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Woods v. Era Med LLC

January 7, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.


Defendants Era Med LLC, John Hustwit, and Seacor Holdings, Inc., move for summary judgment as to the three claims of plaintiff, Roger Woods, that remain in this case: breach of contract (Count I), promissory estoppel (Count III), and fraud (Count V). The parties dispute whether defendants' job offer to plaintiff -- a job he did not start because defendants allegedly failed to support his visa application to work in the United States -- was for employment for a definite period of time. The parties also dispute whether he suffered such hardship in reliance on the offer that his position could only be terminated for just cause. I conclude that, even viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, his job offer was not for employment for a definite period of time and he did not suffer substantial hardship in reliance upon the offer. I also conclude that Pennsylvania does not recognize a claim for promissory estoppel in the employment context. I further conclude that no set of facts exists on the record that could establish plaintiff's claim for fraud. I will therefore grant summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiff.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff is a British citizen. (Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ("Defs.' Stmnt. of Facts") Ex. A (Woods Dep.) 207:25-208:1.) In March 2007, discussions began between plaintiff and Era Med, an emergency-medicine transportation company, for him to work as a helicopter pilot.*fn1 (Id. at 27:2-17; 173:16-174:8; id. at Ex. B and G.) He claims defendants offered to employ him for "one to three years" based on the length of the term of the O-1 visa he needed to work for defendants in the United States.*fn2 (Pl.'s Br. at 2.) He claims defendants promised to support his O-1 visa application by supplying "basic but necessary information" but "failed to support the application from the inception." (Id. at 4, 7.) He claims he incurred substantial hardship in reliance on defendants' job offer by taking additional flight training and by foregoing another job opportunity. (Id. at 5.)

Plaintiff brought the instant case on May 29, 2008, under the court's diversity jurisdiction, asserting counts for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, negligence, and fraud.*fn3 After I dismissed plaintiff's claims for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and for negligence, and after the parties engaged in discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment in their favor on plaintiff's remaining claims. The facts of the instant case, which I view in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party, are as follows.

A. The Negotiation of Era Med's Job Offer to Plaintiff

On March 2, 2007, plaintiff sent an email to a representative of Keystone Helicopters, a corporation related to Era Med, inquiring about job opportunities. (Defs.' Stmnt. of Facts Ex. B.) In that email, plaintiff stated that he wished to work in the United States but that in order to obtain a visa to work in this country he first needed to secure an offer of employment:

The rush will soon be on for Visa applications (April 1st) , unfortunately it's catch 22 in that I need a job offer to get one and most employers seem to want you with a work Visa prior to offering a job! the Visa application is very straight forward for the employer to fill in; I just need to find a company willing to do so. [sic] (Id.) Plaintiff stated that he also planned to obtain from the Federal Aviation Administration (the "FAA") an additional helicopter-pilot license -- an "Airline Transport Pilot" license (an "FAAATP" license) -- and would be flying to the United States "very soon" for the necessary instructional course. (Id.) "I am currently in the UK," he stated, "but due to go the Florida very soon for my FAA ATP, CFI ["Certified Flight Instructor"] and CFII ["Certified Flight Instructor Instrument"] (should be finished mid April) [sic]." (Id.)

On March 8, 2007, a representative of Era Med, Larry Murphy, emailed plaintiff regarding plaintiff's interest in a job with the company. (Pl.'s Counter-Statement of Material Facts ("Pl.'s Stmnt. of Facts") Ex. H.) On or about the same day, plaintiff spoke with Murphy by telephone. (Id. at Ex. A (Woods Dep.) 28:7-25.) As part of that conversation, plaintiff explained his visa issue: "I said at the time that I was obviously a UK citizen looking to work over there, there would be a visa issue." (Id. at 29:11-17.) Plaintiff promised to look into the different options he might have for obtaining such a visa. (Id.)

Later that day, plaintiff followed up his conversation with Murphy with an email. (Id. at Ex. H.) Plaintiff confirmed that "as discussed I am looking to settle in America and therefore actively seeking employment [sic]." (Id.) He reiterated that "I am extremely keen to relocate to America and I am confident that my knowledge, skills and abilities will be a huge asset to EraMed." (Id.) Plaintiff stated that he held a variety of licenses, certificates, and qualifications from several governmental authorities to fly helicopters. (Id.) He also stated that "I am looking to attend a rotorcraft course during the later part of March; on completion (mid April) I will have an FAA ATP, CFI and CFII for rotorcraft." (Id.) With respect to his visa issue, plaintiff stated that he would need a job offer first:

Visa's, Larry there are several visa options, indeed it may even be possible to apply for a special visa given the EMS requirement, I have had to become a bit of an expert in this field, suffice it to say that a visa must be based on a job offer but after that the process is very straight forward. [sic]

(Id.) Plaintiff planned "to be in Philadelphia by the night of the 18th at the latest." (Id.)

On March 13, 2007, plaintiff sent an email to Murphy again. In the email, plaintiff stated that "[t]o keep you updated I am still looking at travelling to America next week, if required i can fly to be there for Monday the 19th, i will certainly be in the US by the 21st [sic]." (Id.) Plaintiff further stated that "i am booked to start my ATP, CFI/II course the following Monday [sic]." (Id.)

