Crum, et al v. State of Alabama, et al

Filing 976

OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 7/18/17. (djy, )

Download PDF
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION IN RE: EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION LITIGATION AGAINST THE STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., EUGENE CRUM, JR., et al., Plaintiffs, v. STATE OF ALABAMA, et al., Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:94cv356-MHT (WO) OPINION This long-running employment-discrimination case against the State of Alabama and various State agencies is before the court on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the claims of plaintiffs Katherine Mathews and Wanda Jackson Speights1 on the basis of 1. In the motion, defendants refer to Wanda Jackson Speights as “Wanda Jackson Speights Smith.” However, in a later motion (doc. no. 947), defendants refer to her without the last name “Smith.” For simplicity, the court will refer to her as “Wanda Jackson Speights” or simply “Speights.” judicial estoppel.2 Also before the court is a renewed motion for summary judgment, or in motion to dismiss for of prosecution want plaintiff Katherine Mathews. under 28 summary U.S.C. judgment § 1331. will be the alternative, against Jurisdiction is proper For the granted as reasons to below, Speights’s claims, and the court will dismiss Mathews’s claims for failure to prosecute. I. LEGAL STANDARDS A. Summary Judgment Summary shows that judgment is appropriate there no genuine is “if dispute the as movant to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. 2. Defendants also move for summary judgment against plaintiff Deborah Lumpkin. Her claims have been dismissed with prejudice, so the motion will be denied as moot as to her alone. 2 Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). B. Failure to Prosecute Courts have prosecution 41(b). authority under to Federal dismiss Rule of for Civil want of Procedure “If the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with [the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b). “The court's power to dismiss is an inherent aspect of its authority to disposition enforce of its lawsuits.” orders Jones and v. ensure Graham, prompt 709 1457, 1458 (11th Cir. 1983) (citations omitted). legal standard to be applied under Rule F.2d “The 41(b) is whether there is a ‘clear record of delay or willful contempt and a finding that lesser sanctions would not suffice.’” Gratton v. Id. at 1459 (citation omitted); see also Great (11th Cir. 1999). Am. Commc’ns, 178 F.3d 1373, 1375 “[B]ecause dismissal is considered a drastic sanction, a district court may only implement 3 it, as a last resort[.]” World Thrust Films v. International Family Entertainment, 41 F.3d 1454, 1456 (11th Cir. 1995). II. BACKGROUND This Tolbert case and began Geneice on March Smith 9, filed 1993, suit when in Ellen this court against the Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC") alleging that ADOC had engaged in gender discrimination against them. On Tolbert v. State of Alabama, 93cv287. November plaintiffs intervene 8, Mathews in the 1993, and case. 23 individuals, Speights, On filed December a 28, including motion 1993, to the motion was granted, and a complaint was filed naming Mathews and Speights. In 1994, this court consolidated the Tolbert cases with a number of other cases where the plaintiffs were making employment-discrimination claims against a number of state agencies, and Eugene Crum was made the lead named plaintiff. 4 Plaintiff Speights has a law degree and practiced law with Birmingham Area Legal Services before going to work the State of Alabama. She worked for the State both as a Legal Research Aide in the Department of Revenue’s legal Analyst/Planning department and and Economic as a Federal Development Grant Specialist for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. In the plaintiffs’ spring of attorneys 1993, in Speights this case met with the regarding the alleged employment discrimination by the State that is the basis of her claims in this case. On October 22, 1993, for she filed a voluntary petition Chapter 7 bankruptcy but did not notify the bankruptcy court in her filings of her potential discrimination claim in this case. after She did not update her bankruptcy filings plaintiffs’ attorneys filed the motion to intervene or when the complaint was filed naming her as a plaintiff in this case. Speights was discharged from bankruptcy in February 1994. 5 Plaintiff Department Mathews of began Economic working and computer programmer in 1986. no background in administration and the computer technology. Community the Alabama Affairs as a Unlike Speights, she has law; has for an she studied associate’s business degree in In April of 2013, Mathews filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Mathews did not inform the bankruptcy court of her claim in this case, and she received a no-asset discharge from bankruptcy in August 2013. Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment against Speights and Mathews on November 25, 2013. On December 20, 2013, plaintiffs’ to withdraw from the representation counsel of moved Speights and Mathews, and the court granted the motion later that month. The court then entered a submission order giving Speights and Mathews an additional two weeks to respond to the motion. court explained respond. in As they were unrepresented, the detail how the plaintiffs Speights and Mathews did not respond. 