Bayene v. Farmland Foods, Inc.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER - Plaintiff's wrongful termination claims are dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff's defamation claims are dismissed without prejudice because this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. A separate judgment will be entered in accordance with this Memorandum and Order. Ordered by Chief Judge Joseph F. Bataillon. (Copy mailed/e-mailed to pro se party)(KBJ)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
FARMLAND FOODS, Inc.,
Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter on July 15, 2011. (Filing No. 1.)
Plaintiff has previously been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No.
5.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff’s claims to determine
whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
BACKGROUND AND SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT
Plaintiff filed his Complaint on July 15, 2011, against one Defendant, Farmland
Foods, Inc. (“Farmland”), Plaintiff’s former employer. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp.
2-3.) Condensed and summarized, Plaintiff alleges that Farmland wrongfully
terminated and defamed him. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 2.) Plaintiff previously pursued his
claims against Farmland and now seeks a “fair decision in his favor because NE
wrongfully dismissed his case.” (Id. at CM/ECF p. 4.) Plaintiff states that his case
has been dismissed a “total of 7 times.” (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.)
Indeed, Plaintiff has litigated his claims in this court before. In particular,
Plaintiff filed a complaint against Farmland on March 1, 2005. (Case No. 8:05CV91,
Filing No. 1.) After service of process, Farmland filed a motion to dismiss. (Case
No. 8:05CV91, Filing No. 12.) In addressing the motion to dismiss, this court
summarized the background of Plaintiff’s litigation against Farmland as follows:
On September 15, 2000, the plaintiff, who is Ethiopian, filed Case No.
8:00cv486 in this court, alleging that his race, national origin and/or
color constituted a motivating factor in the decisions by Farmland
Foods, Inc. to suspend, and then to discharge, the plaintiff from his job
as a trimmer in the defendant’s Night Bone Department. The plaintiff
also, or in the alternative, alleged that Farmland Foods, Inc. made the
adverse employment decisions at issue in retaliation for a charge of
racial discrimination previously filed by the plaintiff with the Iowa Civil
Rights Commission in June of 1999.
In Case No. 8:00cv486, District Judge Laurie Smith Camp denied the
Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Farmland Foods, Inc., and the
court entered an order setting the case for trial. However, shortly before
the scheduled trial, Farmland Foods, Inc. and its affiliates filed for
bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the
Western District of Missouri. Because the automatic stay under the
United States Bankruptcy Code precluded further litigation against the
bankruptcy debtors and their assets, Judge Smith Camp entered an order
transferring Case No. 8:00cv486 to the United States District Court for
the Western District of Missouri for referral, if appropriate, to the
Bankruptcy Court where the Farmland bankruptcy cases were pending.
The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri
docketed the transferred case as Case No. 4:02cv592-FJG in that district.
This court closed the file in Mr. Beyene’s case upon the transfer of the
case out of this district.
In filing nos. 12 and 13, the defendant has provided evidence concerning
what happened to Mr. Beyene’s case against Farmland Foods, Inc. in the
United States Bankruptcy and District Courts for the Western District of
Missouri. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed a Plan of Reorganization for
the Farmland debtors including Farmland Foods, Inc. (filing no. 13,
Exhs. 6 and 7). The Plan provided procedures for resolving disputed
claims against the debtors’ estates (id., Exh. 6 at Art. VIII). Those
procedures included authority delegated to a Liquidating Trustee to
object to claims against the debtors and to prosecute objections to the
allowance of proofs of claim (id.).
On March 24, 2004, Mr. Beyene filed proof of claim No. 9233 in the
bankruptcy proceedings (filing no. 13, Exh. 8). On August 20, 2004, the
Liquidating Trustee filed an objection to Mr. Beyene’s proof of claim
(id., Exh. 9). When the plaintiff failed to respond to the objection, the
Bankruptcy Court sustained the Trustee’s objection to the plaintiff’s
claim and disallowed the plaintiff’s claim (id., Exh. 10), meaning that
Mr. Beyene could not participate in the distribution of any assets from
the debtors’ estates. See, e.g., Hawxhurst v. Pettibone Corp., 40 F.3d
175,179 (7th Cir. 1994) (“a disallowed claim may not share in the
distribution of the debtor’s assets in bankruptcy”).
Thereafter, on October 26, 2004, the Trustee filed a Motion to Dismiss
Case No.4:02cv592-FJG in the United States District Court for the
Western District of Missouri (i.e., the case which had started out as
Beyenne v. Farmland Foods, Inc., No. 8:00cv486, in this court, and
which had been transferred to Missouri from this court) (filing no. 13,
Exh. 11). Mr. Beyene objected to the motion to dismiss (id., Exh. 12).
However, on December 11, 2004, the District Court granted the
Trustee’s Motion to Dismiss, and entered an Order dismissing the
plaintiff’s lawsuit against Farmland Foods, Inc. (Id., Exh. 14).