Murphy and plaintiff exchanged additional emails on March 13, 2007, in which they discussed the scheduling of an interview with Era Med for March 21, 2007. (Id.) Plaintiff inquired as to whether Human Resources was "happy with the work Visa requirements." (Id.) Murphy responded as follows:

I haven't done anything with that other than tell them of the requirement. There did not seem to be any issue raised over it. I told them that other that [sic] completing some required forms on the actual employment offer, that you would handle all other details. The only thing mentioned, and you might want to be able to field it, was as to motivation. Why does he want to come here, (a girl friend isn't always necessarily permanent). Is he using us just to get here? (Id.) (Emphasis added.)

Plaintiff met in person with John Driscoll, a representative of Era Med, on March 21, 2007, and with Murphy two days later. (Id. at Ex A (Woods Dep.) 30:10-21.) Plaintiff "had a very in-depth conversation" with both of them about the kind of visa that he would seek, known as an "O-1 visa." (Id. at 34:24-35:2, 35:21-25.) An O-1 visa is a type of skill-based visa reserved for individuals with "extraordinary" abilities. 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(o). Plaintiff explained that he would need Era Med's "support" to obtain an O-1 visa:

I explained to them that the requirement from the company would be a reference letter, if you want, just saying that they supported my visa, and the -- it wouldn't go into, you know, these vastly technical sides of it, but it would have to support that I had the extraordinary ability because of that diversity. I made it very clear to them that they weren't writing as to say how good Roger Woods is as a handson pilot, because they can't judge that, but what they could judge to is what my body of work is. (Pl.'s Stmnt. of Facts Ex. A (Woods Dep.) 36:24-37:8; see also id. at 183:12-14.) Plaintiff did not tell Era Med's representatives the details of what would need to be in the letter. (Defs.' Stmnt. of Facts Ex. A (Woods Dep.) 258:4-259:9.) He did explain to them that he would also need "a resume or biographical information" for "whoever provided the reference letter" as well as "a fact sheet on the company" in order to "provide proof that it was a legitimate company, a legitimate job, with a legitimate wage." (Pl.'s Stmnt. of Facts Ex. A (Woods Dep.) 37:9-25.)

Plaintiff also explained that he would pay for his own immigration attorneys to prepare the O-1 visa application and to file it. (Id. at 38:8-13; 78:5-8; 110:4-6; 111:2-4; 113:25-114:4; 118:4-15.) He claimed that there would be "no risk" and "no outlay" on Era Med. (Defs.' Stmnt. of Facts Ex. A (Woods Dep.) 49:7-10; 95:17-21.) He further explained that he would pay for the FAA-ATP course himself. (Id. at 38:13-16; 49:7.) He believed, however, that the FAAATP course was a requirement for the job with Era Med, because he believed that he would not be permitted to work in the United States as a helicopter pilot without it. (Pl.'s Stmnt. of Facts Ex. A (Woods Dep.) at 119:4-12.)

At the end of these interviews, Murphy told plaintiff that the job was plaintiff's and that Era Med "would remove the advertisement for it." (Id. at 45:18-11.) "So, on that basis we were both proceeding, in my view, that pending the outcome of the 01 visa, of course, the position was mine." (Id. at 45:24-46:1.)

B. Plaintiff's Additional Helicopter Training and Attempts to Prepare an O-1 Visa Application

Plaintiff had booked the FAA-ATP course "at some point" in March 2007 but, at his deposition, did not recall the exact date. (Id. at 46:17.) After having interviewed with Driscoll and Murphy, plaintiff believed that Hustwit, Era Med's Director of Operations, was going to call him "to work out terms and conditions" of the job offer and was then going to send him a written offer letter. (Id. 45:17-18; 47:3-6.) When plaintiff "booked onto the ATP course" he spoke to Murphy again and expressed concern that he "hadn't received any call from John Hustwit." (Id. 45:9-12.) "[E]ventually John [Hustwit] did contact me. We did work out the terms and conditions of the offer letter, and I booked on a course." (Id. at 46:10-12.) Plaintiff started the course on approximately April 5, 2007. (Id. at 46:18-19.) As plaintiff "was leaving on the airplane to go down to Florida" for the course, he spoke to Murphy again to request the written offer letter "[b]ecause I've booked a course and I've booked attorneys." (Id. at 47:11-12.)

On April 7, 2007, plaintiff emailed Murphy requesting the written offer letter again. (Defs.' Stmnt. of Facts Ex. G.) Plaintiff stated that "I have now started the ATP, CFI/II course, all is going well. [sic]" (Id.) Plaintiff then tried to allay Murphy's concerns regarding plaintiff's O-1 visa application:

Larry I can assure you that I have spent many a day researching this issue, I have engaged the services of a top class immigration attorney, bottom line is that I would not be spending $8,500 on him and a further $14,000 my course were I not confident that a visa would be possible . . . . Of course, nothing is 100% but the risk I'm sure you will agree is all mine! [sic] (Id.) (Emphasis added.) Plaintiff also stated that Era Med could alter as it saw fit the draft letter of recommendation that plaintiff would send them to sign:

The company will not really have to do much for the visa, my attorney will draft a letter from the information that I have given him . . . all the company will have to do is to put the petition letter onto company headed paper, clearly only after confirming that the details are both correct and factual . . . . Which they will be, but you can make any changes that you wish. [sic] (Id.) (Emphasis added.) Plaintiff then sought Murphy's help to obtain a written offer letter:

What is needed at this stage is a employment 'offer letter.' Larry I have been trying for several days to speak to [Hustwit], my attorney will need a letter soon, I would also like the warmth of an offer letter in my hand too, more so given the $22,000 outlay, I do of course fully understand that there will be a 'subject to Visa' clause in it, Larry have you managed to locate [Hustwit] yet, if so could you pass on my ...

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