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Weakley v. Eagle Logistics

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

August 31, 2017

TIMOTHY WEAKLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLE LOGISTICS et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HERMAN N. JOHNSON, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This civil action proceeds before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 65). In their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants argue that judicial estoppel merits dismissal of this case because the Plaintiff failed to list the lawsuit as an asset in a bankruptcy case he filed. Based upon the following discussion, the court GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56(a). Defendants, as the party seeking summary judgment, bear the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.317, 323 (1986)).

         A non-moving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). In reviewing whether the non-moving party has met its burden, the court must stop short of weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations of the truth of the matter; one should credit the non-movant's evidence and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998-99 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotations omitted). However, speculation or conjecture cannot create genuine issue of material fact. Cordoba v. Dillard's, Inc., 419 F.3d 1169, 1181 (11th Cir. 2005). A “mere scintilla of evidence” in support of the non-moving party also cannot overcome a motion for summary judgment. Young v. City of Palm Bay, 358 F.3d 859, 860 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

         Background

         On December 22, 2015, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, commenced this action by filing his Complaint against Defendants in the District Court of Lauderdale County, Alabama. (Doc. 1-1). Defendants removed the case to the United States District Court in the Northern District of Alabama on February 3, 2016. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff's most recent amended complaint alleges breach of contract and intentional interference with contractual relations, and Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $14, 300, 000.00. (Doc. 57). On September 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a petition for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code in the Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama. On page 6 of that petition, the signature page, Plaintiff signed his name electronically and declared “under penalty of perjury that the information provided [was] true and correct.” (Doc. 66-2 at 6).

         Schedule A/B requires a debtor to list “claims against third parties, whether or not [he has] filed a lawsuit or made a demand for payment, ” and “other contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature.” (Id. at 16). Plaintiff marked “No” under both categories. (Id.) Furthermore, Plaintiff listed two other pro se cases under the category for “[a]ny financial assets you did not already list.” (Id.) Plaintiff did not list this action in his application. Plaintiff again declared the information provided in his schedules was true and accurate under the penalty of perjury. (Id. at 40).

         The Statement of Financial Affairs instructed Plaintiff to list “any lawsuit, court action, or administrative proceeding” filed within one (1) year of his bankruptcy petition in which he was a party. (Id. at 43). Plaintiff listed the same two, pro se lawsuits disclosed in his Schedule A/B but failed to disclose this action. (Id.) Plaintiff signed the Statement of Financial Affairs, supposedly verifying all the information contained therein is “true and accurate.” (Id. at 47).

         Plaintiff filed four amended schedules and two amended Statements of Financial Affairs. (Doc. 66, Exhibits 3-8). Each amendment required Plaintiff to declare that the information contained therein was “true and accurate” under the penalty of perjury; however, he failed to disclose this action in all six amendments. The bankruptcy court confirmed Plaintiff's Chapter 13 payment plan on November 17, 2016. (Doc. 66-9). Upon reviewing the bankruptcy case, Plaintiff still makes payments under the plan.

         On April 21, 2017, Defendants filed the motion for summary judgment currently under consideration. As noted, judicial estoppel constitutes the grounds for that motion; Defendants argue that judicial estoppel bars the instant action because of Plaintiff's failure to disclose its existence in the bankruptcy petition. (Doc. 66).

         Analysis

         Defendants argue that they are entitled to dismissal of the case or a judgment in its favor because the doctrine of judicial estoppel bars this action. Plaintiff acknowledges that his initial bankruptcy petition failed to disclose the instant suit; however, he argues that the doctrine does not apply because that failure was inadvertent and he has since rectified the mistake.

         Judicial estoppel operates as an equitable doctrine, invoked at the court's discretion, which precludes a party from asserting a claim in a legal proceeding inconsistent with a claim made in a previous proceeding. Burnes v. Pemco Aeroplex, Inc., 291 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th Cir. 2002). The doctrine exists “to protect the integrity of the judicial process by prohibiting parties from deliberately changing ...


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