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Perry v. The Schumacher Group of Louisiana

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 4, 2018

PAMELA M. PERRY, M.D., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE SCHUMACHER GROUP OF LOUISIANA, a Louisiana Corporation, THE SCHUMACHER GROUP OF FLORIDA, INC., a Florida Corporation, Defendants-Appellees, COLLIER EMERGENCY GROUP, LLC, a Florida Limited Liability Company, Defendant-Cross Defendant-Cross Claimant-Appellee, HEALTH MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES, INC., a Florida Corporation, Defendant-Cross Claimant-Appellee, HEALTH MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES, INC., a Michigan Corporation, Defendant-Appellee, NAPLES HMA, LLC, a Florida Limited Liability Company, dba Physicians Regional Healthcare System, Defendant-Cross Claimant- Cross Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 2:13-cv-0036-JES-DNF

          Before TJOFLAT and MARTIN, Circuit Judges, and MURPHY, [*] District Judge.

          TJOFLAT, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In this workplace-discrimination, retaliation, and breach-of-contract case, Dr. Pamela Perry appeals the District Court's denial of her motion to enter final judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), as to seven of her eight causes of action against three companies (referred to collectively as "Defendants") for whom she once worked. The District Court disposed of those claims on the merits by dismissing some, granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants as to some, and entering judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendants as to others. This left pending and due to be tried only one claim against one Defendant: a 42 U.S.C. § 1981 discrimination claim against Defendant Naples HMA, LLC ("NHMA").

         In an effort to appeal the disposition of her other causes of action instead of trying the § 1981 claim in isolation, Dr. Perry entered into a joint stipulation with NHMA purporting to voluntarily dismiss the § 1981 claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1) and then moved the District Court to enter final judgment on the remaining claims. The District Court denied the motion, finding that it no longer had jurisdiction over the action after Dr. Perry voluntarily dismissed her lone remaining claim.

         After careful consideration of the record, and with the benefit of oral argument, we reverse because the parties' joint stipulation of dismissal was invalid. Rule 41(a)(1), according to its plain text, permits voluntary dismissals only of entire "actions, " not claims. Thus, the invalid joint stipulation did not divest the District Court of jurisdiction over the case.

         I.

         Dr. Perry is an African-American physician who, during the time period relevant to the case, worked as medical director of Pine Ridge Medical Center in Naples, Florida. There are five named Defendants in this case, four of which are still part of the case and parties to this appeal. Two are subsidiaries of The Schumacher Group ("TSG"), a company that specializes in placing physicians in hospitals in numerous states and worked with Dr. Perry in her placement at Pine Ridge. Collier Emergency Group, LLC ("CEG") is an affiliate of TSG which offered Dr. Perry the position. Naples HMA, LLC ("NHMA") operated the Pine Ridge facility. A fifth Defendant, Health Management Associates ("HMA"), was not affiliated with any of the other Defendants, and Dr. Perry stated that she sued this company in error. Accordingly, she voluntarily dismissed HMA from the case.

         In January 2013, Dr. Perry brought suit in the Middle District of Florida against Defendants, alleging that they discriminated and retaliated against her during her employment with them, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. After the case began, she asked for and received leave to amend her complaint four times. The final iteration, the Fourth Amended Complaint, contained eight claims raised in separate counts, each alleged against a specific Defendant or Defendants.

         As the case progressed, the District Court gradually disposed of seven of the eight counts, eliminating some by granting a joint motion to dismiss, others by granting summary judgment on some claims in favor of some Defendants, and still others by entering judgment for some Defendants on some claims as a matter of law. When the dust settled, only one count, § 1981 discrimination, [1] against one Defendant, NHMA, remained.

         Preferring not to proceed to trial on that claim alone, Dr. Perry attempted to first make it possible to appeal the disposal of her other claims. In an attempt to effectuate immediate appeal, she entered on November 9, 2014 into a "Joint Stipulation for Voluntary Dismissal Without Prejudice of Count III (42 U.S.C. § 1981) of Fourth Amended Complaint" ("the Stipulation"). The Stipulation stated, "The parties agree that Count III of the Fourth Amended Complaint as the remaining claim in this action is hereby dismissed without prejudice." The parties stated that they were filing the Stipulation pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A), which governs voluntary dismissal of actions without a court order.[2] Thereafter, the District Court observed that "nothing further remain[ed] to be done" in the case, and accordingly entered judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissed all claims but the § 1981 discrimination claim with prejudice.

         On December 12, 2014, Dr. Perry appealed the disposition of her claims. On January 21, 2015, we ordered the parties to brief whether this Court had jurisdiction to entertain Dr. Perry's appeal, in light of the fact that the District Court's dismissal of her § 1981 discrimination claim was without prejudice. Five days later, Dr. Perry moved the District Court to enter final judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), as to the claims of which the District Court disposed on the merits. The District Court denied her motion, finding that, in the wake of Dr. Perry's voluntary dismissal of her sole remaining claim, it lacked jurisdiction to grant the Rule 54(b) motion.

         After receiving the parties' responses to our jurisdictional question, we held that we lacked jurisdiction to consider Dr. Perry's appeal because the District Court's order disposing of her counts was "non-final." Order of Aug. 28, 2015, Perry v. Schumacher Grp., No. 14-15600 (11th Cir. Aug. 28, 2015). On remand, Dr. Perry moved the District Court to dismiss her ยง 1981 discrimination claim with prejudice, and simultaneously filed a renewed motion for entry of final judgment. The District Court denied both motions, holding that it "lack[ed] ...


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