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Bazzelle v. Compass Pointe Healthcare System

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

November 18, 2016

DIANA BAZZELLE PLAINTIFF
v.
COMPASS POINTE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM d/b/a MAGNOLIA HEALTH AND REHABILITATION DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Compass Pointe Healthcare System's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (ECF No. 20). Defendant moves the Court to dismiss Plaintiff Diana Bazzelle's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff filed a response opposing the motion. (ECF No. 24). Defendant filed a reply in further support of its motion. (ECF No. 25). The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case is an employment-discrimination action brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”). Plaintiff is an African American woman who worked for Defendant from August 2014 to January 2015. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant engaged in discriminatory practices against her on the basis of age and race, retaliated against her for filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and improperly denied her medical leave pursuant to the FMLA. On December 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue on June 12, 2015. On July 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed a charge of retaliation with the EEOC. On September 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit against Defendant.[1] On September 16, 2015, the EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue related to Plaintiff's second charge.

         On August 20, 2010-prior to beginning work for Defendant-Plaintiff filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Arkansas. In addition to her Petition, Plaintiff filed sworn schedules describing her assets and indicating that she did not have any contingent legal claims. Periodically throughout the bankruptcy case, Plaintiff amended her schedules to update her income and expenses. On December 18, 2015, the bankruptcy court issued an Order Discharging Debtor, discharging $52, 312.43 of Plaintiff's unsecured claims without payment. On March 22, 2016, the bankruptcy case was closed. It is undisputed that at no time during the bankruptcy case did Plaintiff amend her bankruptcy petition or schedules to include her employment claims in the present lawsuit.

         In the instant motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Defendant argues that because Plaintiff failed to disclose her employment claims in the present lawsuit during her now-closed bankruptcy case, she asserted inconsistent claims in two courts of law-this Court and the bankruptcy court. Defendant states that, by discharging Plaintiff's unsecured debts, the bankruptcy court adopted the position that Plaintiff's employment claims did not exist. Defendant claims that Plaintiff's nondisclosure was not an inadvertent or good-faith mistake, and that Plaintiff would gain an unfair advantage if allowed to proceed in this case. Defendant concludes that the doctrine of judicial estoppel operates to prohibit Plaintiff from proceeding in the present case, and thus dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(c) is proper.

         In response to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff claims that her bankruptcy action was filed several years before the present lawsuit, and that the present lawsuit was not an “obvious asset.” Without citing any supporting authority, Plaintiff argues that there was no “clear” inconsistency between the two positions taken, that nothing in the record suggests that this Court or the bankruptcy court was misled, and that she would be harmed by dismissal of her case. Plaintiff concludes that the motion should be denied.

         In its reply to Plaintiff's response, Defendant argues that according to Eighth Circuit caselaw, Plaintiff has taken clearly inconsistent positions in the two matters. Defendant reiterates its argument that, by discharging Plaintiff's unsecured debts, the bankruptcy court adopted the position that her employment claims did not exist. Defendant argues further that, if not estopped, Plaintiff would enjoy an unfair advantage because she had a motive to conceal her employment claims from the bankruptcy court and did so, thus impairing the interests of both her creditors and the bankruptcy court. Defendant concludes that the Court should grant its motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismiss Plaintiff's case in its entirety.

         II. STANDARD

         For a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), a court shall apply the same legal standard as it does for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Ashley Cty., Ark. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint need only state factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only when there is no dispute as to any material facts and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Wishnatsky v. Rovner, 433 F.3d 608, 610 (8th Cir. 2006). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts are required to accept all of the complaint's well-pled allegations as true and resolve all inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Miller v. Redwood Toxicology Lab., Inc., 688 F.3d 928, 933 n.4 (8th Cir. 2012).

         When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court must generally ignore all materials outside the pleadings. Porous Media Corp. v. Pall Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir. 1999); see also 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 1357, at 376 (2004). However, courts may consider “some materials that are part of the public record or do not contradict the complaint . . . as well as materials that are necessarily embraced by the pleadings.” Porus Media Corp., 186 F.3d at 1079 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Stahl v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 327 F.3d 697, 700 (8th Cir. 2003) (“The district court may take judicial notice of public records and may thus consider them on a motion to dismiss.”). Judicial records are considered part of the public record. See Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (recognizing “a general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents”) (footnote omitted); see also Stutzka v. McCarville, 420 F.3d 757, 761 n.2 (8th Cir. 2005) (stating the court would consider a judgment entered in a federal bankruptcy case because “[courts] may take judicial notice of judicial opinions and public records”). The Eighth Circuit has instructed that EEOC charges are also within the public record. Faibisch v. Univ. of Minn., 304 F.3d 797, 803 (8th Cir. 2002).

         Defendant submitted five exhibits with its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings: (1) the voluntary petition filed by Plaintiff in her bankruptcy case; (2) the docket sheet from Plaintiff's bankruptcy case; (3) the charge of discrimination Plaintiff filed with the EEOC; (4) the charge of retaliation Plaintiff filed with the EEOC; and (5) the final report and account filed by the trustee in Plaintiff's bankruptcy case. The Court finds all five exhibits to be part of the public record. Thus, the Court takes judicial notice of these five exhibits and will consider them in the instant Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A court invokes judicial estoppel when a party abuses the judicial forum or process by making a knowing misrepresentation to the court or perpetrating a fraud on the court. Stallings v. Hussmann Corp., 447 F.3d 1041, 1047 (8th Cir. 2006). Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine which “prevents a party from asserting a claim in a legal proceeding that is inconsistent with a claim taken by that party in a previous proceeding.” New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 749 (2001). The purpose of the doctrine “is to protect the integrity of the judicial process and to prevent ...


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