April 30, 2017

The Interplay Between Trial Rules 12(B) and 12(C)

Category: Civil Procedure, Indianapolis Law Club | Author: | Share:

In Mourning v. Allison Transmission, Inc., Mourning worked for Ternes, a company which provided supply-chain-management services to Allison. While she was on FMLA, a group of employees she supervised filed a complaint against her, with the assistance of Mourning’s manager and Allison employees. Mourning was terminated as a result of these complaints, and filed suit against Allison for tortious interference with an employment contract and defamation. Allison filed a “12(C) Motion to Dismiss” Mourning’s complaint in which it alleged that Mourning “failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted” and that her claims failed “as a matter of law.” The trial court granted Allison’s motion, and Mourning appealed.

On appeal, the Court addressed the interplay between Indiana Trial Rules 12(C) and 12(B).

A motion for judgment on the pleadings is typically directed toward a determination of the substantive merits of the controversy. … “[A] judgment on the pleadings is, in reality, a summary judgment minus affidavits and other supporting documents.”

Trial Rule 12(B), on the other hand, provides for certain defenses to be raised by motion before an answer is filed. In contrast to a typical Trial Rule 12(C) motion for judgment on the pleadings, a Trial Rule 12(B) motion is directed solely toward procedural defects or the statement of the plaintiff’s claim for relief and does not seek to determine the substantive merits of the controversy. … Importantly, when a motion to dismiss is sustained for failure to state a claim under 12(B)(6), “the pleading may be amended once as of right pursuant to Rule 15(A) within ten [10] days after service of notice of the court’s order… .”

A litigant can raise a defense of failure to state claim in either a 12(B) or (C) motion. And when brought in a 12(C) motion, “that defense should be treated in the same manner as a Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.” This includes allowing the non-movant an opportunity to amend the pleading.

As for the merits of the argument, Allison argued that it was entitled to judgment under 12(C) because “[a] customer complaint does not constitute tortious interference or defamation as a matter of law.” The Court found no authority supporting this argument, and rejected it.

Allison next argued that Mourning failed to plead her tortious interference claim, because she failed to plead an absence of justification. In her complaint, Mourning alleged the following facts on this element:

Defendant Allison had no justification for inducing the breach of the employment contract between Ternes and Plaintiff, as Defendant willfully failed to abide by established procedure regarding staffing requests or complaints/discipline directed to Ternes Packaging, and as Defendant leveraged its continued business relationship with Ternes (which was at that time in rebid negotiations) to demand the termination of Plaintiff’s employment.

The Court found that while these facts addressed how Allison got Mourning fired, they did not address why it did so. Therefore, Mourning failed to state a claim for tortious interference.

The same did not hold true for Mourning’s defamation claim, as she sufficiently pleaded all of the elements of that claim. Notably, the Court distinguished the actual malice element of a defamation claim (which deals with the defendant’s knowledge of a statement’s falsity) from the type of malice relevant to a tortious interference claim.

Lessons:

  1. A T.R. 12(B) motion to dismiss is essentially procedural, while a T.R. 12(C) motion for judgment on the pleadings is substantive unless it is brought on T.R. 12(B) grounds.
  2. To state a claim for tortious interference with an employment contract, set forth operative facts that support the absence of justification element.

Read the full March 2017 Law Club Handout or listen to the recording here.