Maner v. Linkan LLC
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING 34 MOTION to Alter Judgment, DENYING 38 MOTION to Add Defense and to Dismiss, DENYING 39 AMENDMENT to Motion Asserting Res Judicata and/or Collateral Estoppel and Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 11/21/2013. (JLC)
2013 Nov-21 AM 11:16
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ASHLEY L. MANER,
LINKAN, LLC, d/b/a FUGI
) Case No.: 4:12-CV-1088-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
The defendant (“Linkan”) has filed two post-judgment motions. The first is a
motion to vacate, alter, or amend this court’s final judgment under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 59(e) (“Rule 59 Motion”). Doc. 34. The second motion asks this
court to do two things: (1) allow Linkan to add a post-verdict res judicata/collateral
estoppel defense to its Answer, and (2) dismiss this action as a result (“Dismissal
Motion”). Doc. 38. The court has considered the arguments made in the following
Linkan’s attached memorandum to its Rule 59 Motion (Doc. 34-1)
A Response to the Rule 59 Motion (Doc. 40) filed by the plaintiff (“Ms.
Linkan’s Amendment to its Dismissal Motion (Doc. 39)
Ms. Maner’s Response to the Dismissal Motion (Doc. 41)
For the following reasons, the court will DENY Linkan’s Motions.
Linkan’s Rule 59 Motion fails because it neither produces newlydiscovered evidence nor identifies any manifest legal or factual trial
On August 1, 2013, a jury returned a verdict in Ms. Maner’s favor on both her
pregnancy discrimination and retaliation claims. Doc. 29. The jury awarded her a
combined $50,000 for emotional distress damages and $250,000 for punitive
damages. Id. In its final judgment, this court reduced these amounts to a net total of
$50,000 because of the applicable damage caps found in 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(A).
Doc. 33 at 2-3. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) allows litigants to file a motion
to alter or amend a judgment no later than 28 days after the court enters the judgment.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Under this provision, Linkan timely asks the court to either (1)
delete or strike the punitive and/or emotional distress damages awards, or (2),
alternatively, lower the award for emotional damages. Doc. 34 at 1. Linkan generally
argues that “there was insufficient evidence to justify the award of either emotional
damages or punitive damages.” Id.
“The only grounds for granting [a Rule 59] motion are newly-discovered
evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.” In re Kellogg, 197 F.3d 1116, 1119 (11th
Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). “[A] Rule 59(e) motion [cannot be used] to relitigate old
matters, raise argument or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the
entry of judgment.” Michael Linet, Inc. v. Village of Wellington, Fla., 408 F.3d 757,
763 (11th Cir. 2005) (citations omitted). “[T]he decision to alter or amend judgment
is committed to the sound discretion of the district judge and will not be overturned
on appeal absent an abuse of discretion.” Lawson v. Singletary, 85 F.3d 502, 507
(11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Am. Home Assur. Co. v. Glenn Estess & Assocs., Inc., 763
F.2d 1237, 1238–39 (11th Cir. 1985)).
Emotional Distress Damages
Linkan has not met this standard in regard to Ms. Maner’s emotional distress
damages award. Relying primarily on Fifth Circuit precedent, Linkan argues that Ms.
Maner “has not met her burden of proving that she has suffered emotional damages
. . .” Doc. 34-1 at 4. Linkan further contends that Ms. Maner did not prove a “specific
discernible injury to [her] emotional state.” Id. (quoting Patterson v. PHP Healthcare
Corp., 90 F.3d 927, 940 (5th Cir. 1996)). In support, Linkan generally asserts that Ms.
Maner gave “scant evidence of any emotional damages she may have suffered.” Id.
at 1. It does not, however, cite the specific parts of her testimony that it found
These arguments are insufficient under Rule 59(e). Linkan does not offer any
newly-discovered evidence concerning Ms. Maner’s emotional damages. Nor does
it identify any “manifest” legal or factual errors made during the trial on this issue.
Instead, Linkan generally maintains that Ms. Maner offered inadequate evidence on
the emotional harm she suffered. Even were this claim not unjustifiably vague, such
an argument “could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Michael Linet,
408 F.3d at 763. Linkan further does not specifically cite any controlling precedent
in this Circuit revealing a manifest legal error. Because of these facts, the court will
neither strike nor reduce Ms. Maner’s emotional distress damages award.
