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McDonald v. Kansas City Southern Railway Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 3, 2017

SHARON MCDONALD INDIVIDUALLY & AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF ESTATE OF JOHNNIE MCDONALD, DECEASED
v.
KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY

         SECTION “R” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Kansas City Southern Railway Company (“KCS”) moves under Rule 12(b)(6), or alternatively for summary judgment, to enforce a settlement agreement with plaintiff Sharon McDonald, individually and as the personal representative of the Estate of Johnnie McDonald.[1] Because McDonald agreed to settle her claims for $135, 000, the Court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that Johnnie McDonald, her late husband, worked as a diesel mechanic and laborer for defendant KSC from 1970 to 2005.[2] Plaintiff further alleges that during that time, defendant negligently exposed Mr. McDonald to various carcinogenic or toxic substances, ultimately causing his premature death from lung and colon cancer.[3]

         On October 7, 2015, plaintiff sent an email to a KSC employee demanding ten million dollars as compensation for the loss of her husband and the suffering he endured as a result of his exposure to harmful substances while working for KSC.[4] On November 10, 2015, the KSC employee emailed plaintiff to say:

This is to confirm our telephone conversation today (Nov. 10, 2015) and our verbal agreement to settle Mr. Johnnie L. McDonald's claims regarding alleged career exposure and/or injury and “all claims” related to Mr. McDonald's employment with the Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR) for a gross amount of $135, 000.00.[5]

         Plaintiff replied on November 2, 2015 by email stating: “This is an acknowledgement of receipt of the proposed settlement of $135, 000.00 in which I accept.”[6] The KSC employee responded that written documents reflecting the settlement would be sent to plaintiff for her signature.[7] Plaintiff did not sign any documents, but rather, after about two months, attempted to reject the settlement.[8]

         On October 31, 2016, plaintiff sued defendant seeking recovery under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 (2012), personally and on behalf of her deceased husband.[9] Defendant now moves to dismiss plaintiff's claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that plaintiff entered into a binding settlement agreement that bars plaintiff's suit.[10] Plaintiff responds, and argues in part that defendant's motion should be converted to a motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff should be given additional time for discovery.[11]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Converting to Motion for Summary Judgment

         In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court must typically limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including their attachments. Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000). “If, on a motion under 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).[12] But uncontested documents referred to in the pleadings may be considered by the court without converting the motion to one for summary judgment, even when the documents are not physically attached to the complaint. See Great Plains Trust Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 313 (5th Cir. 2002) (finding that the district court properly considered documents not attached to the complaint in ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion). A court also may consider documents attached to a motion to dismiss without converting it to a summary judgment motion if the documents are referred to in the complaint and are central to the plaintiff's claim. Causey v. Sewell Cadillac-Chevrolet, Inc., 394 F.3d 285, 288 (5th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

         In its motion to dismiss, defendant asks the Court to consider several emails purporting to show that plaintiff entered a binding settlement agreement. The materials attached to defendant's 12(b)(6) motion are not referred to in plaintiff's complaint. When a party bases a motion to dismiss on matters outside the pleadings, the court has discretion either to accept the extraneous material and convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment, or to decide the motion, as defendant styled it, under the principles of Rule 12(b)(6). See Isquith for and on Behalf of Isquith v. Middle South Utilities, Inc., 847 F.2d 186, 194 (5th Cir. 1988) (recognizing district court's options); 5C Wright & Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1366 (3d ed.) (“[F]ederal courts have complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept the submission of any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and rely on it, thereby converting the motion, or to reject it or simply not consider.”).

         The Court finds that conversion to summary judgment will “facilitate the disposition of the action” by allowing the Court to resolve the question of whether a binding settlement agreement was reached. See 5C Wright & Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1366 (3d ed.) (recognizing that a district court is likely to accept extra-pleading material and convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment when the material is comprehensive and will enable a rational determination of a Rule 56 motion); Woods v. City of Galveston, 5 F.Supp.2d 494, 497 (S.D. Tex. 1998). Therefore, the Court will consider the email exhibits attached to defendant's motion as matters outside the pleadings and convert defendant's 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment.

         If a motion to dismiss is converted into a motion for summary judgment, the “nonmovant is entitled to the procedural safeguards of Rule 56.” Isquith, 847 F.2d at 195 (citation omitted). One of these safeguards is that “[t]he motion shall be served at least ten days before the time fixed for the hearing.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In other words, the nonmovant must have notice and at least ten days before summary judgment is rendered to submit additional evidence in opposition. Benchmark Electronics, Inc. v. J.M. Huber Corp., 343 F.3d 719, 725 (5th Cir. 2003). The court need not explicitly inform the nonmovant that the motion will be converted; it is sufficient that the nonmovant have notice that the court could consider material outside of the pleadings. Isquith, 847 F.2d at 195-96.

         Here, the requirement has been satisfied. Plaintiff received notice that the court could consider material outside the pleadings when defendant submitted exhibits with the motion to dismiss. See Isquith, 847 F.2d at 195-96. Plaintiff submitted a response ten days later, and the submission date for the motion was another thirteen days after that.[13] Plaintiff has been on notice that the Court could consider material outside the ...


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