United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga
Steger, Magistrate Judge
L. COLLIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a motion by Defendant Megan J. Brennan,
Postmaster General, for summary judgment on the specific
issue of judicial estoppel. (Doc. 85.) Plaintiff has
responded in opposition (Doc. 89), and Defendant has replied
(Doc. 91). The Court will GRANT
Defendant’s motion for summary judgment for the reasons
set out below.
August 28, 2012, Plaintiff Edward Lyles
(“Plaintiff”), a United States Postal Service
(“USPS”) carrier, was involved in a mail truck
accident, which resulted in injury to a minor child. (Doc. 2
at 2.) Plaintiff’s supervisors investigated the
incident, ultimately recommending Plaintiff be removed from
his position. (Id.) Plaintiff was terminated on
September 13, 2012, and he filed a formal complaint with the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)
on December 12, 2012. (Doc. 2 at 3.) Plaintiff alleged his
termination was based on racial discrimination and was in
retaliation for his prior complaints to the EEOC in March and
October 2011. (Id.) The EEOC denied
Plaintiff’s complaint in a Final Agency Decision on
March 14, 2014, and he was advised of his right to file suit.
(Doc. 85-1 at 6.) Plaintiff appealed the decision to the
Office of Federal Operations, which affirmed the
Agency’s decision on April 21, 2015. (Id. at
26.) Plaintiff requested reconsideration of the decision, but
the request was denied on September 25, 2015. (Id.
this time, Plaintiff’s union, the National Association
of Letter Carriers, filed a grievance on Plaintiff’s
behalf contesting his termination. (Doc. 54-3 at 3.) After
reaching an impasse in November 2012, the union and USPS
submitted the dispute for arbitration. (Id.) On
March 4, 2013, the arbiter concluded that USPS failed to
prove Plaintiff was at fault for the vehicle accident and
thus he should not have been terminated. (Id. at
13.) Plaintiff was reinstated that same day and received full
back pay. (Id.)
September 19, 2013, Plaintiff filed for Chapter 13
bankruptcy. (In re Lyles, No. 1:13-bk-14664-NWW, Doc
The bankruptcy court accepted his bankruptcy plan on November
8, 2013, but the case was ultimately dismissed on December
17, 2015, for failure to make plan payments. (In re
Lyles at Docs. 25, 43.)
December 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a civil suit against USPS
raising the same claims he alleged in his 2012 EEOC
complaint, namely that his termination was based on racial
discrimination and in retaliation for prior EEOC activity in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Doc.
2.) Plaintiff is seeking equitable relief and compensatory
damages. (Id.) Service of process was properly
completed on April 25, 2017. (Docs. 27, 46.) Defendants
answered on June 19, 2017 (Doc. 28), and amended their answer
to raise the issue of judicial estoppel on June 21, 2019
the Court now is Defendant’s motion for summary
judgment on the specific issue of judicial estoppel.
Defendant contends Plaintiff failed to include his claim
against USPS in his Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing and thus is
judicially estopped from raising that same claim in this
case. (Doc. 85.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is proper when “the movant shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). The moving party bears the burden of showing no
genuine issue of material fact remains. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Leary v.
Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 897 (6th Cir. 2003).
moving party meets its initial burden, “the non-moving
party must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with
specific facts to demonstrate that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Chao v. Hall Holding Co., Inc.,
285 F.3d 415, 424 (6th Cir. 2002). A genuine issue for trial
exists if there is “evidence on which the jury could
reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Rodgers v.
Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252
(1986)) (internal quotations omitted). In addition, should
the non-moving party fail to provide evidence to support an
essential element of its case, the movant can meet its burden
by pointing out such failure to the court. Street v. J.C.
Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479 (6th Cir. 1989).
summary judgment, the court’s role is limited to
determining whether the case contains sufficient evidence
from which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248–49. The court should
view the evidence, including all reasonable inferences, in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Nat’l
Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900,
907 (6th Cir. 2001). If the court concludes, based on the
record, that a fair-minded jury could not return a verdict in
favor of the non-movant, the court should grant summary
judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251–52;
Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th
Court will first address Plaintiff’s claim that the
doctrine of laches precludes application of judicial
estoppel. The Court will then discuss the application of
judicial estoppel if laches does not preclude its
Whether the Doctrine of Laches Precludes Application of
contends the doctrine of judicial estoppel should not even be
considered because Defendant “failed to raise judicial
estoppel for over three years of this litigation to the
prejudice of [Plaintiff].” (Doc. 89 at 4.)
Specifically, Plaintiff argues Defendant could easily have
checked PACER for bankruptcy filings or served written
discovery on Plaintiff and discovered his prior bankruptcy.
(Id.) Instead, Plaintiff contends Defendant did not
act with diligence by failing to take such steps to learn of
his bankruptcy. (Id.) Plaintiff thus appears to be
invoking the doctrine of laches.
argues laches does not apply to judicial estoppel and, even
assuming it could, it does not apply here. (Doc. 91.)
Defendant notes service of process was not officially
completed until April 2017, meaning Defendant has only been
part of the lawsuit for about two years. (Id.)
Defendant further explains that Plaintiff filed a motion for
partial summary judgment on March 6, 2018, which was not
resolved until August 16, 2018. (Id.) The government
shutdown further delayed proceedings until February 6, 2019.
(Id.) Defendant contends that when she finally was
able to engage in normal discovery, she learned of
Plaintiff’s bankruptcy based on medical records
received on May 28, 2019. (Id.) Defendant
investigated the bankruptcy, learned the EEO claim had not
been disclosed, and filed the amended answer on June 14,
2019. (Id.) Defendant asserts her choice not to
serve written discovery on Plaintiff is not evidence of lack
of diligence, but rather demonstrates an economical
litigation strategy that benefited Plaintiff. (Id.)
Defendant claims the record shows an active and diligent
effort to defend the action. (Id.)
this circuit, laches is ‘a negligent and unintentional
failure to protect one’s rights.’”
United States v. City of Loveland, Ohio, 621 F.3d
465, 473 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Herman Miller, Inc. v.
Palazzetti Imp. & Exp., Inc., 270 F.3d 298, 320 (6th
Cir. 2001)). “A party asserting laches must show: (1)
lack of diligence by the party against whom the defense is
asserted, and (2) prejudice to the party asserting it.”