6 should More recently, defendants filed a renewed motion for summary judgment against Speights, and a renewed motion for summary judgment or alternatively, a motion to dismiss for want of prosecution, against Mathews. Plaintiffs have not responded. III. DISCUSSION Defendants argue that Speights and Mathews are judicially estopped from pursuing their claims in this case because they failed to disclose their respective bankruptcy filings. is an equitable discretion, under doctrine, which a claims in Judicial estoppel invoked party the is at the court's precluded from asserting a claim in a legal proceeding inconsistent with a claim made in a precious proceeding. Burnes v. Pemco Aeroplex, Inc., 291 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th Cir. 2002). The doctrine exists “to protect the integrity of judicial the deliberately process changing by prohibiting positions exigencies of the moment.” parties according to from the Id. (quoting New Hampshire 7 v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 750 (2001)). Nevertheless, the doctrine “ought to be applied with caution ‘because the harsh results attendant with precluding a party from asserting a position that would normally be available to the party.’” Sumner v. Michelin N. Am., 966 F. Supp. 1567, 1578 (M. D. Ala.) (Thompson, J.) (quoting Lowery v. Stovall, 92 F.3d 219, 224 (4th Cir. 1996)). While “the circumstances under which judicial estoppel may appropriately be invoked are probably not reducible to any general formulation of principle,” New Hampshire, 532 U.S. at 750, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals considers two primary factors in applying the doctrine to a particular case. “First, it must be shown that the allegedly inconsistent positions were made under oath in a prior proceeding. Second, such inconsistencies must be shown to have been calculated to make mockery of the judicial system.” Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1285 (quoting Salomon Smith Barney, Inc. v. Harvey, 260 Therefore, F.3d judicial 1302, 1308 estoppel 8 may (11th be Cir. applied 2001)). only in situations involving intentional manipulation of the courts, not when the litigant's contradictory positions are the “product of inadvertence or mistake.” Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1287 (quoting Matter of Cassidy, 892 F.2d 637, 642 (7th Cir. 1990)). Judicial estoppel “looks toward Johnson cold Transamerica 1973).3 of the manipulation.” Ins. Co., 485 F.2d Service 164, 175 Co. (5th v. Cir. The “deliberate and intentional manipulation” courts required before judicial estoppel may properly be invoked can be inferred from the record. Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1287. “A debtor seeking shelter under the bankruptcy laws must disclose all assets, or potential assets, to the bankruptcy court. 11 U.S.C. § 521(1), and 541(a)(7).” Burnes at 1286. Potential assets may include “contingent, dependent or conditional” claims, and a debtor must disclose them if she has “enough 3. See Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206 (11th Cir. 1981, en banc) (adopting as binding precedent all of the decisions of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of business on September 30, 1981). 9 information prior to confirmation to suggest that [she] may have a possible cause of action.” Youngblood Group v. Lufkin Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 932 F. Supp. 859, 867 (E. D. Tex. 1996) citations omitted). (Heartfield, J.) (internal Such claims include “litigation which has the potential of arising in a non-bankruptcy context.” Id. at 868. The duty to disclose is a continuing one that does not end once the bankruptcy is filed; rather, a debtor must amend his circumstances or her change. financial Burnes at statements 1286. “Full as and honest disclosure in a bankruptcy case is ‘crucial to the effective system.’” functioning Id. of (quoting the Ryan federal bankruptcy Operations G.P. v. Santiam-Midwest Lumber Co., 81 F.3d 355, 362 (3d Cir. 1996)). “When considering a party's intent for the purpose of judicial estoppel, contradictions, Robinson v. not Tyson [courts] simple Foods, error Inc., 10 require or 595 ‘intentional inadvertence.’” F.3d 1269, 1275 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Am. Nat'l Bank of Jacksonville v. FDIC, 710 F.2d 1528, 1536 (11th Cir. 1983)). “In considering judicial estoppel for bankruptcy cases, the debtor's failure to satisfy its statutory disclosure duty is ‘inadvertent’ only when, in general, the debtor either lacks knowledge of the undisclosed claims concealment.” or Id. has no (quoting motive Barger for v. their City of Cartersville, 348 F.3d 1289, 1295–96 (11th Cir. 2003)). “While an estopped intentional, record.” such party's intent contradiction may be must inferred from be the Id. (citing Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1285). A. Speights As this case is before judgment, the court must defendants have shown that the court determine the on summary whether materials facts the are undisputed and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Here, the plaintiff has not responded, so the facts are undisputed. 11 To show entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, the defendants must show that Speights made an inconsistent claim under oath and second that the inconsistency was calculated to make a mockery of the judicial system. As shows discussed that above, Speights the evidence initially met in the with record attorneys regarding her discrimination claim in this case in the spring of 1993. She filed her bankruptcy petition on October the 22nd of same year. Less than a month later, plaintiffs’ counsel filed a motion to intervene in Tolbert on her behalf. In late December, the motion to intervene was granted, and a complaint was filed in her name. She was discharged from bankruptcy in February of the following year. The record before the court is sufficient to find that Speights made inconsistent statements under oath. When she filed her bankruptcy petition, she affirmed that the information contained in it was true and that she would information amend in