Joseph v. Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company
OPINION and ORDER Denying Defendant's 237 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Stephen J. Murphy, III. (DPar)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 2:13-cv-14340
HONORABLE STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
GRAND TRUNK WESTERN
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 
Defendant filed a "Memorandum of Law Relative to Plaintiff's Failure to Amend
Bankruptcy Petition" and subsequently filed a motion adopting the arguments laid out in
the memorandum. ECF 79, 237. Simply put, Defendant moves for summary judgment
on the grounds of judicial estoppel. Specifically, Defendant contends that Plaintiff's
failure to disclose the instant suit to the bankruptcy court judicially estops him from
pursuing his claim against Defendant.
"The doctrine of judicial estoppel 'generally prevents a party from prevailing in
one phase of a case on an argument and then relying on a contradictory argument to
prevail in another phase.'" White v. Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc., 617 F.3d 472,
476 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 749 (2001)). The
purpose of the doctrine is to "preserve the integrity of the courts by preventing a party
from abusing the judicial process through cynical gamesmanship" but "should be
applied with caution to avoid impinging on the truth-seeking function of the court,
because the doctrine precludes a contradictory position without examining the truth of
either statement." Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). For that reason,
courts have typically held that "judicial estoppel is inappropriate in cases of conduct
amounting to nothing more than mistake or inadvertence." Browning v. Levy, 283 F.3d
761, 776 (6th Cir. 2002). In determining whether an omission was inadvertent, courts
consider whether the debtor had a motive to conceal a potential claim and whether
there is evidence that the debtor attempted to conceal a potential claim. White, 617 F.3d
Here, Plaintiff and his wife filed for bankruptcy on October 31, 2008. ECF 79,
PgID 2578. He filed the instant suit five years later, on October 14, 2013. ECF 1.
Defendant asserts that around March 2, 2017, it discovered that Plaintiff never
amended his bankruptcy petition to include the instant suit and promptly filed a
memorandum of law concerning the failure to amend and resultant estoppel. ECF 79,
PgID 2579. Evidently, Plaintiff's bankruptcy attorney—who is different from his counsel
in this case—then filed a motion to reopen the bankruptcy and amend Plaintiff's asset
schedules. ECF 172-5. The bankruptcy court granted the motion and Plaintiff filed
amended schedules. ECF 172-6; 172-3, PgID 4023.
Plaintiff would have had an incentive to conceal the potential claim. Because his
creditors were not paid in full, $60,472.41 of any damages he might receive in the
present case would go to those creditors. See ECF 172-2, PgID 4019. But apart from
the timing of the motion to amend—he did so only after the memorandum was filed—
Defendant has presented no evidence that Plaintiff intended to conceal the potential
claim. In the records before the Court, the only other time the topic was broached was
through a brief question in Plaintiff's deposition on July 23, 2014. ECF 44-1, PgID 916.
Defendant's counsel had discovered the bankruptcy docket through name search but
never brought up the absence of the potential claim until three years later. Id.
On the evidence before the Court, there seems little need for the Court to
exercise its discretion to judicially estop the Plaintiff from pursuing the instant case.
Plaintiff's omission suggests inadvertence, but at the very least, does not affirmatively
show an attempt to conceal. The Court will therefore deny Defendant's motion.
WHEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment on the Basis of Estoppel  is DENIED.
s/Stephen J. Murphy, III
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
United States District Judge
Dated: January 12, 2018
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the parties
and/or counsel of record on January 12, 2018, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
s/David P. Parker
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