Bryant v. Mississippi Division of Medicaid et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 53 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by District Judge Debra M. Brown on 2/22/17. (tab)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
MISSISSIPPI DIVISION OF MEDICAID
and DEBORAH CARTER WOODS
in her individual capacity
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Mississippi Division of Medicaid’s motion for summary judgment filed
October 14, 2016. Doc. #53. Earlier, on July 29, 2014, this Court dismissed all claims by Samantha
Bryant against the individual defendant in this case, Deborah Carter Woods.1 In the instant motion,
Medicaid asserts that Bryant’s remaining claims are barred by judicial estoppel. Because the Court
finds that Bryant failed to disclose her claims against Medicaid in her bankruptcy case and that such
failure was not inadvertent, summary judgment will be granted.
On June 20, 2012, Bryant filed an EEOC complaint alleging unlawful racial discrimination in
the termination of her employment with Medicaid. Doc. #53-1 at 12. Subsequently, on February 28,
2013, Bryant filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern
District of Mississippi. Doc. #53-2 at 2.
In her bankruptcy proceedings, Bryant failed to disclose her then-pending EEOC complaint
on her “Schedule B – Personal Property” by indicating “none” in response to the question seeking
disclosure of “contingent and liquidated claims of every nature.”2 Id. at 11. Additionally, in her
See Doc. #20. The Court subsequently denied Bryant’s motion for reconsideration of Woods’ dismissal. Doc. #28.
Bryant declared under penalty of perjury that she had read the schedules and that they were “true and correct to the best
“Statement of Financial Affairs” submitted to the Bankruptcy Court the same day as her schedules,
Bryant failed to disclose that she was a party to an EEOC proceeding in response to the question
requiring disclosure of “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.”3 Id. at 36.
On April 10, 2013, the EEOC issued Bryant a right-to-sue letter regarding her race
discrimination claims against Medicaid. Doc. #53-1 at 13. By order dated June 22, 2013, the
Bankruptcy Court confirmed Bryant’s bankruptcy plan, ordering that “[a]ll property shall remain
property of the estate and shall vest in the debtor only upon dismissal, discharge, or conversion.” In
re: Samantha R. Bryant, No. 13-10778-NPO (Bankr. N.D. Miss. June 22, 2013) (Doc. #20 at 2).4 On
July 10, 2013, Bryant filed the instant action in this Court. Doc. #1. On January 8, 2014, the
Bankruptcy Court, finding Bryant’s estate fully administered, closed her bankruptcy case. Doc. #532 at 53.
Summary Judgment Standard
“[S]ummary judgment is appropriate only ‘if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.’” Haverda
v. Hays Cty., 723 F.3d 586, 591 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)). “[A] party seeking
summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis
for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); see
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1) (“A party asserting that a fact cannot be … genuinely disputed must support
of [her] knowledge, information, and belief.” Doc. #53-2 at 34.
Bryant declared under penalty of perjury that she had read the answers in her statement of financial affairs and that they
were “true and correct.” Doc. #53-2 at 42.
This Court may take judicial notice of another court’s “judicial action.” Gray ex rel. Rudd v. Beverly Enters.-Miss.,
Inc., 390 F.3d 400, 407 n.7 (5th Cir. 2004).
the assertion by … citing to particular parts of materials in the record ….”). “Once the moving party
has carried its summary judgment burden, the opposing party must set forth specific facts showing a
genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings.” Beck
v. Tex. State Bd. of Dental Exam’rs, 204 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir. 2000). In considering a summary
judgment motion, the Court must “consider all facts and evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party.” Cass v. City of Abilene, 814 F.3d 721, 728 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Haverda, 723
F.3d at 591).
Judicial estoppel is an equitable affirmative defense.5 Reed v. City of Arlington, 650 F.3d
571, 576 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc). “A court should apply judicial estoppel if (1) the position of the
party against which estoppel is sought is plainly inconsistent with its prior legal position; (2) the
party against which estoppel is sought convinced a court to accept the prior position; and (3) the
party did not act inadvertently.” Jethroe v. Omnova Sols., Inc., 412 F.3d 598, 600 (5th Cir. 2005).
