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Torres v. Precision Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

May 23, 2017




         Before the Court is the motion of Defendant Precision Industries, Inc. to stay the proceedings in this case. (ECF No. 15.) Defendant contends that this lawsuit should not move forward until all costs have been fully resolved and paid in Plaintiff's previous lawsuit in Tennessee state court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(d). Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition (ECF No. 20), to which Defendant has replied (ECF No. 28), making the matter ripe for adjudication. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. State Court Proceedings

         On October 19, 2012, Ricardo Torres and Adriana Chavira filed suit in the Circuit Court of Hardeman County, Tennessee against Precision Industries, Terry Hedrick, and Vicki Hedrick, claiming wrongful termination. (ECF No. 20-1.) The plaintiffs alleged that Torres was fired from his employment at Precision Industries because he hired an attorney and attempted to file a workers' compensation claim after being injured on the job. (Id. at 2.) They further alleged that Chavira, Torres' co-habiting partner and co-parent of three minor children, was subsequently fired because of her close, intimate relationship with Torres. (Id. at 3.) The case proceeded through discovery, which included requests for admission (ECF No. 20-3), depositions (ECF Nos. 20-4, 28-1), interrogatories (ECF No. 28-2), and requests for production (id.). On December 23, 2013, the court granted summary judgment to the defendants regarding Torres' retaliatory discharge claim on standing grounds. (ECF No. 20-5.) Torres appealed this decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which ruled in his favor and reversed the trial court. See Torres v. Precision Indus., No. W2014-00032-COA-R3CV, 2014 WL 3827820 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 5, 2014). By mid-2016, the trial court had ruled on two motions in limine. (See ECF Nos. 15-3, 15-5.) On October 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for a voluntary dismissal, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 40.01. (ECF No. 15-6.)

         B. Case No. 1:16-cv-01319-STA-egb

         Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on December 19, 2016, bringing substantially the same claim as before, alleging wrongful termination in connection with a claim for workers' compensation under Tennessee common law. (ECF No. 1.) While this case contains fewer parties than the action in state court, it shares one plaintiff and one defendant from that case. Defendant now moves to stay the proceedings in this case and requests an order requiring that Plaintiff pay the costs incurred in his state court case before this action moves forward. (ECF No. 15.)


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(d) provides that

         If a plaintiff who previously dismissed an action in any court files an action based on or including the same claim against the same defendant, the court:

         (1) may order the plaintiff to pay all or part of the costs of that previous action; and

         (2) may stay the proceedings until the plaintiff has complied. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(d). The purpose of the rule is “to serve as a deterrent to forum shopping and vexatious litigation, ” Duffy v. Ford Motor Co., 218 F.3d 623, 633 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting Esquivel v. Arau, 913 F.Supp. 1382, 1386 (C.D. Cal. 1996)), “especially by plaintiffs who have suffered setbacks in one court and dismiss to try their luck somewhere else.” Rogers v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 230 F.3d 868, 874 (6th Cir. 2000) (quoting Robinson v. Nelson, No. 98- 10802-MLW, 1999 WL 95720, at *2 (D. Mass. Feb. 18, 1999)). To this end, a court may consider the plaintiff's motive in dismissing the previous action and a showing of bad faith is not required. Duffy, 218 F.3d at 633 (citing Loubier v. Modern Acoustics, Inc., 178 F.R.D. 17, 22- 23 (D. Conn. 1998)). “[A]n award under the rule lies within the sound discretion of the trial court, ” Hython v. City of Steubenville, 94 F.3d 644 (6th Cir. 1996), and “a number of courts have expressed reluctance to exercise their discretion to award costs under Rule 41(d) when the result would be to deprive innocent plaintiffs of their day in court due to their inability to pay the defendant's costs, ” Duffy, 218 F.3d at 632 (collecting authority).


         Defendant avers that Plaintiff has engaged in the sort of vexatious, forum shopping conduct that Rule 41(d) seeks to deter. Specifically, Defendant focuses on the state court's denial of two motions in limine, in which Plaintiff sought to exclude evidence of his immigration status, [1] his prior arrest and conviction for theft, and “his psychological treatment for fear of African-Americans.” (ECF No. 15-3; see ECF No. 15-5.) When Plaintiff moved for permission to file an interlocutory appeal as to the motion regarding his immigration status, the court ...

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