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Hobson v. Prudhomme

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

January 9, 2019




         Before the court are the following motions: 1) motion for summary judgment [doc. # 80] filed by defendants Leevelma Prudhomme and Amanda Tolliver; 2) motion to amend witness list [doc. # 82] filed by plaintiff Gregory Hobson; and 3) motion to amend exhibit list [doc. # 83] also filed by Gregory Hobson. The motion for summary judgment is opposed. For reasons detailed below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED, and plaintiffs' motions are DENIED.


         On March 17, 2016, Gregory Fitzgerald Hobson filed the instant pro se “Complaint for Defamation of Character” against Leevelma Prudhomme in the 4th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana. (Compl.) Hobson alleged that he was a victim of vicious, defamatory attacks perpetrated by Prudhomme - the owner of a certain cell phone number. He further alleged that Prudhomme falsely accused him of stalking, harassment, and violating the terms of a protective order obtained by her daughter, Amanda Lashay Tolliver, that ultimately culminated in Hobson's arrest on charges of stalking and for violating the protective order(s). Hobson asserted causes of action for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment/arrest, defamation, wantonness, negligence, gross negligence, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He requested $262, 100 in compensatory and punitive damages, plus declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the retraction of the statements and expungement from his record.

         On April 18, 2016, Prudhomme, represented by counsel, removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Notice of Removal). On August 1, 2016, plaintiff amended his complaint to join Prudhomme's daughter, Amanda Lashay Tolliver. [doc. # 10]. Aside from joining Tolliver, the amended complaint simply re-asserted the allegations from the original complaint.

         On September 8, 2016, defendants filed an improvident motion to dismiss, which was denied. [doc. #s 19, 25, & 27]. However, upon noticing that criminal charges were pending against Hobson as a result of defendants' alleged defamatory statements that formed the basis for this suit, the court stayed the matter, pending resolution of the criminal charges. See Oct. 10 and Nov. 10, 2016, Orders [doc. #s 26 & 31]. Following defendants' desultory responses to the court's repeated entreaties for status reports regarding the underlying criminal proceedings, the court lifted the stay on January 23, 2018, and issued a scheduling order that, inter alia, set a pretrial conference for August 15, 2018, and a jury trial on September 17, 2018. [doc. #s 42 & 44].

         Apparently, the parties did very little to prepare this matter for trial in the intervening six months between the issuance of the scheduling order and the pretrial conference. In fact, when they failed to submit a proposed pretrial order as required by the scheduling order, the court was constrained to continue the pretrial conference until the following week. See Minutes [doc. # 46]. At the pretrial conference, the court granted permission to defense counsel to file an out-of-time motion for summary judgment on behalf of defendant, Prudhomme, pursuant to defendant, Tolliver's admission that all of the statements at issue in the case were made by her. (Aug. 20, 2018, Minutes [doc. # 49]).

         On August 28, 2018, Prudhomme filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of plaintiff's claims against her. [doc. # 52]. In support of her motion, Prudhomme submitted two statements under penalty of perjury that did not comply with all of the requirements for a declaration under 28 U.S.C. § 1746. The court raised this issue and accorded movant the opportunity to correct the deficiency. [doc. # 61]. When defendant failed to do so, the court denied the motion for summary judgment. (Sept. 6, 2018, Order [doc. # 63]).

         Nevertheless, upon review of plaintiff's extensive pretrial submissions and exhibits, the court's earlier impression that plaintiff's defamation claims were not yet ripe was confirmed. Accordingly, the court deferred start of the trial date, and held a September 17, 2018, hearing on the ripeness of plaintiff's claims. See doc. #s 67 & 71. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court continued the trial without date, and ordered plaintiff to notify the court when, and if all related state criminal cases were resolved in his favor. (Sept. 17, 2018, Minutes [doc. # 71]). The undersigned further granted defendants leave to file a motion for summary judgment. Id.

         On October 12, 2018, defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of plaintiff's claims on the merits. Defendants argue that any statements made by defendants to the authorities regarding Hobson were privileged and protected. In support of their motion, defendants submitted, inter alia, two unsworn declarations from Tolliver and Prudhomme, which were undated, and therefore, yet again not complaint with 28 U.S.C. § 1746.