Bryant’s claims in this action are plainly inconsistent with her prior position in her
bankruptcy proceedings. See id. at 600 (“Judicial estoppel is particularly appropriate where, as here,
a party fails to disclose an asset to a bankruptcy court, but then pursues a claim in a separate tribunal
based on that undisclosed asset.”). And, the Bankruptcy Court accepted such inconsistent position
by Bryant when it confirmed Bryant’s bankruptcy plan. See id. (“[The bankruptcy] court certainly
confirmed Jethroe’s plan at least in part based on its assessment of her assets and liabilities.”). In
Medicaid did not raise the defense of judicial estoppel in its answer. However, because Bryant has not argued any
prejudice from Medicaid’s omission, and because Medicaid represents without dispute that it learned of Bryant’s
bankruptcy filing during her deposition, Doc. #54 at 3, the defense is preserved for the purpose of this summary
judgment motion. See McConathy v. Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Corp., 131 F.3d 558, 562 (5th Cir. 1998) (“McConathy does
not argue that she was prejudiced by Dr. Pepper’s failure to formally plead judicial estoppel in its answer, and we do not
believe that such prejudice occurred. Therefore, the district court did not err in applying the doctrine of judicial estoppel
as the basis for … summary judgment.”).
this regard, Bryant correctly concedes that Medicaid has shown the judicial estoppel elements of
inconsistent position and judicial acceptance of that position. See Doc. #55 at 3 (“The first two
elements regarding judicial estoppel are not disputed.”). But, Bryant argues that Medicaid has failed
to demonstrate the final element—that she did not act inadvertently.
“It goes without saying that the Bankruptcy Code and Rules impose upon bankruptcy debtors
an express, affirmative duty to disclose all assets, including contingent and unliquidated claims.” In
re Superior Crewboats, Inc., 374 F.3d 330, 335 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting In re Coastal Plains, Inc.,
179 F.3d 197, 207–08 (5th Cir. 1999)). “Chapter 13 debtors have a continuing obligation to disclose
post-petition causes of action” before confirmation. In re Flugence, 738 F.3d 126, 129 (5th Cir.
2013). “[I]n 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 or has no motive for their concealment.” Love v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 677 F.3d
258, 262 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Coastal Plains, 179 F.3d at 210).
Regarding the disclosure of a legal claim, lack of knowledge requires the party to be
“unaware of the facts giving rise to [the claim]” at the time the party had an obligation to disclose
claims. Allen v. C & H Distribs., L.L.C., 813 F.3d 566, 573 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting In re Flugence,
738 F.3d at 130). Here, Bryant filed an EEOC charge of discrimination based on the facts giving rise
to this action in June 2012, and she received her right-to-sue-letter based on such charge in April
2013. Given this, there can be no dispute that Bryant knew of the facts giving rise to the claim
underlying this action before the Bankruptcy Court confirmed her bankruptcy plan in June 2013 (and
before her bankruptcy case was closed in January 2014).
“A motivation to conceal may be shown by evidence of a potential financial benefit that
could result from concealment.” U.S. ex rel. Long v. GSDMidea City, L.L.C., 798 F.3d 265, 273 (5th
Cir. 2013). A party “almost always” has the requisite motive if she “fails to disclose a claim or
possible claim to the bankruptcy court’ because the ‘potential financial benefit resulting from the
nondisclosure makes the motivation … self-evident.” Allen, 813 F.3d at 573–74 (quoting Love, 677
F.3d at 262) (internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, as a general rule, “a motive to conceal
legal claims subsists in all bankruptcy cases in which a concealed legal claim would, if disclosed,
form part of the bankruptcy estate and the debtor is aware of the claim’s monetary value ….” Cargo
v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 408 B.R. 631, 638 (W.D. La. 2009).
Bryant’s bankruptcy plan required her to pay less than the full amount of her unsecured debt
over the five-year course of the plan.6 In re: Samantha R. Bryant, No. 13-10778-NPO (Bankr. N.D.
