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Sammons v. Baxter

January 31, 2007

THADDEUS B. SAMMONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM BAXTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Mattice

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Thaddeus B. Sammons brings this action against William Baxter, in his official capacity as a Director of the Tennessee Valley Authority ("TVA"), alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.

Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Local Rules and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, to Strike, and for Summary Judgment.

For the reasons explained below, Plaintiff's Motion for Relief from Local Rules and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, to Strike, and for Summary Judgment are GRANTED.

I. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM LOCAL RULES

A. Background

On June 26, 2006, this case was transferred to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. [Court Doc. No. 18.] A scheduling conference was originally set to occur on July 28, 2006. [Court Doc. No. 19.] The scheduling conference was continued at the request of Plaintiff and rescheduled for August 24, 2006. [Court Doc. Nos. 20, 21.]

The scheduling conference was then continued a second time, this time at the request of Defendant, and rescheduled for September 22, 2006. [Court Doc. Nos. 22, 23.] The scheduling conference was then continued a third time, this time at the request of Plaintiff, and rescheduled for November 3, 2006. [Court Doc. Nos. 27, 28.] The scheduling conference occurred on November 3, 2006. [Court Doc. No. 29.]

On August 29, 2006, Defendant William Baxter filed his Motion to Dismiss, to Strike, and for Summary Judgment. [Court Doc. No. 24.] Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(a) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(e), Plaintiff's response to such motion was due on September 21, 2006. Plaintiff did not file a response or a motion requesting an extension of time by that date. Subsequently, on November 7, 2006, and again on November 8, 2006, Plaintiff filed the instant motion requesting relief from Local Rule 7.1(a) and permission to late-file a brief in response to Defendant's motion. Defendant opposes Plaintiff's motion.

B. Analysis

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b) provides that a court, in its discretion, may enlarge the time under which an act was to be done, provided that (1) cause is shown for such enlargement and (2) if the request for enlargement is made after the expiration of the original period within which the act was to be done, the failure to act within the original period was the result of excusable neglect. "Although inadvertence, ignorance of the rules, or mistakes construing the rules do not usually constitution 'excusable' neglect, it is clear that 'excusable neglect' under Rule 6(b) is a somewhat elastic concept and is not limited strictly to omissions caused by circumstances beyond the control of the movant." Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. Ltd., 507 U.S. 380, 392 (1993) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Accordingly, in determining whether a failure to file before the expiration of a deadline was the result of excusable neglect, the Court must balance five factors: (1) the danger of prejudice to the opposing party, (2) the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, (3) the reason for the delay, (4) whether the delay was within the reasonable control of the late-filing party, and (5) whether the late-filing party acted in good faith. Nafziger v. McDermott Int'l, Inc., 467 F.3d 514, 522 (6th Cir. 2006).

With respect to the first factor, Defendant argues that it would be prejudiced by Plaintiff's late-filed response because Defendant had reason to believe that, as a result of the delay in filing a response, its motion was unopposed and had been submitted to the Court for decision. The Court concludes, however, that the prejudice to Defendant caused by the allowance of a late response would be minimal. Although Local Rule 7.2 permits the Court to deem that a party has waived opposition to a motion as a result of its failure to timely file a response, such a waiver of opposition in the context of a summary judgment motion does not automatically result in the Court granting the motion. Rather, pursuant to well-established precedent, in the context of a summary judgment motion, the Court must still examine the record and determine whether the movant has met its burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Stough v. Mayville Cmty. Sch., 138 F.3d 612, 614 (6th Cir. 1998); Wilson v. City of Zanesville, 954 F.2d 349, 351 (6th Cir. 1992); Carver v. Bunch, 946 F.2d 451, 454-55 (6th Cir. 1991). Thus, because a party seeking summary judgment must meet its burden as movant regardless of whether the non-movant files a response and is not entitled to the relief requested simply as a result of the non-movant's failure to file a response, the allowance of a late-filed response is only minimally prejudicial to the movant. The first factor weighs in favor of permitting the late-filed response.

With respect to the second factor, Defendant argues that the length of delay in the filing of Plaintiff's response has already impacted judicial proceedings and will continue to do so. The Court, however, finds that, although the length of delay in the filing of Plaintiff's response is not insignificant, its impact on these proceedings is minimal. Defendant's motion was filed on August 29, 2006, and Plaintiff's response to such motion was due on September 21, 2006. On November 7, 2006, Plaintiff sought permission to late-file his response and subsequently filed such response on November 14, 2006-nearly eight weeks after such response was due. While the Court recognizes that a delay of eight weeks is not insignificant, the Court cannot find that such delay adversely impacted these judicial proceedings since, during those eight weeks, a scheduling conference was held, and this case otherwise continued to proceed. Further, the trial of this matter is scheduled to occur on June 19, 2007, so the late-filed response would not affect the trial date or any other deadlines associated with the trial. Thus, the second factor likewise weighs in favor of permitting the late-filed response.

With respect to the third factor, Plaintiff states that he did not respond to Defendant's motion within the time specified under Local Rule 7.1(a) because of the postponement of the scheduling conference and because Plaintiff's counsel was waiting for the Court to formalize the dates for the events in this case. As noted by Defendant, the requirements of Local Rule 7.1(a) with regard to the briefing schedule for dispositive motions is completely unconnected to the date of any scheduling conference held by the Court. Regardless of when the Court holds its scheduling conference, Local Rule 7.1(a) ...


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