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Meles v. Avalon Health Care, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 31, 2017

ALAM MELES, Plaintiff,
v.
AVALON HEALTH CARE, LLC d/b/a TREVECCA HEALTH CARE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          ALETA A. TRAUGER United States District Judge

         Pending before the court is a Motion to Recover Costs of Previously Dismissed Action filed by the defendant (Docket No. 7), to which the plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 11), and the defendant has filed a Reply (Docket No. 16). For the reasons discussed herein, the motion will be granted in part.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 7, 2014, the plaintiff in this employment action, Alem Meles, initiated a prior lawsuit against the defendant, her former employer Avalon Health Care, LLC d/b/a Trevecca Health Care (“Trevecca”), in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, bringing claims for several violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. (“Title VII”) and the Tennessee Human Rights Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101, et seq. (“THRA”), as well as claims for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, 20 U.S.C. § 2611, et seq. (“FMLA”). (Complaint, Meles v. Avalon Health Care, Case No. 3:14-cv-1487, 2015 WL 5568060 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 22, 2015) (“Meles I”), Docket No. 1-1.) On July 22, 2014, that action was removed to the Middle District of Tennessee. (Notice of Removal, Meles I, Docket No. 1.) The trial in that action was initially set for October 20, 2015. (Meles I, Docket No. 11.)

         On September 22, 2015, this court issued a Memorandum and Order, granting summary judgment in favor of Trevecca as to the Title VII and THRA claims, but allowing the FMLA claims (for both interference and retaliation) to proceed, subject to the sanction, under Rule 37, that Ms. Meles would not be permitted at trial to introduce any evidence aside from her own testimony during her case in chief. (Meles I, Docket Nos. 30-31.) A more detailed discussion of the factual allegations, claims, and procedural history to that point can be found in the court's Memorandum (Meles I, Docket No. 31) and will not be repeated herein.

         On October 7, 2015, approximately two weeks before trial was initially set to occur, the court issued two Orders, one granting the parties' joint Motion for Mediation and the other scheduling a settlement conference before the Magistrate Judge for the following day. (Meles I, Docket Nos. 41, 42.) The settlement conference was ultimately unsuccessful.

         On October 8, 2015, Ms. Meles filed an unopposed Motion to Continue the trial date in order to discuss with her counsel the summary judgment decision, litigation strategy, and the possibility of an out-of-court settlement. (Meles I, Docket No. 43.) This motion was granted the following day (Meles I, Docket No. 45), at which time the court also reset the trial for January 12, 2016 (Order, Meles I, Docket No. 47).

         On December 12, 2016, at the request of the parties, the action was referred to the Magistrate Judge for another settlement conference (Order, Meles I, Docket No. 50), which, again, was ultimately unsuccessful (Meles I, Docket No. 54). On January 4, 2016, approximately one week before trial was scheduled for the second time, the parties filed a joint stipulation of voluntary dismissal without prejudice (Meles I, Docket No. 55), which was signed by the court the following day (Meles I, Docket No. 56).

         On March 7, 2016, Ms. Meles filed the currently pending action as an entirely new lawsuit. (Docket No. 1), which was initially assigned to a different judge than the judge who had overseen the prior action.[1] The Complaint in this second action brings only a claim for violations of the FMLA, which are based on the exact same factual allegations as the prior action.[2]

         On March 17, 2016, the court issued an Order granting Ms. Meles's request to proceed in forma pauperis in this action. (Docket No. 5.)

         On April 29, 2016, Trevecca filed the currently pending Motion to Recover Costs of Previously Dismissed Action, along with a Memorandum in support and an attached Affidavit of Costs by Chen Ni, counsel for Trevecca. (Docket Nos. 7, 8.) Trevecca argues that, under Rule 41(d), it is entitled to recover the costs associated with the prior action, Meles I. According to the Ni Affidavit, the costs incurred by Trevecca in Meles I totaled $3, 363.41. (Docket No. 8-1.) Those costs are broken down as follows: $400 in filing fees for the Notice of Removal from state court in the prior action, $237.46 in unspecified online research costs, $2, 574.75 in costs for deposing Ms. Meles, including court reporter fees and interpreter fees (further broken down to show that $499.75 of those costs were incurred for an initial scheduled deposition of Ms. Meles to which she did not show up, and $2, 075 was incurred for a second scheduled deposition, which Ms. Meles did attend), and $151.20 in obtaining the EEOC filings associated with the first action. (Id.) Also on April 19, 2016, Trevecca filed a Motion to Stay Litigation pending the recovery of costs from the previous action under Rule 41(d)(2). (Docket No. 9.)

         On May 9, 2016, Ms. Meles filed a Response in opposition to the Motion to Recover Costs, arguing that she voluntarily dismissed her prior action in order to discuss with her counsel the appropriate settlement amount she should accept and in light of language barriers that obstructed her ability to communicate freely with her counsel. (Docket No. 11.) Ms. Meles also asserts that the filing of the instant action “was precipated by the elevation of Defense counsel to the Federal Bench and the belief that it was in her best interests to proceed in that manner.”[3](Id., p. 2.) Finally, Ms. Meles argues that, because she is bringing this action in forma pauperis (having been terminated from her menial position with Trevecca and unable to secure employment elsewhere), the awarding of fees would pose an undue burden that might deny her the ability to proceed with the litigation. Ms. Meles does not specifically challenge the amount of fees requested by Trevecca. Also on May 9, 2016, Ms. Meles filed a Response in Opposition to Trevacca's Motion to Stay. (Docket No. 12.)

         On May 19, 2016, Trevecca filed a Reply to its Motion to Recover Costs.

         On January 11, 2017, upon reassignment of this case to Judge Trauger, the court issued an Order denying Trevecca's Motion to Stay. (Docket No. 25.) As of this time, the parties had taken renewed discovery in this action, and a Motion for Summary Judgment by Trevecca had already been filed (and currently remains ...


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