         On November 2, 2018, plaintiff filed his opposition to the motion. [doc. # 84]. On November 9, 2018, defendants filed their reply brief. [doc. # 85]. Meanwhile, on October 26 and November 2, 2018, plaintiff filed his respective motions to amend witness and exhibit lists. The matter is ripe.


         I. Summary Judgment

         a) Principles

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the evidence before the court 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). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         “[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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247). “The moving party may meet its burden to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by pointing out that the record contains no support for the non-moving party's claim.” Stahl v. Novartis Pharm. Corp., 283 F.3d 254, 263 (5th Cir. 2002). Thereafter, if the non-movant is unable to identify anything in the record to support its claim, summary judgment is appropriate. Id.

         In evaluating the evidence tendered by the parties, the court must accept the evidence of the non-movant as credible and draw all justifiable inferences in its favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. While courts will “resolve factual controversies in favor of the non-moving party, ” an actual controversy exists only “when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air. Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). There can be no genuine dispute as to a material fact when a party 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., 477 U.S. at 322-323. The non-moving party may not rely merely on the allegations and conclusions contained within the pleadings; rather, the non-movant “must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996). The non-movant does not satisfy his burden merely by demonstrating some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by setting forth conclusory allegations and unsubstantiated assertions, or by presenting but a scintilla of evidence. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (citations omitted).

         Moreover, “summary judgment is appropriate in any case ‘where critical evidence is so weak or tenuous on an essential fact that it could not support a judgment in favor of the nonmovant.'” Little, supra (citation omitted) (emphasis in original). In sum, “[a]fter the non-movant has been given the opportunity to raise a genuine factual issue, if no reasonable [trier of fact] could find for the non-movant, summary judgment will be granted.” Mississippi River Basin Alliance v. Westphal, 230 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2000) (citation omitted).

         The court finds that summary judgment in favor of defendants is appropriate in this case but on a different basis, at least in part, than that advocated by defendants. Specifically, the court finds that plaintiff's claims arising out of defendants' actions that occurred prior to March 16, 2015, either are untimely or premature. For plaintiff's cause of action stemming from Tolliver's reporting plaintiff to the police for violating the terms of a protective order in November 2015, the court finds that plaintiff does not enjoy a viable claim, and that defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Although the court may render summary judgment sua sponte on the basis of prescription, or any other ground when appropriate, it typically must provide the parties with advance notice. Terrebonne Par. Sch. Bd. v. Columbia Gulf Transmission Co., 290 F.3d 303, 310 (5th Cir.2002). However, notice comes in many forms, and this court consistently has observed that plaintiff's defamation claims are premature. See Oct. 12, 2016, Order [doc. # 26]. Moreover, in the order dated October 12, 2016, the undersigned cited a case that dismissed the plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress as untimely. Id. (citing Alexander v. Nixon, Civ. Action No. 15-2300, 2015 WL 9997250 (W.D. La. Dec. 15, 2015), R&R adopted sub nom. Edward v. Nixon, Civ. Action No. 15-2300, 2016 WL 427931 (W.D. La. Feb. 3, 2016).[2]

         Certainly, if plaintiff harbors a good faith argument, and/or evidence, sufficient to rebut or overcome this court's analysis and findings as set forth below, he may bring the matter to the court's attention pursuant to a prompt and timely motion for new trial.

         b) Governing Law

         Under the Erie doctrine, federal courts sitting in diversity apply state substantive law and federal procedural law.” Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427, 116 S.Ct. 2211(1996); see also Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 58 S.Ct. 817 (1938). In diversity cases, federal courts apply state laws on limitations, including accrual, and tolling. Hensgens v. Deere & Co., 869 F.2d 879, 880 (5th Cir. 1989); Milton v. Stryker Corp., 551 Fed.Appx. 125, 127 (5th Cir. 2014) (applying Texas law on accrual in diversity case).

         Here, neither side contests that the substantive issues in this case are governed by Louisiana law. See In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 206 (5th Cir. 2007) (deferring to the parties' agreement that Louisiana substantive law controlled);[3]Jefferson v. Lead Indus. Ass'n, 106 F.3d 1245, 1250 (5th Cir. La. 1997) (applied Louisiana law where no party disputed that Louisiana law governed).[4] Furthermore, where, as here, Louisiana's substantive law applies to ...

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