This is a diversity action in which recovery is sought against a former employer. Plaintiff Manuel Uriarte is a citizen of Peru. Defendants are the League of United Latin American Citizens ("LULAC"), a Texas corporation; LULAC National Enterprise Development, Inc. ("LULAC-NED"), an unincorporated association located in Washington, D.C.; Federico Perez-Molina, a Virginia citizen and an official of LULAC-NED; and three additional individuals who are sued as the "designated incorporators" of LULAC-NED.
Plaintiff's complaint alleges that in June of 1976 he was offered -- and did accept -- a position of employment with LULAC-NED as a research analyst at a salary of $15,000 per year; that he commenced his duties on or about July 1, 1976 and worked for LULAC-NED in Washington, D.C. for several months thereafter; that on October 22, 1976, he was terminated from this employment, assertedly "without just cause." He sought to recover from one or more of the defendants on three separate causes of action: (1) breach of employment contract;
(2) LULAC-NED's alleged failure to follow its own personnel policy guidelines in connection with his dismissal; and (3) defamation of character.
The defendants have moved for summary judgment as to all counts of the complaint. Additionally, defendant LULAC-NED and the three "designated incorporators" of that unincorporated association have moved to be dismissed from the case on various jurisdictional grounds. In response to these motions, plaintiff has stated that he is not opposed to the motions to dismiss and has conceded summary judgment as to the second and third counts of his complaint.
Thus, the only issue remaining before this Court is whether defendants LULAC and Perez-Molina are liable to plaintiff for breach of contract under his first cause of action. On this point, plaintiff seeks to recover damages in the amount of $14,905.72, although he does not specify the origin of that figure.
Defendants' position, however, is that plaintiff is not entitled to any unearned salary on a breach of contract theory because the contractual agreement between the parties was silent as to duration and therefore could be terminated by either party at any time. See Taylor v. Greenway Restaurant, Inc., 173 A.2d 211 (D.C. 1961). They accordingly insist that, as a matter of law, plaintiff's breach of contract action must fail and that summary judgment in their favor is appropriate.
In opposing the defendants' summary judgment motion on this point, plaintiff states that he "disputes" the defendants' "characterization of the employment contract in question."
Yet, he neither suggests nor provides any authority contradicting the proposition that an employment contract such as the one sub judice is properly construed as terminable at will by either party. Rather, he rests his opposition on the grounds that defendant LULAC-NED's Personnel Policy Manual can be read as requiring "good cause" for plaintiff's termination
and that its applicability was conceded by the defendants in their motion for summary judgment. He suggests, therefore, that summary judgment would be inappropriate as to his remaining breach of contract cause of action because he has placed this "good cause" element at issue.
What plaintiff overlooks, however, is that the defendants conceded the applicability of their Personnel Policy Manual only in the context of their motion for summary judgment as to plaintiff's second cause of action -- which he has now conceded
-- the alleged breach of those guidelines.
Thus, plaintiff cannot successfully deflect the proper focus of attention from the only true issue before the Court: whether his employment contract was breached by the defendants or could as a matter of law be terminated by either party at will.
On this question the Court finds, in the absence of any indication to the contrary, that the bilateral contract here in question was terminable at will and therefore cannot support a cause of action brought by plaintiff for its breach. It is clear that plaintiff was hired at a fixed salary rate for an indefinite period of time. Plaintiff's pleadings do not contest this point,
nor has he suggested by way of affidavit or exhibit that any contractual understanding to the contrary was ever achieved.
As has been stated by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, it is a "principle of law that a contract of indeterminate duration may become terminable by unilateral action on the part of either party after a reasonable lapse of time." Boeing Airplane Co. v. N.L.R.B., 85 U.S. App. D.C. 116, 174 F.2d 988, 991 (1949). See also Taylor v. Greenway Restaurant, Inc., 173 A.2d 211 (D.C. 1961); Pfeffer v. Ernst, 82 A.2d 763, 764 (D.C. 1951); cf. Local Union No. 28, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Maryland Chapter, National Electrical Contractors Association, Inc., 194 F. Supp. 494, 501 (D. Md. 1961).
Plaintiff has nowhere even alleged that a "reasonable time" did not lapse prior to the defendants' decision to terminate him or that he did not receive reasonable notice prior to his dismissal.
Wherefore, it is by the Court this 20th day of July, 1977,
ORDERED that, there being no opposition to same, the defendants' motion to dismiss defendants Aguirre, MacGregor, Franco and LULAC-NED be, and hereby is, granted; and it is further
ORDERED that, there being no opposition to same, the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the second and third counts of the instant complaint be, and hereby is, granted; and it is further
ORDERED that the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the first count of the instant complaint be, and hereby is, granted; and it is further
ORDERED that this action be, and hereby is, dismissed.
OLIVER GASCH / Judge