Shields v. The University of West Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 1/15/2016. (PSM)
2016 Jan-15 PM 01:50
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
THE UNIVERSITY OF
WEST ALABAMA; THE
UNIVERSITY OF WEST
ALABAMA BOARD OF
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
The Court has Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration. After reconsidering
the issue, the Court amends its previous Order and Memorandum of Opinion.
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgement is GRANTED, and Shields’s claims
The Defendants argue that Shields should be judicially estopped from
bringing this claim because she failed to list it as an asset in her Chapter 13
Bankruptcy asset schedules. “Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine invoked at a
court’s discretion.” Burnes v. Pemco Aeroplex, Inc., 291 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th Cir.
2002). Application of the judicial estoppel doctrine prevents a party from
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“asserting a claim in a legal proceeding that is inconsistent with a claim taken by
that party in a previous proceeding.” Id. at 1285 (quoting 18 James Wm. Moore et
al., Moore’s Federal Practice § 134.30, p. 134–62 (3d ed. 2000)). The purpose of the
doctrine is “to protect the integrity of the judicial process by prohibiting parties
from deliberately changing positions according to the exigencies of the moment.”
New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 724, 749–50. Because judicial estoppel protects
the process, not a specific party, the one asserting the doctrine need not show that
it detrimentally relied on the other party’s previous assertions or even that it was
involved in the previous proceeding. See Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1286.
The Eleventh Circuit primarily analyzes two factors when applying judicial
estoppel to a particular case. See id. at 1285 (noting that the “two factors applied in
the Eleventh Circuit are consistent with the Supreme Court’s instructions” in New
Hampshire). First, a party’s allegedly inconsistent position must have been “made
under oath in a prior proceeding.” Id. at 1285 (quoting Salomon Smith Barney, Inc.
v. Harvey, 260 F.3d 1302, 1308 (11th Cir. 2001)). Second, the “inconsistencies
must be shown to have been calculated to make a mockery of the judicial system.”
Id. “[T]hese two enumerated 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.
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Judicial estoppel has frequently been used to estop plaintiffs from bringing
claims that they did not list as assets in bankruptcy proceedings. “A debtor seeking
shelter under the bankruptcy laws has a statutory duty to disclose all assets, or
potential assets to the bankruptcy court.” Robinson v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 595 F.3d
1269, 1274 (11th Cir. 2010). Specifically, in Chapter 13 proceedings, a debtor has
an ongoing duty to amend her asset schedules to reflect additional assets. See id. As
such, a debtor’s failure to amend her asset schedule “to reflect a pending claim
while simultaneously [pursuing] that claim in another court of law constitutes
inconsistent positions under oath.” Id. at 1275. Furthermore, allowing a debtor to
amend her asset schedules only after the omission has been challenged will not cure
the initial failure to include the suit as an asset. See Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1288. Doing
so would “suggest that a debtor should consider disclosing potential assets only if
[she] is caught concealing them.” Id.
Moreover, judicial estoppel requires “intentional contradictions, not simple
error or inadvertence.” Id. at 1286. However, direct evidence that a party acted
with intent to deceive the court is not required. Rather, “deliberate or intentional
manipulation can be inferred from the record” where the debtor had (1) knowledge
of the undisclosed claims and (2) a motive for concealment. Barger v. City of
Cartersville, Ga., 348 F.3d 1289, 1294 (quoting Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1287).
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Here, Shields filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on October 15, 2010. She later
filed an EEOC charge on December 9, 2013 and filed this suit on November 13,
2014, but she did not amend her asset schedules to include her claim. Instead, she
waited until November 13, 2015 to inform the Bankruptcy Court of this claim, after
the Defendants in this case challenged her omission. Thus, for one year, Shields
took inconsistent positions by simultaneously pursuing her claim of discrimination
and omitting it on asset schedules.
Further, Shields clearly knew about her claim because she filed an EEOC
charge and this lawsuit. However, she made no effort to amend her asset schedules
until the Defendants moved to dismiss this case based on her omission. If the
parties had settled this case before summary judgment, then Shields could have
hidden such proceeds from the Bankruptcy Court and her creditors. This result
would have made a mockery of the judicial system by simultaneously using it to
recover damages yet evading its bankruptcy requirements. Accordingly, the Court
infers from the record that Shields acted intentionally when she took inconsistent
positions. As such, the Court amends its previous Order and holds that Shields is
judicially estopped from bringing her claims. The Court’s previous Memorandum
of Opinion is amended to conclude that Plaintiff’s complaint is due to be dismissed.
A separate Order will be entered.
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Done and Ordered this 15th day of January 2016.
L. SCOTT COOGLER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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