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Choplin v. International Business Machines Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

August 30, 2017

BOBBY J. CHOPLIN, Plaintiff,


          Joi Elizabeth Peake United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. #13]. In this case, Plaintiff Bobby Choplin alleges that he was a sales representative for Defendant International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”) from 2012 until 2016 and that Defendant IBM improperly failed to pay him the commissions due on a deal he closed for Defendant worth over $6, 649, 000.00. Defendant removed this case from North Carolina state court based on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), and subsequently filed the present Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition to the Motion, and Defendant has filed a Reply brief. The Motion is therefore ready for ruling. For the reasons set out below, the Court recommends that Defendant's Motion be granted as to Plaintiff's Fourth Claim for Relief alleging Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1. However, as to the remaining claims, the Court concludes that the contentions require consideration of matters outside the pleadings, and therefore should instead be considered on dispositive motions after discovery, which is set to close on October 16, 2017.


         Plaintiff Bobby Choplin alleges that in July 2015 he closed a sales deal on behalf of Defendant IBM with BB&T Bank worth over $6, 649, 000.00. (Complaint [Doc. #5] ¶ 44.) He claims that his commission on this deal was over $800, 000.00. (Id. ¶ 45.) Plaintiff further claims that he worked on this deal from January 2015 through July 2015, while traveling all over the state to “beat out significant competition” from other companies. (Id. ¶ 46.) Plaintiff says that he did this based upon “IBM's representations that his commission earnings would not be capped or limited in any way.” (Id. ¶ 47.) He claims that he was the only IBM sales representative entitled to commissions for this entire sale. (Id. ¶ 48.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that after the sale closed and his commissions for the sales period were calculated, Defendant IBM refused to pay him the commission he earned. According to Plaintiff, this was the first sales period for which Defendant IBM did not honor the formula for calculating his commissions. He says that Defendant IBM lowered the amount of commission he received by: (1) lowering the total amount of sales credit he received for the BB&T deal from $6, 649, 000.00 to $3, 879, 938.00; and (2) capping the commission payment it was willing to make to Plaintiff to $348, 847.00. (Id. ¶ 53-56.) Plaintiff says that he disputed the commission calculation with Defendant but that Defendant refused to reconsider its decisions. He states that he has since learned that Defendant has a pattern and practice of misleading its sales representatives to entice them to work extraordinarily hard to make sales and then refusing to pay commissions after the deal is closed. (Id. ¶ 64.)

         In support of his contentions, Plaintiff relies upon alleged statements made by Defendant's representatives at sales meetings, as well as a statement allegedly made by Plaintiff's manager. Plaintiff alleges that in January 2013, Defendant IBM held a “Sales Kick-Off Meeting” in Atlanta, Georgia. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff alleges that during this conference, Mark Dorsey, Vice-President of Software Sales, spoke and gave “specific representations that each sales representative's earning potential was unlimited because IBM does not limit or cap commissions.” (Id. ¶ 28.) According to Plaintiff, Mr. Dorsey also told sales representatives that they had “unlimited potential to earn commissions at IBM.” (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant had a sales representative, Lori Sockowitz, give a presentation at this meeting about the sales representatives' ability to earn unlimited commissions. (Id. ¶ 33.)

         Plaintiff also relies upon a February 2015 “InterConnect Conference & 2015 Sales Kick-Off Meeting” in Las Vegas, Nevada. Plaintiff claims that at this conference, Janet Butler, Vice President of WorldWide Sales, and Ronnie Rohr, sales representative, both gave presentations and said that “sales representatives have the ability to make as much money as they want to.” (Id. ¶ 37.) Plaintiff says that Ms. Butler “presented Ms. Rohr as evidence of a sales representative who was able to make significant, unlimited commissions.” (Id. ¶ 38.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that during his job interviews, Bruce Kopkin and other managers of Defendant told him that he “could make as much money as he wanted to.” (Id. ¶ 14.)

         Plaintiff says that based upon all of these representations, he believed that his commissions would never be capped or limited by Defendant. (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Finally, Plaintiff also alleges that his manager confirmed that Plaintiff should be credited with the entire revenue of $6, 649, 000.00 for the BB&T deal. (Id. ¶ 55.)

         In light of these allegations, Plaintiff raises claims of: (1) violation of the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act for unpaid wages; (2) unjust enrichment; (3) fraud; (4) unfair and deceptive trade practices; and (5) negligent misrepresentation. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages.

         Defendant IBM opposes Plaintiff's claims based in large part on the language of its incentive plans, which it claims governed the payment of Plaintiff's commission. Defendant contends that these plans do not constitute an enforceable contract requiring Defendant to pay any specific amount of commissions. Defendant has attached to its Answer copies of what it contends are the two incentive plans applicable to the year 2015.


         A. Standard

          Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” The standard for granting judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is the same as for granting a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Burbach Broad. Co. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when the complaint does not “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, the court assumes the facts alleged in the Complaint are true and draws all reasonable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Mendenhall v. Hanesbrands, Inc., 856 F.Supp.2d 717, 723 (M.D. N.C. 2012). Unlike on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion however, the court may consider the Answer as well as the Complaint, and the factual allegations in the Answer are taken as true to the extent they have not been denied or do not conflict with the Complaint. Id. at 724. However, ‚ÄúDefendant cannot rely on allegations of fact contained only in the Answer, including affirmative defenses, which contradict the ...

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