her the petition petition 12 should need to any be of the updated. Speights failed to list her discrimination claim on the Schedule B form filed with her bankruptcy petition under oath; in that form, she was required to list her personal property, including all “contingent unliquidated claims of every nature.” had met with lawyer about her and Given that she discrimination claim months before filing the bankruptcy petition and that a motion to intervene would be filed based on her claim weeks later, she clearly was aware of her potential discrimination claim when she filed her petition, and was required to list it. a Statement of Financial Affairs bankruptcy She also filed (“SOFA”) with her bankruptcy petition, which required her to list “all suits and administrative proceedings to which the debtor is or was a party within one year immediately preceding the filing of this bankruptcy case.” Although she was not a party to this case within one year of updated filing SOFA the after petition, the she motion complaint were filed. 13 did to not file intervene an and The court further finds that her inconsistent statement was calculated to make a mockery of justice. As Speights had a law degree and had practiced law, she could not reasonably claim that she did not understand her duty claim. to disclose her potential discrimination Further, Speights filed her motion to intervene in this case just 17 days after filing her bankruptcy petition, but she did not update her petition when the motion was filed or when it was granted and a complaint filed in her name the following month. The close temporal proximity between the bankruptcy filing and the filing of the motion to intervene is additional evidence that she discrimination was well claim aware while of her seeking protection but chose not to disclose it. a motive to conceal her claim, as potential bankruptcy She also had she was seeking damages in this case which potentially could have been assigned to intentionally claim to the pay off failed her to debts. disclose bankruptcy court, 14 her Because she discrimination Speights must be judicial motion estopped for from summary pursuing judgment it. will Therefore, be granted case for as the to Speights. B. Mathews Mathews is not estoppel. She clearly under by oath as failing bankruptcy filings. clear took to list a inconsistent this judicial positions lawsuit in her However, it is less clear that, in doing so, she intended to make a mockery of justice. She filed her bankruptcy petition on April 12, 2013, almost 20 years after she had become a party to this lawsuit. She gave the bankruptcy court notice of two different lawsuits, and filed an amended SOFA adding two more suits, but did not give notice of this one. Given the length of time since this case was filed, it is highly possible that she omitted her claim in this case unintentionally. In any case, the court need not resolve that issue, because the court finds that Mathews’s claim should be 15 dismissed for failure to prosecute. Castro, 465 F.3d 479, 483 See Zocaras v. (11th Cir. 2006) (“In addition to its power under Rule 41(b), a court also has the inherent ability to dismiss a claim in light of its authority to enforce its orders and provide for the efficient disposition of litigation.”) Plaintiff’s counsel moved to withdraw from representing Mathews in late 2013, after the motion for summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel was filed. In the motion, counsel explained that Mathews had not responded to his efforts earlier that year to set up an appointment and that she had not responded to telephone messages left on her cell and home numbers since then. stated that he had sent her a Counsel also copy of the summary-judgment motion in the mail to her last known address with a request for information about counsel should respond, but did not hear back. granting Mathews the to motion to withdraw, respond to the the court defendants’ how After ordered motion for summary judgment, explaining in detail how to do so. 16 In the order, the court explained: “Failure to follow the requirements of Rule 56 regarding the proper way to oppose a motion for summary judgment may result in the court granting the motion and entering final judgment in favor of the moving party without there being a trial.” Order (doc. no. 923). The order sent to her was not returned by the postal service. Mathews did not respond by otherwise the deadline, communicated and with has the not responded court in the or years since. After the motion to dismiss for want of prosecution was filed in 2016, the court entered an order to show cause why the motion should not be granted. returned as undeliverable. receive notices responsibility to Had Mathews about the case, notify the clerk This was wanted she of any change; apparently, she did not care to do so. 17 had to the address The court concludes that Mathews has failed prosecute and abandoned her claims in this case. to Were she interested in this case, she would have responded to her attorneys or at least to the motion for summary judgment in 2013. prosecuting this As Mathews has shown no interest in case, and the court’s most recent effort to contact her has failed, no lesser sanction than dismissal would suffice. Accordingly, Mathews’s claims will be dismissed.4 An appropriate judgment will be entered. DONE, this the 18th day of July, 2017. /s/ Myron H. Thompson UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 4. Although defendants did not move to dismiss plaintiff Speights’s lawsuit for want of prosecution, this reason for dismissing Mathews’s claims applies equally to plaintiff Speights. Therefore, in the alternative to granting summary judgment, the court dismisses Speights’s claims for want of prosecution.

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?