United States District Court, D. Kansas
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
David D. Moshier, Nathanael W. Berg, Hampton & Royce, LC, Salina, KS, for Plaintiff.
Jason D. Stitt, Alan L. Rupe, Kutak Rock LLP, Wichita, KS, for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
RICHARD D. ROGERS, District Judge.
Plaintiff was a teacher for defendant school district from 1980 to 2010. For two years, 1995 and 1996, plaintiff worked half-time as a teacher for defendant. Plaintiff decided to retire in 2010 and attempted to take advantage of an early retirement incentive program which provided $35,000.00 to eligible teachers. According to defendant's contract with its teachers, to qualify for the early retirement incentive— known as the Phase Out Option— a teacher had to have " 15 years or more of full-time employment as a teacher in a certified position with U.S.D. 305 (uninterrupted by any other employment) immediately prior to retirement." Even though plaintiff had 28 years of full-time employment as a teacher with defendant and 30 years of uninterrupted employment as a teacher with defendant, defendant refused to find plaintiff eligible for the $35,000 amount because plaintiff did not have 15 years of uninterrupted full-time employment as a teacher " immediately prior to retirement." Plaintiff was told she needed to work two more years as a full-time teacher to qualify for the $35,000.
Plaintiff has brought suit against defendant alleging: breach of contract; promissory estoppel; a Contracts Clause claim; and breach of good faith and fair dealing. There is also an issue of whether plaintiff may pursue reformation as a remedy in this case.
This case is now before the court upon defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 52), plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 50), and plaintiff's objections to orders by United States Magistrate Judge Gale (Doc. No. 60).
I. Summary judgment standards
Summary judgment is proper if the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R.CIV. P. 56(c). The court views the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Spaulding v. United Transp. Union, 279 F.3d 901, 904 (10th Cir.2002). A fact issue is material if its resolution is essential to the proper disposition of a claim. Wright ex rel. Trust Co. of Kan. v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir.2001). A factual dispute is " genuine" if " there is sufficient evidence on each side so that a rational trier of fact could resolve the issue either way." Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir.1998). " While we view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, that party must still identify sufficient evidence requiring submission to the jury to survive summary judgment." Piercy v. Maketa, 480 F.3d 1192, 1197 (10th Cir.2007). In other words, the court may consider evidence produced by the moving party as well as the absence of admissible evidence in favor
of an essential element of the non-moving party's claim. Adams v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co., 233 F.3d 1242, 1246 (10th Cir.2000).
II. Uncontroverted facts
Plaintiff worked as a teacher for defendant from 1980-2010, uninterrupted by any other employment. For her first fifteen years (1980-1995), plaintiff worked as a full-time teacher for defendant. In 1995, plaintiff split time with another teacher and worked two half-time years until she returned to full-time employment in 1997. She remained a full-time teacher until retirement in 2010.
Prior to the 2002-2003 school year, defendant maintained an early retirement incentive program which provided $35,000.00 to eligible teachers who, among other things, worked at least 15 years for defendant. A teacher was eligible for early retirement under this program if the teacher:
a) [was] currently a full time employee,
b) [had] 15 years or more of employment service with the school district,
c) [was] less than the age for full Social Security retirement eligibility as of August 31 of year the employee plan[ned] to retire and ha[d] a combined total of age plus credited years of service in KPERS that [was] equal to or greater than 85.
d) [met] the requirements of a) and b) above and [was] not less than 60 years of age and not older than the age for full Social Security eligibility as of August 31 the year the employee plan[ned] to retire.
In 2002 contract negotiations, defendant requested a transition from the defined benefit retirement plan of $35,000.00 to a defined contribution plan of $1,000.00 per full time year and/or $500.00 per half time year worked. Defendant and its teachers agreed to a " Phase Out Option" which permitted qualified teachers the option of relinquishing the portion of the vested amount in their employer-paid contribution account in return for variable annual payments each year beginning in January of the year following retirement until the year the teacher reached full Social Security retirement eligibility. The maximum total benefit a qualifying teacher could receive under the Phase Out Option was $35,000.00. A teacher was eligible in 2010 for the Phase Out Option if the teacher:
a. was employed as a full time teacher in a certified position by [defendant] during the 2001-02 contract year.
b. [had] 15 years or more of full-time employment as a teacher in a certified position with [defendant] (uninterrupted by ...