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Cluesman v. United States

March 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge


The plaintiffs' malpractice complaint is before the Court on the defendant's motion for summary judgment. [Doc. 18]. The defendant alleges that the claims of Eileen Cluesman are barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel and that the remaining plaintiffs' claims are barred for failure to exhaust their respective administrative remedies. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED.


In 2002, James Earl Cluesman, a United States Army Veteran, was receiving medical treatment at the United States Department of Veteran Affairs Hospitals in Murfreesboro and Mountain Home, Tennessee. Following Mr. Cluesman's release from the Veterans' Administration Hospital in mid-March, 2002, Mr. Cluesman violently assaulted his spouse, Eileen Cluesman, causing her severe injuries. Later the same day, Mr. Cluesman committed suicide.

On October 29, 2003, Mrs.Cluesman filed an administrative claim for damages with the Department of Veteran Affairs ("VA"). At the time of the filing this claim, Mrs. Cluesman was represented by counsel. Mrs. Cluesman's administrative claim stated that she was seeking $600,000.00 for personal injury and $600,000.00 for wrongful death. In the space provided for listing the name and address of the claimant on the administrative claim form, only Mrs. Cluesman and her attorney were listed. Additionally, an attachment to the administrative claim form describing in more detail the basis for Mrs. Cluesman's claim is styled "Eileen Cluesman Claimant v. Department of Veteran Affairs." Neither the administrative claim form nor Mrs. Cluesman's attachments make any mention of the estate of Mr. Cluesman, that Mrs.Cluesman is the personal representative of the estate or acting in that capacity, nor of any children or other beneficiaries of Mr. Cluesman's estate.

While the administrative claim was pending, Mrs. Cluesman filed, on May 6, 2004, a Voluntary Petition (Chapter 7) in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. The Statement of Financial Affairs filed with Mrs. Cluesman's bankruptcy petition made no mention of her administrative proceeding filed with the VA, nor did Mrs. Cluesman indicate any contingent interest in the estate of the decedent or any other contingent claims of any nature.

On June 15, 2004, Mrs. Cluesman attended the Section 341 Meeting and Examination of Debtor, during which she was given an opportunity to correct her bankruptcy filings. Rather than made any corrections, Mrs. Cluesman confirmed that her filings were accurate. Based upon Mrs. Cluesman's representations, the bankruptcy trustee filed a Report of No Assets. On September 1, 2004, the Bankruptcy Court entered an order of discharge, and a final decree closing the bankruptcy case on September 21, 2004.

Plaintiff alleges that she received a final denial of her claim from the VA on August 23, 2005. The plaintiffs filed their complaint in this Court on February 21, 2006. After receiving notice of this case from the government, the Chapter 7 Trustee filed a motion to reopen Mrs. Cluesman's bankruptcy case, identifying this case as a contingent asset of the bankruptcy estate.

Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue of material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party bears the initial burden of proving that no material facts exist, and the court must draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. A court may grant summary judgment when the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. Once the moving party has proved that no material facts exist, the non-moving party must do more than raise a metaphysical or conjectural doubt about issues requiring resolution at trial. Agristor Fin. Corp. v. Van Sickle, 967 F.2d 233, 236 (6th Cir.1992) (citations omitted).

In accordance with long standing summary judgment principles, this Court must construe the evidence in this record most favorably for the plaintiff because she is the litigant opposing summary judgment. E.g., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88(1986); Scott v. Clay County, 205 F.3d 867, 871 (6th Cir.2000). As explained by the Sixth Circuit in Scott,

"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 v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) (citation omitted). See also Eastman Kodak v. Image Technical Services, 504 U.S. 451, 456, 112 S.Ct. 2072, 119 L.Ed.2d 265 (1992); Adams v. Metiva, 31 F.3d 375, 378-79 (6th Cir.1994). (emphasis added)

Id. at ...

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