Linkan also does not satisfy Rule 59 standards on the punitive damages issue.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, a Title VII plaintiff may recover punitive
damages if they can show that the defendant intentionally “engaged in a
discriminatory practice or discriminatory practices with malice or with reckless
indifference to the [plaintiff’s] federally protected rights . . .” 42 U.S.C. §
Linkan claims in its Motion that it has ordered her testimony transcript “so that her exact
testimony can be quoted correctly and can be reviewed.” Doc. 34-1 at 1 n.1. However, Linkan
never supplemented its Motion with any such pinpoint citations to her testimonial transcript.
1981a(b)(1). Linkan argues that there is no evidence that Linkan “through its agent
acted with malice or reckless indifference” to Ms. Maner’s federally-protected rights.
Doc. 34-1 at 7. It justifies this claim in the following manner:
In the case now before the court it has not been shown by the Plaintiff that the
manager of Fugi restaurant even knew it was against the law to fire someone
because of pregnancy. The Plaintiff’s complaint was made to Jennifer Lin who
testified that the real manager of the restaurant was not her, but Crosby Price.
It was Lin to whom the Plaintiff says she complained that it was against the
law to fire somebody because they are pregnant.
Since the Plaintiff failed to show any evidence that the manager, Crosby Price,
knew of the purported violation of her claim of being fired because she was
pregnant or that he otherwise acted with reckless indifference, the Plaintiff
cannot successfully assert liability against his principal, Linkan, LLC, as there
is no evidence that Linkan, LLC, acted with malice or with reckless
indifference through its manager, Crosby Price.
Doc. 34-1 at 5-6. Linkan particularly complains that no “fact-intensive inquiry” was
made during the trial to determine whether Mr. Price and Ms. Lin’s actions could be
justly imputed to Linkan under traditional agency principles. Id. at 6 (citing Kolstad
v. Am. Dental Ass'n, 527 U.S. 526, 543 (1999)).
In order to be liable for punitive damages, Linkan must have acted with malice
or reckless indifference to Ms. Maner’s civil rights. That is, it must have “at least
discriminate[d] in the face of a perceived risk” that its actions violated federal law.
Kolstad, 527 U.S. at 536. More specifically, “[m]alice means ‘an intent to harm’ and
recklessness means ‘serious disregard for the consequences of [one's] actions.’”
Ferrill v. The Parker Group, Inc., 168 F.3d 468, 476 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting
Splunge v. Shoney's, Inc., 97 F.3d 488, 491 (11th Cir. 1996)) (alteration in original).
“A jury may find reckless indifference where the employer does not admit that it
knew that its actions were wrong.” EEOC v. W&O, Inc., 213 F.3d 600, 611 (11th Cir.
2000) (citing Merriweather v. Family Dollar Stores of Indiana, Inc., 103 F.3d 576,
582 (7th Cir.1996)). “However, mere negligence as to the civil rights of employees
is not enough to justify punitive damages.” Id. (citing EEOC v. Wal–Mart Stores Inc.,
156 F.3d 989, 992 (9th Cir.1998)).
Here, Linkan denies that the jury could have justly found it vicariously liable
for its employees’ discriminatory actions. “[I]n express terms, Congress has directed
federal courts to interpret Title VII based on agency principles.” Kolstad, 527 U.S.
at 541 (quoting Burlington Indus., Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 754 (1998)). Under
such principles, a court may award punitive damages against a principal for the
actions of its agent if:
the principal authorized the doing and the manner of the act;
the agent was unfit and the principal was reckless in employing him;
the agent was employed in a managerial capacity and was acting in the
scope of employment; or
the principal or a managerial agent of the principal ratified or approved
See id. at 542-43 ((quoting Restatement (Second) of Agency § 217 C (1957)). In
determining whether an agent was employed in a managerial capacity, the court
“should review the type of authority that the employer has given to the employee, the
amount of discretion that the employee has in what is done and how it is
accomplished.” Id. (quotation omitted). Under this analysis, “an employee must be
‘important,’ but perhaps need not be the employer's ‘top management, officers, or
directors,’ to be acting “in a managerial capacity.” Id. (quotation omitted). However,
“an employer may not be vicariously liable for the discriminatory employment
decisions of managerial agents where these decisions are contrary to the employer's
‘good-faith efforts to comply with Title VII.’” Id. at 545 (quotation omitted).