(Case No. 8:05CV91, Filing No. 22 at CM/ECF pp. 1-3.) This court then dismissed
Plaintiff’s case. (Case No. 8:05CV91, Filing Nos. 22 and 23.) In doing so, the court
The plaintiff did not appeal the disallowance of his proof of claim by the
Bankruptcy Court or the dismissal of his case by the Missouri federal
District Court. As a result, his claim against Farmland Foods, Inc. and
its successor entities has been extinguished and cannot be relitigated in
this court. See generally Siegel v. Federal Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 143
F.3d 525, 529 (9th Cir. 1998): “[T]he allowance or disallowance of 'a
claim in bankruptcy is binding and conclusive on all parties or their
privies, and being in the nature of a final judgment, furnishes a basis for
a plea of res judicata.’... [T]he allowance or disallowance of a claim in
bankruptcy should be given like effect as any other judgment of a
competent court, in a subsequent suit against the bankrupt or any one in
privity with him.” (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.)
(Case No. 8:05CV91, Filing No. 22 at CM/ECF p. 3.)
Most recently, Judge Strom dismissed Plaintiff’s case alleging the same
state-law defamation claims against Farmland because Plaintiff failed to submit
evidence showing that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.00. (Case No.
8:10CV256, Filing Nos. 13 and 14.)
APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW
The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine
whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court
must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a frivolous or malicious
claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §
A pro se plaintiff must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge their
claims across the line from conceivable to plausible,” or “their complaint must be
dismissed” for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.
1937, 1950 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.”). Regardless of whether a plaintiff is represented
or is appearing pro se, the plaintiff’s complaint must allege specific facts sufficient
to state a claim. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985).
However, a pro se plaintiff’s allegations must be construed liberally. Burke v. North
Dakota Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab., 294 F.3d 1043, 1043-44 (8th Cir. 2002) (citations
DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS
Liberally construing the Complaint, Plaintiff reasserts his wrongful termination
claim seeking a “fair decision in his favor because NE wrongfully dismissed his
case.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 2, 4.) As discussed above, Plaintiff’s wrongful
termination claim against Farmland has been extinguished and cannot be relitigated
in this court. (See Case No. 8:05CV91, Filing No. 22.) Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
wrongful termination claim is dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff also reasserts his state-law defamation claim against Farmland. (Filing
No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.) “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subjectmatter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).
Subject matter jurisdiction may be proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, commonly
referred to as “diversity of citizenship” jurisdiction.1 For purposes of 28 U.S.C. §
1332, “diversity of citizenship” means that “the citizenship of each plaintiff is
different from the citizenship of each defendant.” Ryan v. Schneider Nat’l Carriers,
Inc., 263 F.3d 816, 819 (8th Cir. 2001). In addition, the amount in controversy must
be greater than $75,000.00 for diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §
1332(a). Where a complaint “alleges a sufficient amount in controversy to establish
diversity jurisdiction, but the opposing party or the court questions whether the
amount alleged is legitimate, the party invoking federal jurisdiction must prove the
requisite amount by a preponderance of the evidence.” Trimble v. Asarco, Inc., 232
F.3d 946, 959-60 (8th Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted), abrogated on other grounds by
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546 (2005). In addition, “[n]o
Subject matter jurisdiction is also proper where a plaintiff asserts a “non-frivolous claim of a right or remedy
under a federal statute,” commonly referred to as “federal question” jurisdiction. Northwest S.D. Prod. Credit Ass’n v.
Smith, 784 F.2d 323, 325 (8th Cir. 1986). As discussed above, Plaintiff’s wrongful termination claims are dismissed
with prejudice. Thus, the court lacks federal question jurisdiction.
presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff’s allegations, and the existence of
disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the
merits of the jurisdictional claims.” Id. (quotation omitted).
Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege that his citizenship is different from that of
Farmland. More importantly, Plaintiff does not allege a sufficient amount in
controversy because the only relief he seeks is “fair decision in his favor.” (Filing
No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 5.) In light of this, and Plaintiff’s previous failure to establish
subject matter jurisdiction for defamation claims against Farmland, there is no doubt
that court lacks jurisdiction. (See Case No. 8:10CV256, Filing Nos. 13 and 14.)
Because Judge Strom gave Plaintiff the opportunity to cure the amount in controversy
problem once before and Plaintiff failed to do so (id.), and because Plaintiff reasserts
the same defamation claim again (in an apparent effort to avoid Judge Strom’s
ruling), it is evident that dismissal without prejudice at this time is the proper remedy.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s wrongful termination claims are dismissed with prejudice.
Plaintiff’s defamation claims are dismissed without prejudice because
this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
A separate judgment will be entered in accordance with this
Memorandum and Order.
DATED this 11th day of August, 2011.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Joseph F. Bataillon
Chief United States District Judge
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