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Williams v. Smiddy

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

October 26, 2017

SHERIKA WILLIAMS
v.
CODY SMIDDY, ET AL

          KAREN HORNSBY MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment [Record Document 20] filed by the Defendants, Cody Smiddy, TruCore Energy, LLC, and State National Insurance Company, which prays for this Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims with prejudice and at her cost. Plaintiff has opposed the motion. Record Document 23. Upon consideration of the briefs filed by the parties and for the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgement is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Sherika Williams (“Williams”), filed this personal injury suit on August 22, 2016, in the Louisiana First Judicial District Court in Caddo Parish. In her petition, Williams alleged that she suffered injuries arising out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on March 12, 2016, when a vehicle in which she was a passenger was struck by a truck driven by Defendant, Cody Smiddy (“Smiddy”). Record Document 1-2. At the time, Smiddy was acting in the course and scope of his employment with Defendant, TruCore Energy, LLC (“TruCore”). Id.; Record Document 14-3, p. 1. Williams brought her suit against Smiddy, TruCore, and TruCore's insurer, State National Insurance Company. The suit was removed to federal court on November 16, 2016.

         On April 13, 2016, after the accident occurred but before filing this personal injury suit, Williams filed for bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the District of Nevada. The claim which gives rise to the present suit was not included as a financial asset on the “Schedule A/B: Property” form filed in the bankruptcy action.[1] On July 19, 2016, the bankruptcy court confirmed Williams' Chapter 7 bankruptcy and an order of discharge was issued. Record Document 20-2. It appears that, in response to the filing of this personal injury suit, the bankruptcy case was re-opened in January 2017 for the purpose of administering assets. Record Document 23-2, 23-3. On March 16, 2017, the bankruptcy court issued an order allowing the law firm of Dudley DeBosier to represent the bankruptcy estate in the present suit. Record Document 20-3. The order was docketed in this case as Plaintiff's proof of authority to pursue this personal injury claim on behalf of the bankruptcy estate. Record Document 18. Defendants then filed this motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed.

         STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) directs that a court “shall grant summary judgment if 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.”[2] Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, answers to interrogatories, admissions, depositions, and affidavits on file indicate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). When the burden at trial will rest on the non-moving party, the moving party need not produce evidence to negate the elements of the non-moving party's case; rather, it need only point out the absence of supporting evidence. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-323.

         If the movant satisfies its initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact with the motion for summary judgment, the nonmovant must demonstrate that there is, in fact, a genuine issue for dispute at trial by going “beyond the pleadings” and designating specific facts for support. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). “This burden is not satisfied with ‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, '” by conclusory or unsubstantiated allegations, or by a mere scintilla of evidence. Id. (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). However, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1985) (internal citations omitted); Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 577, 578 (5th Cir. 1986) (the court must “review the facts drawing all inferences most favorable to the party opposing the motion”). While not weighing the evidence or evaluating the credibility of witnesses, courts should grant summary judgment where the critical evidence in support of the nonmovant is so weak and tenuous that it could not support a judgment in the nonmovant's favor. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

         Additionally, Local Rule 56.1 requires the moving party to file a statement of material facts as to which it contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. Pursuant to Local Rule 56.2, the party opposing the motion for summary judgment must set forth a “short and concise statement of the material facts as to which there exists a genuine issue to be tried.” All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party “will be deemed admitted, for purposes of the motion, unless controverted as required by this rule.” Local Rule 56.2.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         In their motion, Defendants argue that judicial estoppel should operate to bar Plaintiff's claim due to her failure to list the claim on her bankruptcy petition and filings. Judicial estoppel is a common law doctrine that prevents a litigant from assuming inconsistent positions for self-interest. In re Superior Crewboats, Inc., 374 F.3d 330, 334 (5th Cir. 2004). “It is ‘an equitable doctrine invoked by a court at its discretion' to ‘protect the integrity of the judicial process.'” Reed v. City of Arlington, 650 F.3d 571, 574 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 749-50 (2001)). The doctrine “must be applied in such a way as to deter dishonest debtors, whose failure to fully and honestly disclose all their assets undermines the integrity of the bankruptcy system, while protecting the rights of creditors to an equitable distribution of the assets of the debtor's estate.” Reed, 650 F.3d at 574. In assessing whether judicial estoppel should apply, this Court must find that three elements are satisfied: “(1) the party against whom judicial estoppel is sought has asserted a legal position which is plainly inconsistent with a prior position; (2) a court accepted the prior position; and (3) the party did not act inadvertently.” Id. Despite these elements, the Fifth Circuit has noted that "judicial estoppel is not governed by ‘inflexible prerequisites or an exhaustive formula for determining [its] applicability, ' and numerous considerations ‘may inform the doctrine's application in specific factual contexts.'" Love v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 677 F.3d 258, 261 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. at 751).

         A. Application of the Estoppel Elements

         First, Plaintiff has asserted a legal position that is inconsistent with her earlier position. In her bankruptcy proceedings, she did not disclose her pending claim even though the accident giving rise to the claim had already occurred. She had a duty to disclose the claim, but did not, and in failing to do so, she essentially made a representation that no claim existed. See In re Superior Crewboats, Inc., 374 F.3d at ...


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