With these principles in mind, the court disagrees with Linkan that it has
identified any manifest trial error. Instead, it appears to be re-litigating matters it
either raised – or could have raised – during trial. Linkan disputes that Jennifer Lin
acted in a managerial capacity at Fugi Restaurant. See Doc. 34-1 at 5-6. Both parties
exhaustively litigated this point at trial. In fact, Ms. Maner testified that she did not
consider Ms. Lin her “day-in-and-day-out” manager; that was Crosby Price. Doc. 36
at 13-14, 78. Rather, Ms. Maner considered Ms. Lin part of ownership. Id. at 13-14.
Ms. Lin was married to Sebastian Lin (for at least part of the relevant time) and
prepared the weekly schedules for the restaurant employees. Id. at 14, 78-79. Ms.
Maner explicitly agreed with her attorney’s statement that Ms. Lin was “in a position
where she could give people instructions and orders and tell them what to do and
when to do it.” Id. at 14. Linkan thus had the opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Maner
on this point, and the jury was able to evaluate the competing evidence. There was,
therefore, sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably conclude that Ms. Lin was
Linkan’s agent who was “employed in a managerial capacity and was acting in the
scope of employment” when she discriminated against Ms. Maner despite Ms.
Maner’s repeated protests that such conduct was illegal. Kolstad, 527 U.S. at 542
(quoting Restatement (Second) of Agency § 217 C (1957)). Accordingly, the court
will not vacate Ms. Maner’s punitive damages award.
Linkan’s Dismissal Motion fails because it does not comply with Rule 15.
As noted above, the jury in this action returned its verdict on August 1, 2013.
Doc. 29. On that same day, the Circuit Court for Calhoun County, Alabama, entered
an Order in a pending unemployment compensation suit that Ms. Maner had filed in
that venue. Doc. 42-2. That Order reversed an Alabama Department of Industrial
Relations decision finding that Ms. Maner had voluntarily left her position at Fuji
“without good cause connected to work.” Id. at 1. The state court thus awarded her
unemployment compensation benefits. Id. On August 7, 2013, this court entered final
judgment in the instant action. Doc. 33. On September 12, 2013, Linkan filed its
Motion asking this court to permit it to amend its Answer to “interpose the defenses
of res judicata and/or collateral estoppel” because “[t]he issues in this civil action
(including whether Plaintiff voluntarily resigned her employment or was involuntarily
terminated) are substantially similar to the issues presented, and could have been
presented by Plaintiff, in [her] Unemployment Compensation Case.” Doc. 38 ¶ 5, 7.
Linkan also asks the court to dismiss the action with prejudice on this basis. Id. ¶ 8.
The court will not do either action because Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15
does not permit it. Rule 15(a) governs pleadings amendments before trial and does
not apply once the court has entered final judgment. See Fed R. Civ. P. 15(a);
Czeremcha v. Int'l Ass'n of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL–CIO, 724 F.2d
1552, 1556 (11th Cir. 1984). Rule 15(b), on the other hand, permits amendments after
trial to reflect issues tried by consent. The relevant provision reads:
When an issue not raised by the pleadings is tried by the parties' express or
implied consent, it must be treated in all respects as if raised in the pleadings.
A party may move--at any time, even after judgment--to amend the pleadings
to conform them to the evidence and to raise an unpleaded issue. But failure
to amend does not affect the result of the trial of that issue.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(b)(2). This is the only scenario in which Rule 15 permits post9
judgment amendment. It obviously does not apply in this action.2
For these reasons, the court will DENY Linkan’s Rule 59 Motion and its
DONE and ORDERED this the 21st day of November, 2013.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
The Eleventh Circuit has stated that a party may amend its pleadings post-judgment after
it has been granted relief under either Rule 59(e) or Rule 60. Jacobs v. Tempur-Pedic Int'l, Inc.,
626 F.3d 1327, 1344-45 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). This situation also does not apply
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