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Browne v. P.A.M. Transport, Inc.

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

December 31, 2019

DAVID BROWNE, ANTONIO CALDWELL, and LUCRETIA HALL, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated PLAINTIFFS
v.
P.A.M. TRANSPORT, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment on the Claims of Named Plaintiff Antonio Caldwell and Opt-In Plaintiffs Based on Estoppel (Doc. 151) and a Memorandum Brief (Doc. 152) and Statement of Facts in Support (Doc. 153) by P.A.M. Transport ("PAM") and John Doe Defendants (collectively, "Defendants"). Plaintiffs filed a Response (Doc. 169), and Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 179). The matter is now ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 151).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendants seek summary judgment against Named Plaintiff Antonio Caldwell and forty-eight Opt-In Plaintiffs on the basis of judicial estoppel. PAM previously raised this argument in its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 56). In its ruling, the Court denied the motion without prejudice, holding that the question was fact-intensive and not appropriate for a Rule 12(c) motion. (Doc. 82, p. 13).

         Mr. Caldwell and his wife filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition and proposed plan in the Eastern District of Arkansas on June 20, 2014. He then made at least four amendments to this proposed plan before the plan was confirmed by the bankruptcy court in April 2015. Mr. Caldwell submitted two more amendments to the bankruptcy plan in May 2015, and the bankruptcy court confirmed an amended plan on June 3, 2015. In August of that year, Mr. Caldwell began working for PAM. He was employed by PAM for a little more than five months, ending his employment in late January 2016. On December 9, 2016, Mr. Caldwell and fellow Named Plaintiffs David Browne and Lucretia Hall initiated this action. Mr. Caldwell submitted another modified plan in his bankruptcy proceeding in August 2017, adding a new creditor, but did not inform the bankruptcy court that this case had been filed. In November of that year, Mr. Caidwell disclosed his bankruptcy proceeding in response to Defendants' interrogatories. His modified bankruptcy plan was confirmed by the bankruptcy court on January 31, 2018. Throughout this period, Mr. Caldwell also submitted amended schedules to the bankruptcy court but did not indicate that he had initiated this litigation. In May 2018, PAM filed its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in which it first raised the issue of judicial estoppel. On June 26, 2018, Mr. Caldwell filed an amended Schedule A/B in his bankruptcy case, listing for the first time the instant "lawsuit for unpaid wages and liquidated damages" under category 21 of personal property, "other contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature." (Doc. 169-6). He indicated that the current value of his interest is "unknown." Id. As of the writing of this opinion, Mr. Caldwell's bankruptcy proceeding remains active.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         "Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine invoked by a court at its discretion" in order to "prevent improper use of judicial machinery." New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 750 (2001). Courts invoke judicial estoppel "to protect the integrity of the judicial process by prohibiting parties from deliberately changing positions according to the exigencies of the moment." Id. at 749-50 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "The circumstances under which judicial estoppel may appropriately be invoked are probably not reducible to any general formulation of principle." Id. However, the Supreme Court offers three factors to consider in determining whether to apply the doctrine:

First, a party's later position must be clearly inconsistent with its earlier position. Second, courts regularly inquire whether the party has succeeded in persuading a court to accept that party's earlier position, so that judicial acceptance of an inconsistent position in a later proceeding would create the perception that either the first or the second court was misled. Absent success in a prior proceeding, a party's later inconsistent position introduces no risk of inconsistent court determinations, and thus poses little threat to judicial integrity. A third consideration is whether the party seeking to assert an inconsistent position would derive an unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment on the opposing party if not estopped.

Id. at 750-51 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Eighth Circuit has cautioned that "[c]ourts should only apply the doctrine as an extraordinary remedy when a party's inconsistent behavior will result in a miscarriage of justice." Stallings v. Hussmann Corp., 447 F.3d 1041, 1049 (8th Cir. 2006).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Named Plaintiff Caldwell

         The Court first turns to the matter of judicial estoppel as to Named Plaintiff Antonio Caldwell. Both parties have provided the Court with copies of documents from Mr. Caldwell's bankruptcy proceedings, and the Court finds it appropriate to take judicial notice of these filings as public records. See Bazzelte v. Compasspointe Healthcare System, 2016 WL 6832643, at *2 (W.D. Ark. Nov. 18, 2016) (so holding in the context of a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings).

         1. Inconsistent Positions

         The Court first considers whether Mr. Caldwell has taken inconsistent positions in his bankruptcy proceeding and before this Court. Defendants assert that because Mr. Caldwell failed to disclose this action on the modified plan confirmed by the bankruptcy court after this litigation began and did not update his Schedule A/B until after Defendants brought the matter to his attention, he has taken the position before the bankruptcy court that this action does not exist while he attempts to litigate it here, a clearly inconsistent position. In support, Defendants direct the Court to multiple cases in which the Eighth Circuit has agreed with a lower court that a plaintiff took inconsistent positions in his or her bankruptcy proceeding and before the district court. See Stallings, 447 F.3d at 1049 (bankruptcy petitioner's "failure to amend his bankruptcy schedules to include his [post-petition] claim against [his employer] represented to the bankruptcy court that no such claims existed," and his position was inconsistent with his subsequent filing of those claims in federal district court); see also Van Horn v. Martin,812 F.3d 1180, 1183 (8th Cir. 2016) (same); Jones v. Bob Evans Farms, Inc.,811 F.3d 1030, 1033 (8th Cir. 2016) (same); E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited Inc.,679 F.3d 657, 679 (8th Cir. 2012) (same). In each of these cases, however, the plaintiff ultimately had his or her bankruptcy discharged or dismissed without having ever amended the relevant schedules. See Stallings, 447 F.3d at 1045; Van Horn, 812 F.3d at 1182; Bob ...


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