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Torres v. Precision Industries, Inc.

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

November 14, 2017

RICARDO TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
PRECISION INDUSTRIES, INC., a/k/a P.I., Inc., Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS AND/OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT BASED UPON THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Motion of Defendant-which was named in the Complaint (ECF No. 1) as Precision Industries, Inc., a/k/a P.I., Inc., but filed its Answer (ECF No. 10) as P.I., Inc., a/k/a Precision Industries and has referred to itself solely as P.I., Inc., in its subsequent filings-to Dismiss and/or for Summary Judgment Based upon the Statute of Limitations (ECF No. 31). Defendant moves to dismiss-or in the alternative, for summary judgment on- Plaintiff Ricardo Torres's diversity action under Tennessee law on the basis that Tennessee's savings statute did not toll the statute of limitations when Plaintiff initially filed suit in state court because Plaintiff did not actually sue Defendant. Plaintiff instead sued “Precision Industries” in the prior action. But Plaintiff asserts that Defendant nonetheless participated in the suit as “P.I., Inc., ” identified itself as “Precision Industries” in its separation notice to Plaintiff, and caused the entirety of this confusion by failing to register with the Tennessee Secretary of State. For reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

         I. PROPER MOTION BEFORE THE COURT

         At the outset, the Court finds it appropriate to determine whether it should consider Defendant's Motion as a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment. When a party moving under Rule 12(b)(6) presents matters outside the pleadings and the court does not exclude the materials, the court must treat the Rule 12(b)(6) motion as a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Before converting a motion to dismiss, the Court must give the parties “a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion.” Id. But notice is required only to the extent that “one party is likely to be surprised by the proceedings.” Wysocki v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., 607 F.3d 1102, 1105 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Shelby Cty. Health Care Corp. v. S. Council of Indus. Workers Health & Welfare Tr. Fund, 203 F.3d 926, 931 (6th Cir. 2000); Salehpour v. Univ. of Tenn., 159 F.3d 199, 204 (6th Cir. 1998)). The necessity of prior notice “depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case.” Id. (quoting Salehpour, 159 F.3d at 204).

         The Court finds it appropriate to convert Defendant's Motion to Dismiss to a Motion for Summary Judgment without additional notice to the parties. Here, both parties have not only presented Statements of Facts (ECF Nos. 31-2, 35-1, 35-2, & 37-1) that rely on affidavits and other documents but also utilized these Statements of Facts in their respective arguments. Further, Plaintiff had not just notice of this possibility but in fact asks the Court to consider the instant Motion as a motion for summary judgment. Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss and/or for Summ. J. Based upon the Statute of Limitations, at 8, June 15, 2017, ECF No. 35 [hereinafter “Pl.'s Resp.”] (“As such, the Court should treat Defendant's Motion under the Rule 56 summary judgment standard.”). Accordingly, the Court will proceed as if Defendant has moved for summary judgment against Plaintiff.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not disputed by the Parties unless otherwise noted. See Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., May 18, 2017, ECF No. 31-2 [hereinafter “Def.'s Statement of Facts”]; Pl.'s Resps. to Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., June 15, 2017, ECF No. 35-1 [hereinafter “Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Statement of Facts”]; Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, June 15, 2017, ECF No. 35-2 [hereinafter “Pl.'s Statement of Facts”]; Def s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, June 29, 2017, ECF No. 37-1 [hereinafter “Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Facts”]. Defendant is a Nevada Corporation that operates a business in Whiteville, TN, building torque converters for the automotive industry. Defendant employed Plaintiff from January 5, 2011, to September 7, 2012. Defendant provided the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development with a C20 form dated May 21, 2012, regarding Plaintiffs workplace injury from a few days prior. That form listed Defendant's name as “Precision Industries.” Defendant also issued Plaintiff a Separation Notice, dated September 7, 2012, that listed its name as “Precision Industries.” The 2012 Property Tax Receipt for 120 Independence Drive, Whiteville, TN, which is the principal place of business for Defendant and where Plaintiff worked, was paid by “Hedrick Terry Etux Vicki DBA Precision Industries.”[1] Defendant's Articles of Incorporation list its Board of Directors as three persons including President, Secretary, and sole-shareholder, Terry Hedrick and his spouse, Vicki Hedrick, as Treasurer.

         Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in Hardeman County Circuit Court for retaliatory discharge on October 19, 2012, against “Precision Industries, ” Terry Hedrick, and Vicki Hedrick. Defendant was served with process and filed an Answer as “PI., Inc., d/b/a Precision Industries.” Defendant has consistently stated that “Precision Industries” is the name under which it does business and “P.I., Inc., ” is the name of Plaintiff s employer, i.e., Defendant, rather than Terry and Vicki Hedrick. Defendant regularly listed its name as “P.I., Inc., ” in its Hardeman County filings but would designate itself as “Precision” within each document. At the time the Hardeman County lawsuit began, neither “Precision Industries” nor “P.I., Inc., ” was registered with the Tennessee Secretary of State. And Defendant did not register itself with the Tennessee Secretary of State, pursuant to section 48-15-101(a)[2] of the Tennessee Code Annotated, until April 30, 2013, and it did so as “PITC, INC.” Through an Order entered May 10, 2013, the Circuit Court of Hardeman County granted Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint to add “P.I., Inc., ” as a defendant. Plaintiff neither filed an amended complaint adding “P.I., Inc., ” as a defendant in the Hardeman County case nor served Defendant with such a complaint.[3]

         On December 23, 2013, Hardeman County Circuit Court granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment based on Plaintiff's lack of standing as an undocumented worker. Plaintiff appealed the Order to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which reversed. Defendant then unsuccessfully appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The case was remanded back to the Hardeman County Circuit Court, where the court eventually granted Plaintiff's Motion for Voluntary Dismissal on November 10, 2016. Plaintiff filed this action on December 19, 2016.

         III. STANDARD OF LAW

         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must review all the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Roell v. Hamilton Cty., 870 F.3d 471, 479 (6th Cir. 2017) (citing Watson v. Cartee, 817 F.3d 299, 302 (6th Cir. 2016)). It “may not make credibility determinations []or weigh the evidence.” Laster v. City of Kalamazoo, 746 F.3d 714, 726 (6th Cir. 2014). “The burden is generally on the moving party to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists, but that burden may be discharged by ‘showing . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.'” Bennett v. City of Eastpointe, 410 F.3d 810, 817 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)). When the motion is supported by documentary proof such as depositions and affidavits, the nonmoving party may not rest on his pleadings but, rather, must present some “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324; Eastham v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C, 754 F.3d 356, 360 (6th Cir. 2014). These facts must be more than a scintilla of evidence and must meet the standard of whether a reasonable juror could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the nonmoving party is entitled to a verdict in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The Court must enter summary judgment “against a party who fails to . . . [meet the burden] that party will bear . . . at trial.” Celotex Corp, 477 U.S. at 322.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiffs claim is barred by the statute of limitations. Defendant states that “[t]he statute of limitations for Tennessee actions for retaliatory discharge based on a plaintiffs filing of a claim for workers' compensation is one year from the date of the termination of the employee.”[4] Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss and/or for Summ. J. Based Upon the Statute of Limitations, at 5, May 18, 2017, ECF No. 31-1 [hereinafter “Def.'s Mem.”] (citing Headrick v. Union Carbide Corp., 825 S.W.2d 424, 425-26 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991)). Plaintiff was terminated on September 7, 2012, and filed this lawsuit against Defendant on December 19, 2016. Therefore, goes Defendant's argument, this action is barred by the statute of limitations. Defendant accurately states the statute of limitations. The Tennessee Supreme Court's decision in Weber v. Moses says as much, relying on the Tennessee Court of Appeals's Headrick decision in addition to the provision of the Tennessee Code Annotated setting forth the statute of limitations for personal injury actions. 938 S.W.2d 387 (Tenn. 1996) (citing Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104; Headrick, 825 S.W.2d 424; Van Cleave v. McKee Baking Co., 712 S.W.2d 94 (Tenn. 1986)) (“A claim for retaliatory discharge is a tort action which is governed by the general tort statute of limitations which requires that a lawsuit be ‘commenced within one (1) year after the cause of action accrued . . . .'”).

         Tennessee has a savings statute, however, that permits, “[i]f the action is commenced within the time limited by a rule or statute of limitation, but the judgment or decree is rendered against the plaintiff upon any ground not concluding the plaintiff's right of action . . . the plaintiff . . . may . . . commence a new action within one (1) year . . . .” Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-105(a). Based upon the undisputed facts before the Court, Plaintiff's Hardeman County action was timely filed in October 2012 and dismissed in November 2016 without an adjudication on the merits. Plaintiff then filed this action in December 2016. Thus, the savings statute seems facially applicable. But Defendant argues that it is not. Defendant asserts that the Tennessee savings statute does not apply because Plaintiff never brought a timely action against Defendant by naming “P.I., Inc., ” in the action. The Hardeman County Circuit Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Amend his Complaint to that effect, but Plaintiff never did so. Defendant alternatively argues that the Court should apply the doctrine of laches because Plaintiff sat on his rights by having notice that Defendant was not properly named in the Hardeman County suit but not formally adding Defendant to the same. For his part, Plaintiff first argues that Defendant waived its argument on this point entirely by failing to raise this issue before participating in the ...


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