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Harper-Cox v. Gateway-Detroit East, Gateway Community Health, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 11, 2015

LEMICA HARPER-COX, Plaintiff,
v.
GATEWAY-DETROIT EAST, GATEWAY COMMUNITY HEALTH, INC., and VIRGIL WILLIAMS, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

PATRICK J. DuGGAN, District Judge.

On August 6, 2014, Plaintiff Lemica Harper-Cox ("Plaintiff") filed this employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer Defendant Gateway-Detroit East, as well as Defendants Gateway Community Health, Inc., which owns the facility at which Plaintiff was employed, and Virgil Williams, Plaintiff's former supervisor (collectively, "Defendants"). In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges claims arising under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5 and 2000e-16(c), the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a, as well as various claims arising under the laws of the State of Michigan.

Defendants answered Plaintiff's Complaint on September 5, 2014, and subsequently filed a "Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claims" pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).[1] In this motion, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint on the basis of judicial estoppel. Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff should be judicially estopped from asserting her employment-related claims in this lawsuit because she failed to disclose the claims and took a contrary position in her voluntary Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. The pending motion has been fully briefed. Having determined that oral argument would not significantly aid the decisional process, the Court dispensed with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background and Institution of the Present Civil Action

Because neither the merits of Plaintiff's claims nor the sufficiency of Plaintiff's pleading is at issue in this action, the Court will not exhaustively detail the factual circumstances of Plaintiff's lawsuit or the allegations contained in the operative complaint. Rather, the Court focuses its attention on the facts relevant to the determination of whether judicial estoppel should apply to bar Plaintiff's claims. In light of this, the Court deems it sufficient to summarize the claims as involving alleged sexual harassment of Plaintiff by her former supervisor, Defendant Williams. The harassment caused Plaintiff to take medical leave, which the Complaint classifies as a reasonable accommodation for the mental and emotional impairments caused by Defendant Williams's conduct. On May 10, 2013, while Plaintiff was out on medical leave, Defendants terminated Plaintiff's employment.

As a result of the conduct summarized above, Plaintiff filed a number of charges of discrimination with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights ("MDCR") and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Plaintiff's first charge of discrimination alleged sexual and verbal harassment on account of gender, and was filed on March 11, 2013. (Compl. Ex. A.) The EEOC mailed Plaintiff a right-to-sue letter on April 9, 2014. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 10.[2]) Plaintiff's second charge, dated June 20, 2013, alleged a hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge as the result of the earlier charge of discrimination. (Compl. Ex. B.) The third and final charge of discrimination lodged by Plaintiff was filed on January 21, 2014. The EEOC mailed a right-to-sue letter corresponding with this charge on May 8, 2014. (Compl. Ex. D.)

Plaintiff instituted the present civil action by filing a seven-count complaint with this Court on August 6, 2014. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff's Complaint endeavors to state claims for violations of the ADA (Counts I-III), a violation of Title VII (Count IV), assault and battery against Defendant Williams (Count V), vicarious liability to hold Defendants Gateway-East and Gateway Community Health liable for the tortious acts of Defendant Williams (Count VI), and a violation of the Michigan Bullard-Plawecki Employee Right to Know Act (Count VII).

Defendants answered the Complaint on September 5, 2014. (ECF No. 11.) In their Answer, Defendants did not affirmatively plead judicial estoppel as an affirmative defense, but rather generically listed "estoppel" among the various affirmative defenses set forth in the pleading. Defendants filed the instant motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) on October 22, 2014. (ECF No. 14.) After extending the response deadline twice, Plaintiff responded to Defendants' Motion on December 18, 2014. (ECF No. 19.) Defendants replied on January 9, 2015. (ECF No. 20.)

B. Plaintiff's Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Proceedings

On October 6, 2013, after Plaintiff had filed two of three charges of discrimination with the MDCR and EEOC but before filing the instant action, Plaintiff and her husband, with the assistance of counsel, filed a joint voluntary Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, as well as the required schedules, in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. (Bankruptcy Pet., Defs.' Mot. Ex. 2.) Plaintiff also filed a Chapter 13 Plan and an Amended Chapter 13 Plan on October 6, 2013. (Defs.' Mot. Exs. 3, 4.) Two sections of the bankruptcy petition are of particular relevance here.

First, the "Schedule B - Personal Property" section of the bankruptcy petition, specifically item 21, required Plaintiff to list "[o]ther contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature, including tax refunds, counterclaims of debtor, and rights to setoff claims." (Bankruptcy Pet. 10.[3]) It is undisputed that Plaintiff did not list her discrimination claim against Defendants.

Second, item 4 of the "Statement of Financial Affairs" section of the bankruptcy petition required Plaintiff and her husband to "[l]ist all suits and administrative proceedings to which the debtor is or was a party within one year immediately preceding the filing of this bankruptcy case." (Id. at 32.) It is undisputed that the instant action is not listed in this section of the petition.

In December 2013, Plaintiff amended her schedules.[4] (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 5.) Plaintiff amended her schedules again and filed a second amended Chapter 13 Plan on February 20, 2014. (Defs.' Mot. Exs. 6, 7.) Plaintiff filed a third amended Chapter 13 Plan and amended schedules again on March 20, 2014. (Defs.' Mot. Exs. 8, 9.) Plaintiff's schedules were amended once more on April 16, 2014. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. 11.) Notably, this last amendment came seven days after the EEOC mailed the first of two ...


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