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Copeland v. Birmingham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center East, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 1, 2015

SANDRA COPELAND, Plaintiff,
v.
BIRMINGHAM NURSING AND REHABILITATION CENTER EAST, LLC; and AURORA CARE, LLC d/b/a TARA CARES, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES H. HANCOCK, Senior District Judge.

The court has before it the May 21, 2015 Motion (Doc. #21) for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Birmingham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center East, LLC and Aurora Care, LLC d/b/a Tara Cares. Defendants simultaneously filed a brief (Doc. #33) and evidence (Doc. # 23) in support of their Motion. Pursuant to the court's May 26, 2015 order (Doc. #24), on June 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. #25) in opposition to the Motion and on June 23, 2015, Defendants filed a reply (Doc. #26.) After consideration of the record and arguments before the court, the court concludes that the doctrine of judicial estoppel applies to the claims in this case and that the Motion is due to be granted in full for the following reasons.

I. Relevant Undisputed Facts

On August 11, 2009, Plaintiff Sandra Copeland and her husband filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy as co-debtors. (Def. Exh. B.) On November 30, 2009, the bankruptcy court confirmed the bankruptcy plan. (Pl. Exh. D.) All payments made by Copeland and her husband under the plan were made by way of garnishment from her husband's paycheck. (Copeland Decl. ¶ 2.)

In January 2012, while she was still in bankruptcy, Copeland was hired by Birmingham Nursing and Rehabilitation Center East ("Birmingham East"). On June 13, 2013, Copeland was terminated. (Compl. ¶¶ 16, 36-37.) On August 2, 2013, Plaintiff completed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC alleging that Birmingham East and Aurora Cares, LLC d/b/a Tara Cares ("Tara Cares") discriminated against her on the basis of her actual or perceived and/or record of disability. (Compl. ¶ 2; Def.'s Exh. A.) Her attorney sent the signed Charge to the EEOC on August 5, 2015. (Def.'s Exh. A.)

At the time Plaintiff filed her EEOC charge, she was in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. ( See Def. Exh. B.) Plaintiff did not amend her bankruptcy schedules to reflect the claims she asserted in her EEOC charge. ( Id. ) Plaintiff's bankruptcy was discharged[1] on December 5, 2013, while her EEOC charge was still pending. ( Id. ) The EEOC issued Copeland a Right to Sue letter on May 6, 2014. (Pl. Exh. H.)

On August 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in this court alleging that Birmingham East and Tara Cares discriminated against her on the basis of her actual or perceived disability and/or record of a disability in violation of the ADA. ( See Compl.) On September 2, 2014, Defendants filed separate Answers to the Complaint. ( See Docs. # 6 & 7.) The court entered a scheduling order on November 5, 2014 (Doc. # 12), and on December 23, 2014, Birmingham East served Plaintiff's counsel with discovery requests. ( See Def. Exh. C.) One of the interrogatories asked as follows: "Has Plaintiff ever declared bankruptcy? If so, what chapter and in what court? Has the bankruptcy been discharged?" (Def. Exh. C.) Plaintiff's responses were due on January 26, 2015, but Plaintiff did not provide substantive responses by that date, and instead only providing objections and promising further responses "by the end of the week, " or January 30, 2015. ( See Def. Exh. D.)

In the following months, Plaintiff's counsel continued to promise interrogatory responses, but failed to provide them and did not offer any explanation for the delay. ( Id. ) On April 17, 2015, [2] Birmingham East filed a motion to compel response to the interrogatories, and the court granted the motion a few days later. ( See Docs. # 17 & 18.) On April 29, 2015, Plaintiff provided the interrogatory responses, and stated that she had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the Northern District of Alabama "and reopened the case in April of this year." (Def. Exh. E.)

During the month of May, counsel for the parties attempted to coordinate deposition dates for the Plaintiff and four non-party witnesses. ( See Def. Exh. F.) Recognizing a scheduling issue with regard to the depositions, counsel for Defendants suggested that the parties seek an extension of discovery, and Plaintiff's counsel agreed. ( Id. ) Counsel for Defendants drafted a motion and sent it to counsel for Plaintiff for review on May 19, 2015. ( Id. ) In response to the draft motion, counsel for Plaintiff explained for the first time that the delay in providing interrogatory responses was due to Plaintiff's bankruptcy because counsel for Plaintiff deemed it necessary to re-open the bankruptcy to amend Plaintiff's schedules to reflect Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim.[3] ( Id. )

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. " Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000). The party asking for summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See id. at 323. Once the moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by its own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See id. at 324.

The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant . See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. See Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993). A dispute is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See id. at 249.

The method used by the party moving for summary judgment to discharge its initial burden depends on whether that party bears the burden of proof on the issue at trial. See Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1115-17 (citing United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428 (11th Cir. 1991)( en banc )). If the moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, then it can only meet its initial burden on summary judgment by coming forward with positive evidence demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact; i.e. facts that would entitle it to a directed verdict if not controverted at trial. See Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1115. Once the moving party makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce significant, probative evidence demonstrating a genuine issue for trial.

If the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, it can satisfy its initial burden on summary judgment in either of two ways. First, the moving party may produce affirmative evidence negating a material fact, thus demonstrating that the non-moving party will be unable to prove its case at trial. Once the moving party satisfies its burden using this method, the non-moving ...


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