United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division
O. Hickey United States District Judge.
the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendants AutoZone Stores, LLC, (“AutoZone
Stores”) and Randy Magness (“Magness”). ECF
No. 73. Plaintiff Joseph Townsend (“Townsend”)
has filed a response. ECF Nos. 83 and 86. Defendants have
filed a reply. ECF No. 89. In addition, Defendants have filed
a motion for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927. ECF
No. 73. Townsend has responded to that motion (ECF Nos. 83
and 86), and Defendants have filed a reply. ECF No. 89. The
Court finds this matter ripe for its consideration.
reasons explained below, Defendants' motion for summary
judgment will be granted. Defendants' motion for
attorneys' fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 is
is an African-American male who previously worked at AutoZone
retail stores. Townsend began his tenure with AutoZone in
1995 and was ultimately promoted to a full-time position as a
Parts Sales Manager. Townsend was transferred between
multiple AutoZone stores throughout the course of his
employment and was employed at the Texarkana, Texas, store in
April 2011, Townsend was transferred from the AutoZone store
in Texarkana, Texas, to the store in Magnolia, Arkansas. The
circumstances concerning the decision to transfer Townsend
are a major point of dispute between the parties. The
Regional Human Resources Manager, Ronnie Mongioi
(“Mongioi”), made the recommendation to transfer
Townsend, according to Defendants. Defendants assert that
Mongioi's recommendation was partly based on the
excessive number of Parts Sales Managers in Texarkana and the
need for a Parts Sales Manager in Magnolia. Defendants
further maintain that Mongioi believed that the transfer
would be advantageous to Townsend because the Magnolia
location was closer to Townsend's home than the store in
Texarkana. Defendants contend that other considerations in
the decision to transfer Townsend included Townsend's
desire to advance within the company, as well as the belief
that Townsend would benefit from the mentorship of Mareia
Bell, who was the Store Manager of the Magnolia store at the
point of dispute between the parties is what part Magness
played, if any, in the decision to transfer Townsend. At the
time the decision was made to transfer Townsend, Magness was
the District Manager in charge of the AutoZone stores in
Texarkana and Magnolia. Defendants maintain that Mongioi
contacted Magness to recommend that Townsend be transferred
from the Texarkana store. Magness concurred with
Mongioi's recommendation and subsequently informed
Townsend of the decision to transfer him to the Magnolia
takes issue with the proffered reasoning behind the decision
to transfer him. Specifically, Townsend maintains that the
transfer was prompted, at least in part, by Magness's
view that Townsend “played the race card.”
According to Townsend, the transfer was effected so that
Magness could orchestrate Townsend's eventual termination
from the company.
parties appear to agree that Townsend initially objected to
being transferred. Sometime after learning of the decision,
Townsend maintains that he approached Magness to voice his
opposition, to which Magness replied, “Boy . . .
I'm going to transfer you whether you like it or
not.” It is undisputed that Townsend later contacted
Lonnie Nicholson (“Nicholson”), the Regional
Manager, in May 2011, to inform him of his objection to the
transfer. According to Townsend, Nicholson responded that the
transfer violated company policy and that Nicholson promised
to look into the matter. Townsend maintains that Nicholson
never followed through with his promise to investigate the
matter. While the parties dispute whether Townsend ultimately
approved of the decision, he was eventually transferred to
the Magnolia store.
tenure at the Magnolia store did not last long. The
circumstances surrounding Townsend's termination revolve
around Townsend's return of a car wash set in June 2011.
The parties do not appear to dispute that the item was
previously returned and marked with a “manager's
dispose” sticker, which meant that the item should have
been discarded. According to Defendants, Townsend claimed
that the car wash set was defective. Townsend returned the
car wash set by using his wife's name and driver's
license to process the return despite her nonattendance of
the transaction. While the parties appear to dispute whether
Bell or Magness reported the transaction, upper management
was eventually notified and an investigation was conducted.
to Defendants, the investigation revealed that the item had
been returned in January 2011 and was marked with a
“manager's dispose” sticker. Based on these
findings, along with a statement given by Townsend concerning
the incident, Defendants assert that Mongioi recommended that
Townsend be terminated on the basis that he falsified company
documents. Defendants specifically take the position that
Townsend violated company policy by returning an item that
had been marked for disposal, signing his wife's name,
and using her driver's license number to complete the
return as if his wife was the customer returning the item.
Defendants maintain that Nicholson accepted Mongioi's
recommendation and decided to terminate Townsend's
employment for falsification of company documents.
on October 2, 2015, Townsend initiated the instant lawsuit in
the Circuit Court of Lafayette County, Arkansas. The action
was removed to this Court on April 20, 2016. Townsend's
Amended Complaint, filed in the Lafayette County Circuit
Court, alleges race-based failure-to-promote and discharge
claims against AutoZone Stores, AutoZoners, LLC
(“AutoZoners”), and Magness pursuant to the
Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”) and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1981. The Amended Complaint further alleges that
AutoZone Stores, AutoZoners, and Magness retaliated against
Townsend in violation of the ACRA and Section 1981. Townsend
also asserts Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (“AMWA”)
claims against AutoZone Stores, AutoZoners, and Magness for
denial of overtime wages.
November 4, 2016, the Court issued an Order granting in part
and denying in part a motion to dismiss filed by Defendants.
ECF No. 33. Notably, the Court's Order dismissed all
claims against AutoZoners. Pursuant to the Court's Order,
the following claims remain in this action: the ACRA and
Section 1981 race discrimination claims against AutoZone
Stores; the ACRA and Section 1981 retaliation claims against
AutoZone Stores and Magness; and the AMWA claims against
AutoZone Stores and Magness.
28, 2017, Defendants filed the instant motion for summary
judgment. Defendants specifically argue that they are
entitled to summary judgment as to all claims against
AutoZone Stores on the basis that Townsend has no evidence
demonstrating that AutoZone Stores was his employer.
Defendants' motion also seeks dismissal of all claims
asserted against Magness. In addition, Defendants move the
Court for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1927 and the Court's inherent powers.
Summary Judgment Standard
party moves for summary judgment, “[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.
56(a); Krenik v. Cty. of LeSueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957
(8th Cir. 1995). This is a “threshold inquiry of . . .
whether there is a need for trial - whether, in other words,
there are genuine factual issues that properly can be
resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably
be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); see
also Agristor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732, 734 (8th
Cir. 1987). A fact is material only when its resolution
affects the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it
could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either
party. Id. at 252.
Court must view the evidence and the inferences reasonably
drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d
743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden
of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact
and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Id. The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the
existence of specific facts in the record that create a
genuine issue for trial. Krenik, 47 F.3d at 957. A
party opposing a properly supported motion for summary