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Marshall v. Sandersville Railroad Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

June 10, 2015

BENJAMIN LEE MARSHALL, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
SANDERSVILLE RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

ORDER

MARC T. TREADWELL, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Sandersville Railroad Company's motion for summary judgment or, alternatively, partial summary judgment. (Doc. 28). For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Benjamin Marshall and his wife Rebecca Marshall filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition on August 19, 2004, in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Georgia. (Doc. 28-1 at 15, 22). The bankruptcy plan was confirmed on November 12, 2004. (Doc. 28-2 at 1). According to the trustee, the Marshalls never missed a plan payment and made their final payment on October 7, 2009. (Doc. 41, ¶ 4). The trustee testifies in her affidavit that on October 8, 2009, she sent a letter to Mrs. Marshall's employer, with copies to Mrs. Marshall and her attorney, notifying the employer that it was no longer necessary to make deductions from Mrs. Marshall's paycheck. (Docs. 40 at 3; 41, ¶ 4). On February 12, 2010, the bankruptcy court granted the Marshalls a discharge and closed the bankruptcy case. (Doc. 28-2 at 4-5).

On November 8, 2009, Marshall and fellow employee Jimmy Strowbridge were fouling a track on Defendant Sandersville Railroad Company's rail line. (Docs. 35 at 60:1-7, 62:12-14; 37 at 11:1-14:25; 51:21-25). Specifically, they were grinding switch points with a large rail grinder machine. (Doc. 35 at 63:20-23). Without the assistance of a tractor or other machine, Marshall and Strowbridge attempted to manually move the rail grinder by hand, carrying it on opposite ends. (Doc. 35 at 80:8-15, 84:21-85:6). In his deposition, Marshall testifies that while they were moving the machine, Strowbridge slipped on a rock, causing him to drop his end. (Doc. 35 at 80:14-15, 86:25-87:12). Marshall held on to his end, and his lower back was jerked, causing pain. (Doc. 35 at 80:12-23, 87:16-88:17). He then met with the superintendent to report his injury and submitted an accident report. (Doc. 35 at 106:13-107:3). Marshall continued to perform light tasks through the rest of 2009 before leaving the railroad company. (Doc. 35 at 112:15-19).

On October 23, 2012, Marshall filed the present lawsuit pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act[1] ("FELA") based on the November 8, 2009 incident. (Doc. 1). In response to the Defendant's interrogatories, Marshall answered that he had been a party to a bankruptcy proceeding and received his bankruptcy discharge in October 2009.[2] (Doc. 28-2 at 16). However, the Defendant discovered that Marshall actually received his discharge in February 2010. As a result, the Defendant moved for summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel. (Doc. 28).

Between the time of his alleged injury on November 8, 2009, and the close of the bankruptcy case on February 12, 2010, Marshall never amended the bankruptcy asset schedule to disclose the potential claims against the Defendant arising from the November 8 incident. (Doc. 28-1 at 22). In their affidavits, Marshall and his wife testify that they considered their obligations to the bankruptcy court to be over by October 2009 because deductions were no longer being taken from Mrs. Marshall's paycheck as no more payments needed to be made. (Docs. 40, ¶¶ 4, 6; 42, ¶¶ 4, 6). On November 24, 2014, after being alerted to the correct discharge date in the Defendant's motion, Marshall's counsel ensured that Marshall's bankruptcy case was reopened, and his asset schedule was amended. (Docs. 30-1, ¶ 4; 38, ¶ 12; 39, ¶¶ 7-12; 41, ¶ 6). The trustee was then reappointed. (Doc. 41, ¶ 6). However, the trustee testifies that she does not plan to move to modify the bankruptcy plan because all plan payments had been made before the FELA claims arose. (Doc. 41, ¶¶ 5-6).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

1. Generally

A court must 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). A factual dispute is not genuine unless, based on the evidence presented, "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Info. Sys. & Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th Cir. 1991)); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The movant may support its assertion that a fact is undisputed by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

The burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must rebut the movant's showing "by producing... relevant and admissible evidence beyond the pleadings." Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1315 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). The non-moving party does not satisfy its burden "if the rebuttal evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative' of a disputed fact." Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). Further, where a party fails to address another party's assertion of fact as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), the Court may consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). However, "credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.... The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

2. Judicial Estoppel

As discussed below, judicial estoppel is the threshold inquiry in this case. Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine that may be invoked at the court's discretion to estop a party who has taken inconsistent positions under oath with the intent to make a mockery of the judicial system. Burnes v. Pemco Aeroplex, Inc., 291 F.3d 1282, 1285 (11th Cir. 2002). Even at the summary judgment stage, district courts can make factual findings regarding whether a party intended to make a mockery of the judicial system by taking inconsistent positions or whether a party acted inadvertently. Robinson v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 595 F.3d 1269, 1275 (11th Cir. 2010). A finding of inadvertence or the existence of a genuine issue of material fact regarding intent makes granting summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel improper. See Burnes, 291 F.3d at 1286; Ajaka v. Brooksamerica Mortg. Corp., 453 F.3d 1339, 1346 (11th Cir. 2006) (reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel where there was a genuine issue of fact regarding intent). If appealed, a court's application of the doctrine is ...


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