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Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society v. Weathersbee

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 21, 2017

WOODMEN OF THE WORLD LIFE INSURANCE SOCIETY, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT WEATHERSBEE and MAXIE BONDURANT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN M. GERRARD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Woodmen of the World Life Insurance, has sued two of its former employees, Robert Weathersbee and Maxie Bondurant, for breach of a non-solicitation agreement. Weathersbee and Bondurant move to dismiss Woodmen's complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Woodmen's allegations are briefly summarized as follows. In 2008, Woodmen hired Maxie Bondurant to sell life insurance and annuity products as an independent contractor. Filing 1 at 2. Three years later, in 2011, the company hired Robert Weathersbee as a recruiting salesperson. As a condition of their employment, Weathersbee and Bondurant signed an agreement which contained, among other provisions, a non-solicitation clause. Pursuant to that clause, former employees of Woodmen cannot, for a period of 2 years following the termination of their employment contract,

(i) induce or attempt to induce any WoodmenLife member or certificate owner with whom the WoodmenLife Representative did business and had personal contact during the term of this contract, to surrender, cancel, lapse, forfeit, or otherwise terminate any WoodmenLife insurance certificates or annuity certificates . . . .
[or]
(iii) induce or attempt to induce any WoodmenLife employee or sales representative with whom the [employee] actually worked and had personal contact while employed by WoodmenLife, to terminate their relationship with WoodmenLife, except to the extent such inducement or solicitation is for an enterprise that is not competitive with the business, products or services [the employee] offered or provided on behalf of WoodmenLife and cannot adversely affect WoodmenLife's relationship or volume of business.

Filing 1 at 4-5; filing 1-1 at 5; filing 1-2 at 5. According to Woodmen, these provisions are necessary to protect its business interests and ensure a stable workforce. Filing 33 at 4.

         In August 2016, Weathersbee announced that he was leaving Woodmen to join TransAmerica Premier Life Insurance-a competitor of Woodmen. Filing 1 at 5. After doing so, but before his official termination date, Weathersbee allegedly contacted other Woodmen employees and encouraged them to do the same. Bondurant, Woodmen says, was one of those employees-and he, too, decided to leave Woodmen for TransAmerica.

         Woodmen claims that Weathersbee and Bondurant, upon arriving at TransAmerica, violated their non-solicitation obligations in at least two respects. First, Woodmen claims that Weathersbee and Bondurant-using information they obtained while employed with Woodmen-encouraged Woodmen's customers to transfer their insurance policies to TransAmerica. Filing 1 at 5-6. At least 11 customers did so, Woodmen says, resulting in over $850, 000.00 in damages. Filing 1 at 9. Second, Woodmen alleges that Weathersbee contacted current Woodmen employees and encouraged them to join TransAmerica's sales team. Those communications allegedly violated subsection iii of Weathersbee's agreement, which prohibits him from soliciting Woodmen employees on behalf of a competitor. Filing 1 at 4.

         Woodmen seeks injunctive relief to "to prevent Weathersbee and Bondurant from further violating their non-solicitation obligations." Filing 33 at 3; filing 1 at 11. Weathersbee and Bondurant move to dismiss Woodmen's complaint, arguing that the non-solicitation provisions are unenforceable under Nebraska law. Seefiling 23.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A complaint must set forth a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This standard does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned accusation. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but must provide more than labels and conclusions; and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). For the purposes of a motion to dismiss a court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, but is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Id.

         And to survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must also contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more ...


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