Smith v. Wayne Farms, LLC.
REVISED MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER that the defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to all claims; costs are taxed to plaintiff; as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 5/16/2012. (AHI)
2012 May-16 AM 09:01
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MELVIN T. SMITH,
WAYNE FARMS, L.L.C.,
Civil Action No. CV-11-S-3590-NE
REVISED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Melvin T. Smith, commenced this action against his then-employer,
defendant Wayne Farms, L.L.C., on October 11, 2011.1 Plaintiff alleges claims of
racial discrimination and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”), as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1981,2 and
seeks money damages, a declaratory judgment, and injunctive relief. Defendant
moved for summary judgment on all claims on April 12, 2012.3 Upon consideration
of the pleadings, defendant’s brief, and the evidentiary submissions, the court
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint).
Id. Section 1981 provides that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States
shall have the same right . . to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security
of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). Unlike Title VII,
it addresses discrimination only on the basis of race, and does not require a plaintiff to pursue
administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. A plaintiff claiming race discrimination can rely on
Title VII, § 1981, or both.
Doc. no. 16.
concludes the motion is due to be granted.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment “should
be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).4 In other
words, summary judgment is proper “after adequate time for discovery and upon
motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
“A genuine issue of material fact ‘exists only if sufficient evidence is presented
favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.’” Farley v.
Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 197 F.3d 1322, 1336 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Stewart v.
Happy Herman’s Cheshire Bridge, Inc., 117 F.3d 1278, 1284-85 (11th Cir. 1997)).
“In making this determination, the court must review all evidence and make all
reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment.” Chapman
Rule 56 was amended, effective December 1, 2010, in conjunction with a general overhaul
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Advisory Committee was careful to note, however, that
the changes “will not affect continuing development of the decisional law construing and applying
these phrases.” Adv. Comm. Notes to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (2010 Amends.). Consequently, cases
interpreting the previous version of Rule 56 are equally applicable to the revised version.
v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Haves v.
City of Miami, 52 F.3d 918, 921 (11th Cir. 1995)). “[A]n inference is not reasonable
if it is only a guess or a possibility, for such an inference is not based on the evidence,
but is pure conjecture and speculation.” Daniels v. Twin Oaks Nursing Home, 692
F.2d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 1983). Moreover,
[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will not defeat summary
judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting the
outcome of the case. The relevant rules of substantive law dictate the
materiality of a disputed fact. A genuine issue of material fact does not
exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party
for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.
Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023 (quoting Haves, 52 F.3d at 921); see also Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (asking “whether the evidence
presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so
one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law”).
Plaintiff, Melvin T. Smith, who is African-American, began working for
defendant, Wayne Farms, L.L.C., in March of 2009.5 He was employed as a
“maintenance supervisor.”6 Beginning in June of 2010, Smith worked under the
Doc. no. 1 § III ¶ 4.
direct supervision of Jerry Ravan, who held the position of “maintenance manager.”7
Smith alleges that Ravan, who is Caucasian, discriminated against him on the basis
of race, and retaliated against him when he complained to management about the
Smith voluntarily submitted a letter of resignation from his
employment with Wayne Farms on March 4, 2012, after commencement of this
action.9 His last day of work at Wayne Farms was March 15, 2012.10 He took a new
job as a maintenance manager at Goodyear Tire.11
As previously noted, Smith commenced this action on October 11, 2011.12 He
filed a bankruptcy petition on November 30, 2011 i.e., seven weeks after commencing
this action.13 “Schedule B” of the bankruptcy petition is a list of the debtor’s personal
property.14 For the category labeled “Other contingent and unliquidated claims of
every nature, including tax refunds, conterclaims of the debtor, and rights to setoff
claims,” Smith marked “NONE.”15
Id. § III ¶¶ 5-6.
Id. § III ¶¶ 7, 19.
Doc. no. 18-8 (Affidavit of Brian Marto) ¶ 2.
Id. ¶ 3.
See doc. no. 1.
See doc. no. 18-3 (Bankruptcy Petition), at ECF 50; doc. no. 18-7 (Bankruptcy Docket
Sheet), at ECF 2..
See Bankruptcy Petition, at ECF 11-14.
Id. at ECF 13.
Another section of the bankruptcy petition form is entitled “Statement of
Financial Affairs.” In the first subsection, Smith indicated that he then was employed
by Wayne Farms.16
The fourth subsection is titled “Suits and administrative
proceedings, executions, garnishments and attachments.”17
The petitioner is
instructed 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.”18 Smith listed three suits: an ejection suit, in which he was the defendant, filed
in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County in 2011; a collection suit, in which he was
the defendant, instituted in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County in 2010; and, an
uncontested divorce proceeding, in which he was the plaintiff, commenced in the
Domestic Relations Court of Jefferson County in 2010.19 He did not list this action.
Smith signed the petition under penalty of perjury on November 30, 2011.20
The bankruptcy trustee determined “that there is no property available for
distribution from the estate over and above that exempted by law.”21 As a result,
Smith’s debts were discharged in their full amount of $165,285.89 on March 20,
Id. at ECF 27.
Id. at ECF 28.
Id. (boldface emphasis in original, italicized emphasis supplied).
Bankruptcy Petition at ECF 28-29.
Id. at ECF 50.
Bankruptcy Docket Sheet, at ECF 4.