Miss. June 22, 2013) (Doc. #20). Had the Bankruptcy Court administered the estate’s interest in
Bryant’s undisclosed claim (which she valued at $850,000),7 the amount due to her unsecured
creditors under the plan could have been greater. Moreover, had Bryant disclosed the claim in her
bankruptcy petition, her creditors would have learned of it, possibly triggering objections to the
bankruptcy plan or increased collection efforts after dismissal of her bankruptcy case. Under these
circumstances, the Court finds that Bryant’s failure to disclose her discrimination claim in her
bankruptcy proceedings was not inadvertent; rather, during the pendency of her bankruptcy
proceedings, Bryant “had motive to conceal, because her claim, if disclosed, would [have been]
available to the creditors.” In re Flugence, 738 F.3d at 131.
Bryant’s arguments in opposition are unpersuasive. Bryant first argues that she had no
motive to conceal her claim because she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and stated in her
bankruptcy petition that funds would be available to pay unsecured creditors. Doc. #55 at 3–4. To
the contrary, the general presumption that motive exists for a party to conceal an undisclosed claim
Bryant was required to pay $237 monthly for sixty months despite $45,378.62 in unsecured debts.
See Doc. #1.
or potential claim applies with equal force to a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. See Allen, 813 F.3d at
574 n.6 (“[T]his court has not modified its analysis of judicial estoppel when considering previous
appeals involving Chapter 13 debtors.”). Further, Bryant does not explain how her statement in her
petition that funds would be available for unsecured creditors means that she had no motive to
conceal an asset she valued at $850,000. Finally, motive may exist for a party to conceal an
undisclosed claim even where the bankruptcy court confirms a plan requiring “100% repayment of
the principal of … debts.” U.S. ex rel. Long, 798 F.3d at 269.
Next, relying on her affidavit, Bryant argues that she “had no motive, intent or need to hide
her potential claim” because she was “simply unaware that [her] claim should be listed” in her
bankruptcy petition. Doc. #55 at 1–2 (citing Doc. #55-1). Yet, “[a claimant’s] lack of awareness of
[a] statutory disclosure duty for its [legal claims] is not relevant” to the inadvertence inquiry.8
Jethroe, 412 F.3d at 601 & n.4 (quoting Coastal Plains, 179 F.3d at 212). For the same reason,
Bryant’s conclusory assertion in her affidavit that she had no motive to conceal carries no weight.
Id.; see Salas v. Carpenter, 980 F.2d 299, 305 (5th Cir. 1992) (“[C]onclusory assertions cannot be
used in an affidavit on summary judgment.”).
Finally, Bryant argues that she “received no incentive from the omission.” Doc. #55 at 2;
Doc. #55-1 at ¶ 9 (“There was no benefit to me for my inadvertently not listing this claim on my
bankruptcy petition.”). To the extent Bryant contends there was no reason for her to omit her
discrimination claim, the argument is rejected for the reasons above. To the extent she argues
judicial estoppel is inappropriate because she received no benefit from the omission, such argument
Such is not relevant even when claiming reliance on a bankruptcy attorney’s advice. Jethroe, 412 F.3d at 601 & n.4. In
her affidavit, though not mentioned in her brief, Bryant seems to place the blame for her disclosure failures on her
attorney. See, e.g., Doc. #55-1 at ¶ 6 (“I … was not informed by my attorney that matters … should be listed under
section four (4) of the financial affairs section.”); id. at ¶ 5 (“I provided all the information to my attorney that was
requested of me.”). However, such does not excuse Bryant’s disclosure failures, particularly when she declared under
penalty of perjury that her schedules and statement of financial affairs, which she had read, were correct. Doc. #53-2 at
must also be rejected. First, it is clear Bryant did receive a benefit in the form of a delayed payment
plan and a reduction in payments on unsecured debts. Furthermore, even if she received no benefit,
inadvertence does not depend on “whether a party would enjoy an unfair advantage or suffer an
unfair detriment if judicial estoppel were not applied.” Love, 677 F.3d at 265. In sum, none of
Bryant’s arguments defeat summary judgment.
For the reasons above, Medicaid’s motion for summary judgment  is GRANTED and
this action is DISMISSED. A separate final judgment will be issued accordingly.
SO ORDERED, this 22nd day of February, 2017.
/s/ Debra M. Brown
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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