Judge Claire C. Cecchi of the District of New Jersey on Thursday dismissed without prejudice an amended complaint by an individual against his former employer alleging that he was wrongfully terminated from his position.
Dr. Michael B. Morgan filed his original and amended complaints on Jan. 14, 2020, and July 31, 2020, respectively, arguing that Quest Diagnostic Incorporated breached its employment agreement through improperly terminating him and that Quest also “continued to maintain his likeness and image on their marketing material and website for almost two years,” according to the amended complaint. Morgan brought four causes of action against his former employer: breach of contract, unauthorized misappropriation of name and likeness under Florida statute, violation of common law right of publicity, and unjust enrichment, seeking damages of more than $5,600,000.
Quest moved to dismiss the amended complaint Aug. 14, 2020, contending that Morgan voluntarily resigned from his position.
“Under Florida Law, employee resignations are presumed to be voluntary and therefore preclude any claim for breach of contract,” according to the motion.
Notwithstanding the alleged resignation, Quest argued that Morgan’s breach of contract cause of action failed. Morgan claimed that Quest’s verbal notice of the plaintiff’s termination preceding written notice was a violation of the employment agreement, but Quest said no such obligation existed.
Challenging Morgan’s other causes of action, the motion to dismiss argued that Quest terminated Morgan with cause; that Morgan did not sufficiently show damages resulting from the alleged contract breach; that the Florida common law claims were time-barred; and that Quest did not use the plaintiff’s likeness to promote a product or service.
The court sided with the defendant on all fronts.
Examining the employment agreement between Morgan and Quest, the court found that its provisions allowed Quest to fire Morgan either with cause or without cause; thus, the disagreement between the parties on whether Morgan was terminated with or without cause does not matter. Regarding Morgan’s claim that the notification of his termination was improper, the court said it could not “discern how Quest materially breached the Employment Agreement as the Amended Complaint admits that (Morgan) was notified of his termination by written letter.” Similarly, the court found that the plaintiff did not sufficiently explain how the damages for the alleged contract breach exceeded $5,600,000.
“The Amended Complaint is silent as to how the alleged breach of contract caused such damages, how Plaintiff arrived at this figure, and what money, if any, Quest paid to Plaintiff after he was terminated,” according to the court.
The court also found that the plaintiff did not state any claim for misappropriation of name and likeness under Florida or New Jersey law (the parties disputed which state should govern the claim). Accordingly, Morgan’s unjust enrichment allegation cannot stand since it was predicated on the allegation that Quest was profiting from his name and likeness.