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Wilkey v. Management & Training Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

March 15, 2017

RUSS WILKEY, as Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of Jeffrey James PLAINTIFF
v.
MANAGEMENT & TRAINING CORPORATION DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH H. MCKINLEY, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion by Management & Training Corporation (“MTC”) for judgment on the pleadings (DN 25), as well as the motion by Russ Wilkey, as Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of Jeffrey James (“Wilkey”), for leave to file a surreply in regards to the present motion. (DN 34.) Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED, and the motion for leave to file a surreply is DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. Background

         Jeffrey James was employed by MTC until April 16, 2014, when he was terminated. (Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1-1] ¶ 18.) According to James, he was terminated because of testimony he gave at a deposition that supported a former coworker's claims of racial discrimination against MTC. (Id. ¶ 24.)

         On February 2, 2015, James filed a petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. (Petition for Bankruptcy [DN 25-3].) However, in his bankruptcy petition, James failed to list any potential claim for unlawful termination as an asset as he was required to do. (Id.) The Bankruptcy Court issued a final decree and closed the action on May 5, 2015. (Bankruptcy Discharge [DN 25-4].)

         Thereafter, James filed the present action on July 17, 2015, in Union Circuit Court, asserting one claim of unlawful termination in violation of KRS § 344.280, and MTC timely removed to this Court. (DN 1.)

         James did not disclose his bankruptcy proceedings to either MTC or his counsel in this action until his deposition on June 27, 2016. (Dep. Jeffrey James [DN 25-6] at 14:7.) After this disclosure, James moved the Bankruptcy Court to reopen his case to amend his list of assets to include the present claim. (Mot. to Reopen [DN 25-7].) The Bankruptcy Court allowed the case to be reopened and amended his schedule of assets, and it subsequently closed the case again on October 26, 2016. (See Docket Sheet [DN 25-9] at 3.) The bankruptcy case was opened one more time, on November 2, 2016, so as to appoint James' counsel in the present suit as counsel for the bankruptcy trustee. (Order Approving Retention of Special Counsel and its Fees [DN 25-11] at 1.) This Court granted James' motion to substitute Russ Wilkey as trustee of his bankruptcy estate as the party plaintiff in this action on January 18, 2017. (DN 29.)

         MTC has now moved for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that Wilkey, as trustee, should be judicially estopped from asserting James' claim due to his failure to list the claim as an asset in his bankruptcy proceedings. (DN 25-1.) Wilkey has timely responded in opposition to this motion (DN 32), and MTC has filed its reply. (DN 33.) Wilkey also now moves the Court for leave to file a surreply in the present matter (DN 34), to which MTC objects. (DN 35).

         II. Standard of Review

         The standard of review for a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings “is the same as for a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a court “must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to [non-moving party], ” League of United Latin American Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007), and determine whether the non-moving party “undoubtedly” can prove no set of facts in support of its position. Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 399-400 (6th Cir. 1999). “[T]he motion may be granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.” Poplar Creek Development Co. v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 636 F.3d 235, 240 (6th Cir. 2011).

         However, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) states that “[i]f, on a motion under Rule 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.” See also Northville Downs v. Granholm, 622 F.3d 579, 585 (6th Cir. 2010) (“Rule 12(c) requires only one action by the district court for the conversion to a summary judgment motion to occur: failure to exclude presented outside evidence”). The decision of whether to consider evidence beyond the pleadings and convert a motion for judgment on the pleadings into one for summary judgment is committed to the discretion of the Court. Friends of Tims Ford v. Tenn. Valley Auth., 585 F.3d 955, 965 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Consideration of Matters Outside the Pleadings

         First, the Court must determine, as outlined above, whether to construe the motion by MTC as one for judgment on the pleadings or one for summary judgment. The pleadings in this case do not shed much light on the grounds that would support MTC's motion, with MTC's answer merely mentioning estoppel as one of many possible affirmative defenses that may be raised. (Def.'s Answer [DN 8] at 5.) Instead, the grounds for granting judgment on the pleadings are set out in documents attached to the motion itself, including various filings in James' bankruptcy case and depositions given in relation to this case. These documents ...


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