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Schedler v. Fieldturf USA, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

August 9, 2017

JOHN SCHEDLER, an individual, Plaintiff,
FIELDTURF USA, INC., a foreign corporation,, Defendants.

          David A. Schuck and Leslie E. Baze, Schuck Law, LLC, Of Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Paul E. Loving and Jeremy N. Pyle, The Consul Group, Of Attorneys for Defendants.


          Michael H. Simon United States District Judge

         On May 17, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Papak issued an Opinion and Order in this case resolving Defendant's “Motion to Determine Applicable Law.” ECF 53. Judge Papak explained that because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly provide for a motion so styled, he would treat the motion like one for partial summary judgment. Specifically, he would resolve the issue of which law governs, but in doing so would consider the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Judge Papak, however, did not handle the motion as he would have handled a true “dispositive” motion because his ruling would not resolve (or dispose of) any party's claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a) (“Nondispositive Matters. When a pretrial matter not dispositive of a party's claim or defense is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, the magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision.”). Because Judge Papak did not treat Defendant's motion as dispositive, he issued an Opinion and Order, rather than Findings and Recommendation. This affects the proper standard of review to be applied by a district judge when reviewing objections to a magistrate judge's ruling.

         Federal law permits a magistrate judge in a civil action “to hear and determine any pretrial matter pending before the court, except a motion for injunctive relief, for judgment on the pleadings, for summary judgment, . . . to dismiss or to permit maintenance of a class action, to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and to involuntarily dismiss an action.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (emphasis added). When a magistrate judge decides a matter under this subparagraph (A), the magistrate's order may be reconsidered by a district judge if the order is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a); LR 72-1.

         Continuing in the context of a civil action, a district judge also may designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings and submit proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition of any matter contained within the exceptions listed in subparagraph (A). 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Among these exceptions are motions for summary judgment. If any party serves timely written objections to any such proposed findings and recommendations, the district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         After Judge Papak issued his Opinion and Order on Defendant's Motion to Determine Applicable Law, Defendants filed objections. The parties then participated in a telephone conference with Judge Papak, after which Defendants withdrew their objections and filed an appeal of the Opinion and Order. Defendants argue that because Judge Papak treated the motion as one for partial summary judgment, he should have issued Findings and Recommendation, thereby requiring this Court to conduct a de novo review of any portions to which objections had been timely filed. Defendants further argue that even if this Court were to apply a standard of “clear error, ” which is the applicable standard for rulings on nondispositive matters, Judge Papak's conclusion that Oregon law, rather than Washington law, applies should be rejected.

         Although Judge Papak treated Defendants' motion as seeking partial summary judgment, the motion is not a dispositive motion because it does not resolve (or dispose of) any party's claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). Perhaps one could consider the motion as seeking summary judgment on part of a claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (“A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought.”) (emphasis added). This, however, does not seem to be the best analogy either because this Court typically considers a part of a claim or defense to refer to an element of a claim or defense. Thus, a motion asking a magistrate judge to resolve which law governs outside of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim or a motion for summary judgment, in which such a question normally would be resolved, is to some extent sui generis.

         In any event, Defendants' reliance on the label given by Judge Papak is unhelpful. Because the motion is not dispositive, the proper standard of review is clear error, not de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). Regardless, because the Court ultimately agrees with Judge Papak that Oregon law applies to Plaintiff's claim no matter what standard of review the Court applies, the Court will conduct a de novo review on the specific issues requested by Defendants.


         “Federal courts sitting in diversity look to the law of the forum state-here, [Oregon]- when making choice of law determinations.” Nguyen v. Barnes & Noble Inc., 763 F.3d 1171, 1175 (9th Cir. 2014). Oregon has codified its choice of law rules in Oregon Revised Statutes (“ORS”) §§ 15.300 to 15.460. Oregon's choice of law analysis differs depending on whether the claim is a contractual claim or a noncontractual claim. Contractual claims are governed by ORS §§ 15.300 to 15.380, while noncontractual claims are governed by ORS §§ 15.400 to 15.460.


         The Court adopts the factual background as set out in Judge Papak's Opinion and Order. Briefly, on February 7, 2012, Plaintiff and Defendant FieldTurf entered into a written employment contract in Tualatin, Oregon. At that time, Plaintiff was a resident of Oregon. The employment agreement provided that Plaintiff would perform his duties initially from Tualatin, Oregon and could then perform his duties from another approved location, and that his job would require him to travel. The employment agreement also provided that it would be governed by Oregon law, except as to choice of law, and that any disputes must be decided by a state or federal court in Portland, Oregon. The agreement further defined confidential information pursuant to the Oregon Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

         On October 9, 2013, Plaintiff moved his personal residence to Spokane Valley, Washington. He requested that Oregon income tax no longer be withheld from his paychecks. He then began using his Washington address in the signature block of his work email. Plaintiff nonetheless testified that he continued to consider the Tualatin, Oregon office of FieldTurf as the “office from which he officially worked” and believed his base of employment remained Oregon. He continued to receive business mail at the Tualatin office, continued to show that office address on his business cards, and that was the office stated on his resume that went to potential clients in bid packages. He went to the Tualatin office ...

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