U.S.C. § 4, would require
Mr. Ryan to have actual knowledge of the commission of a felony – and take an
affirmative step to conceal the felony from authorities.16 United States v. Daddano, 432
F.2d 1119, 1124 (7th Cir. 1970). So even if Mr. Ryan had actual knowledge – rather
than just theories – regarding as yet undiscovered felonies committed in the September
11, 2001, attacks, he would not face criminal liability by remaining silent. For the same

16 The statute reads:

Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court

of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same

to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall

be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
18 U.S.C. § 4.

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reason, he would not face criminal sanctions about any misconduct by UL in performing
tests for NIST.

Lastly, Mr. Ryan argues that the private employer whistle blower statute, Indiana
Code § 22-5-3-3, provide a statutory basis for invoking the public policy exception, even
if his whistle blower claim fails. (Pl.’s Am. Resp. 24.) For the reasons discussed in the
section directly addressing this statute, Mr. Ryan has not alleged any conduct
implicating the whistle blower protection statute. The whistle blower statute does not
evidence a “clear public policy” to protect any complaining that might be characterized
as whistle blowing – only that conduct meeting the statute’s criteria.

Moreover, even if Mr. Ryan had provided a plausible claim to relief, his exercise
of this right would not trigger a public policy exemption when the private employer
whistle blower statute provides for legislative remedies. Both in Frampton and in
McClanahan, the Indiana Supreme Court allowed a public policy exception because the
employee would otherwise be without a remedy. See Frampton, 297 N.E.2d at 428;
McClanahan, 517 N.E.2d at 393. In Indiana, when a statute creates a right that did not
previously exist under common law and prescribes the remedy for its infringement, the
statutory remedy is presumed to be exclusive. Call, 553 N.E.2d at 1227 (Ind. Ct. App.
1990).

Indiana Code § 22-5-3-3 was enacted by Public Law 31-1987, which took effect
in 1988, well after the Indiana Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Frampton. However,
neither Frampton nor subsequent cases provided Indiana employees with any protective

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rights against discharge or disciplinary action for whistle blowing. Thus the statute
created a right that did not previously exist, and it supplies the remedies: an employee’s
right to appeal the discharge or disciplinary action in a court of general jurisdiction and
imposition of a Class A infraction upon employers found guilty of violating the statute.
Ind. Code § 22-5-3-3. Mr. Ryan can contest his discharge in a court of general
jurisdiction, as he has done and as considered above.

Regardless of the substance of Mr. Ryan’s allegations, he remained an at-will
employee. The rights that Mr. Ryan was exercising and the duties that he was fulfilling
do not give rise to a public policy exception allowing a lawsuit for wrongful discharge.
The court therefore GRANTS UL’s motion to dismiss this claim. This dismissal will be
WITH PREJUDICE insofar as Mr. Ryan is seeking a wrongful discharge claim pursuant
to Indiana’s public policy exception to at-will employment with regard to the rights and
duties identified in the Amended Complaint.

III. CONCLUSION
For the reasons discussed above, the court DENIES UL’s Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. No. 11) as moot and DENIES in part and GRANTS in part UL’s Motion to Dismiss
Mr. Ryan’s Complaint (Doc. No. 24) with prejudice.

The court will DISMISS Mr. Ryan’s claim for wrongful discharge pursuant to
Indiana’s private employer whistle blower statute. This dismissal will be without

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prejudice for fifteen days to allow Mr. Ryan to seek leave to amend his Amended
Complaint, if he so desires after considering the court’s discussion above.

The court will DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE Mr. Ryan’s claim of wrongful
discharge pursuant to Indiana’s public policy exception and for exercising the rights or
fulfilling the duties listed in the Amended Complaint.

These dismissals will be entered by separate order.

ALL OF WHICH IS ENTERED this 8th day of August 2007.

Copies to:

Magistrate Judge Tim A. Baker

Mick G. Harrison
The Caldwell Center
mickharrisonesq@earthlink.net

Rudolph William Savich
rsavich@aol.com

Kara L. Reagan
STAFFORD LAW OFFICE, LLC
kara@cstaffordlaw.com

John Daniel Tinder, Judge
United States District Court

Aviva Grumet-Morris
WINSTON & STRAWN LLP
agmorris@winston.com

Michael P. Roche
WINSTON STRAWN LLP
mroche@winston.com

Thomas E. Deer
LOCKE REYNOLDS LLP
tdeer@locke.com