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Culotta v. Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government

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

July 20, 2018

THOMAS JOSEPH CULOTTA, II
v.
LAFAYETTE PARISH CONSOLIDATED GOVERNMENT and LAFAYETTE PARISH SHERIFF'S OFFICE

          WHITEHURST MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court are two unopposed Motions for Summary Judgment (Record Documents 50 and 52) filed on behalf of Defendants the Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government (“LCG”) and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office (“LPSO”), through its Sheriff, Mark A. Garber, in his individual and official capacity, and LPSO Officers yet to be named, in their individual and official capacities (hereinafter collectively referred to as “the Defendants”).[1] The Defendants seek dismissal of the claims of Plaintiff Thomas Joseph Culotta, II (“Culotta”) on the ground of judicial estoppel. See id. For the reasons which follow, the Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED based on the doctrine of judicial estoppel without prejudice to the rights of a Chapter 7 trustee to pursue the claims if Culotta's bankruptcy case is reopened and converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation within a reasonable period of time.

         BACKGROUND

         Culotta filed this action on January 20, 2017, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of, inter alia, the Fourth Amendment (based upon his allegedly unlawful arrest and detention) and the Fourteenth Amendment (based upon his conditions of confinement while detained) arising from an incident that occurred on January 21, 2016.[2]See Record Document 50-3 at ¶8. He alleges that he was physically injured as a result of a forcible arrest, that his reputation has been damaged, and that he has lost business and business opportunities because he was falsely arrested.

         Culotta filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy on August 30, 2016. See id. at ¶5. His original Chapter 13 plan was confirmed on February 13, 2017, and on May 23, 2017, the Bankruptcy Court issued a final decree in the case, discharging Culotta's debts. See Id. at ¶¶9-11. Culotta never disclosed the existence of this lawsuit to the Bankruptcy Court. See id. at ¶12. As part of his initial bankruptcy filing, he completed Official Form 1065 and responded in the negative to an inquiry of whether he had “any claims against third parties, whether or not you have filed a lawsuit or made a demand for payment. Examples: accidents, employment disputes, insurance claims or rights to sue.” Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. At no time between the initial bankruptcy petition and the final decree did Culotta amend, modify or supplement his bankruptcy filings or schedules to inform the Bankruptcy Court or his creditors of his claims. See id. at ¶12.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Summary Judgment Standard.

         Summary judgment is proper pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Quality Infusion Care, Inc. v. Health Care Serv. Corp., 628 F.3d 725, 728 (5th Cir. 2010).[3] “Rule 56[(a)] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553 (1986).

         “A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553 (internal quotations omitted). If the moving party fails to meet this initial burden, the motion must be denied, regardless of the nonmovant's response. See Tubacex, Inc. v. M/V Risan, 45 F.3d 951, 954 (5th Cir.1995).

         If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, “the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Gen. Universal Sys., Inc. v. Lee, 379 F.3d 131, 141 (5th Cir. 2004). Where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant, then summary judgment should be granted. See Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Where the parties dispute the facts, the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769 (2007). In sum, the motion for summary judgment “should be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. at 2553.

         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. 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.

         In the present matter, Culotta has not filed an opposition to the Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment. On April 27 and May 1 of 2018, this Court issued two separate “Notice Of Motion Setting” documents (Record Documents 51 and 53) giving Culotta fourteen calendar days to file an opposition. To date, no opposition has been filed. Thus, all of the material facts set forth by the Defendants have not been controverted and are hereby deemed admitted.[4] See Record Document 50-3.

         II. ...


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