2012.22 On April 12th, Wayne Farms moved for summary judgment in this case, and
the court ordered Smith to respond on or before May 3, 2012.23 Despite the fact that
he is represented by counsel, Smith did not file any response to the motion for
Plaintiff’s Claim for Damages
Defendant argues that summary judgment is appropriate under the doctrine of
“judicial estoppel”: a legal construct that protects the integrity of the judicial system
by barring litigants from deliberately taking inconsistent positions based on the
“exigencies of the moment.” Burnes v. Pemco Aeroplex, Inc., 291 F.3d 1281, 1285
(11th Cir. 2002). The Eleventh Circuit has, on several occasions, applied judicial
estoppel to claims by plaintiffs who failed to disclose their claims in a prior
bankruptcy case. See Jones v. United States, No. 1:11-cv-00771-JOF, 2012 WL
833320, at *2 (11th Cir. Mar. 14, 2012) (per curiam) (citing Robinson v. Tyson
Foods, Inc., 595 F.3d 1269 (11th Cir. 2010); Barger v. City of Cartersville, Ga., 348
F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 2003); Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1287–88). As the Court noted in the
Jones opinion, the Eleventh Circuit
Id.; doc. no. 18-6 (Bankruptcy Discharge Order), at ECF 2. See also Bankruptcy Petition,
at ECF 8 (listing total liabilities of $165,285.89).
Doc. no. 16; Text Order of April 12, 2012.
applies a two part test for judicial estoppel. We ask: (1) has the party
previously adopted an inconsistent position under oath in a judicial
proceeding, and (2) did the party intend to “make a mockery of the
judicial system.” Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1285 (quotation omitted). These
two factors “are not inflexible or exhaustive; rather, courts must always
give due consideration to all of the circumstances of a particular case
when considering the applicability of this doctrine.” Id. at 1286.
Jones, 2012 WL 833320, at *2. Courts apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel when
parties do not disclose their lawsuits on their Statements of Financial Affairs because,
in the bankruptcy context, “the importance of full and honest disclosure cannot be
overstated.” Id. (quoting Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1286).
Here, the first judicial estoppel factor — taking an inconsistent position under
oath — is satisfied. Plaintiff did not list this suit in his bankruptcy petition, despite
the fact that the action had been filed less than two months earlier. Moreover, he
listed other, older suits in which he had been named as a party. Further, he named the
defendant in this action as his employer.24 Thus, the applicability of judicial estoppel
depends on whether plaintiff intended to “make a mockery of the judicial system.”
“For purposes of judicial estoppel, intent is a purposeful contradiction — not
simple error or inadvertence. ‘[D]eliberate or intentional manipulation can be
inferred from the record,’ where the debtor has knowledge of the undisclosed claims
and has motive for concealment.” Barger, 348 F.3d at 1294 (quoting Burnes, 291
See Bankruptcy Petition, at ECF 27-29.
F.3d at 1287). In Barger, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiff had the requisite
intent when she failed to list a discrimination claim she had filed six weeks prior to
signing her Statement of Financial Affairs. Id. at 1291, 1294-95. In Burnes, the court
ruled that intent could be inferred when the plaintiff had failed to amend his pending
bankruptcy petition upon filing an employment discrimination case. Burnes, 291
F.3d at 1287-88. The Eleventh Circuit has held that preventing assets from becoming
part of a bankruptcy estate, and thus facilitating a discharge, is sufficient to satisfy the
“motive for concealment” requirement. See, e.g., Jones, 2012 WL 833320, at *4,
Robinson, 595 F.3d at 1275-76; Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1284.
Based upon the record, this court can appropriately infer that plaintiff had the
requisite intent to “make a mockery of the judicial system.” Just as in Barger, the
present plaintiff commenced this employment discrimination suit less than two
months before filing his bankruptcy petition. There can be no doubt that plaintiff had
knowledge of this action, especially given the fact that he listed other, older suits in
his petition, and his then-continuing employment by defendant. He also had a motive
to conceal the suit. His bankruptcy was discharged quickly, and his debts were
discharged in the full amount of $165,285.89. The disclosure of this suit would have
jeopardized that outcome.
There are no special circumstances that suggest that judicial estoppel is
inappropriate for this case. Plaintiff is represented by counsel in this case. He was
represented by counsel in his bankruptcy case. Thus, plaintiff’s claim for damages
is due to be dismissed pursuant to the doctrine of judicial estoppel.
Smith’s Claims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief
Defendant argues that plaintiff lacks standing to maintain a claim for
declaratory or injunctive relief. It is axiomatic that a “plaintiff has standing to seek
declaratory or injunctive relief only when he ‘allege[s] facts from which it appears
there is a substantial likelihood that he will suffer injury in the future.’” Bowen v.
First Family Financial Services, Inc., 233 F.3d 1331, 1340 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting
Malowney v. Federal Collection Deposit Group, 193 F.3d 1342, 1346-47 (11th Cir.
1999)) (bracketed alteration in Bowen). Accordingly, a plaintiff lacks standing to
maintain a claim for injunctive or declaratory relief against his former employer. See,
e.g., Jackson v. Motel 6 Multipurpose, Inc., 130 F.3d 999, 1007 (11th Cir. 1997)
(“The . . . plaintiffs are all former employees of Motel 6, and allege neither that they
will be discriminated against by Motel 6 in the future nor any facts that would support
such a conclusion. Thus, the . . . plaintiffs do not have standing to bring their
“retaliation” claim.”) (emphasis in original). Plaintiff concluded his employment with
defendant on March 15, 2012.25 Thus, he no longer has standing to pursue his claims
Affidavit of Brian Marto ¶ 2.
for injunctive and declaratory relief, and they are due to be dismissed.
For the reasons stated herein, defendant’s motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED as to all claims. Costs are taxed to plaintiff. The clerk is directed to
close this file.
DONE and ORDERED this 16th day of May, 2012.
United States District Judge
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