Rosenstengel denied dismissal in suit alleging workers were not given proper termination notices

By Charmaine Little | Mar 4, 2019

BENTON. -- District judge Nancy Rosenstengel denied a motion to dismiss filed by two companies sued in a class action alleging they negated their workers' proper termination notices. 

The case stems from a putative class action filed by plaintiffs Jetson Mitchell and Sherman Rider, on behalf of themselves and others in their position. The plaintiffs allege defendants Murray Energy Corporation and American Coal Company infringed on their rights by failing to give workers a 60-day termination notice, in violation of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). 

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Count II should be barred by the statute of limitations. 

Rosenstengel denied the motion. 

“The WARN Act does not contain a statute of limitations…,” Rosenstengel wrote. 

She concluded that the Act was greenlighted before Congress put the four-year statute of limitations for federal statutes in 28 U.S.C. section 1658. Since the federal statute of limitations is applicable to this lawsuit, it was the burden of the court to apply the most fitting regulation. 

The defendants argued that the court should apply the Act's six-month statute of limitations, which would make the second count of the lawsuit time-barred. However, Rosenstengel held that because there are inconsistencies over the “amount of preparation required to proceed under the statute and federal acts,” invoking a six-month limitation is a “poor fit” for the WARN Act. 

Instead, Rosenstengel adopted Rider’s motion to apply the state’s five-year statute of limitations for written contracts and 10-year statute for unwritten contracts. Therefore, she determined Count II could escape dismissal.

The defendants also argued that the second count doesn’t properly state a claim. Rosenstengel disagreed.

“Count II alleges defendants violated the WARN Act by not providing notices to employees after the postponement of the layoff,” she wrote.

She also disagreed with the defendants’ argument that Count II doesn’t provide factual allegations to show that they actually violated the regulation. 

“A plaintiff need not plead detailed factual allegations but must provide ‘more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements,” she concluded.

Murray Energy and American Coal once ran two mines in the Galatia area. They closed the mines and fired 122 workers April 22, 2017. The former employees allege they didn’t receive any notice of termination. Two days later, on April 24, 2017, Murray and American Coal issued letters to the 200 remaining employees to let them know about a possible upcoming layoff. 

The defendants sent a second letter to the same workers on June 20, 2017, letting them know the layoff would be postponed until August 2017. That August the companies terminated 100 workers. In September 2017 they terminated 25 more employees before laying off an additional 14 on Oct. 27, including Rider. 

The last remaining worker in Galatia was let go on Nov. 11, 2017.

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