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Nicholas A. Benjamin v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

May 23, 2011

NICHOLAS A. BENJAMIN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sitarski, M.J.

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation. For the following reasons, the motion will be DENIED.

I. INTRODUCTION

On October 23, 2009, Plaintiff Nicholas A. Benjamin initiated this lawsuit by filing a Complaint against Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("AMTRAK"). Plaintiff's Complaint alleges negligence in violation of Federal Employers Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et. seq., Federal Safety Appliance Act ("FSAA"), 49 U.S.C.A. § 20301 et. seq., and the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act ("LIA"), 49 U.S.C. § 20701 et seq. On November 13, 2009, AMTRAK filed its Answer.

This matter initially was assigned to District Court Judge Juan R. Sanchez. On February 17, 2010, the parties consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, and the matter was referred to me. (Doc. No. 11).

Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 17). Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that judicial estoppel operates to bar Plaintiff from pursuing his personal injury claim against Defendant because Plaintiff failed to disclose the existence of this claim in subsequent Bankruptcy Court filings. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition, arguing that judicial estoppel should not be applied in this case because there is no evidence of any intent to defraud the courts or his creditors, and Plaintiff did not obtain an unfair advantage. (Doc. No. 21). This motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. RELEVANT FACTS

Plaintiff contends that on or about August 25, 2008, he was bitten by a spider while at work at the Defendant's railroad facility. Comp. ¶ 11. Plaintiff claims that this spider bite caused him various injuries to his body, some of which are (or may be) permanent. Comp. ¶ 13. Plaintiff claims that the accident was a result of Defendant's negligence, including failing to properly treat the facility to prevent the presence of bugs, spiders and insects. Comp. ¶ 11. On October 23, 2009, Plaintiff filed this action under the Federal Employers Liability Act ("FELA"), based on Defendant's status as a common carrier.*fn1 Comp. ¶ 2-8. Plaintiff demands monetary relief in a sum in excess of One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($150,000.00).

On April 9, 2009, prior to filing the present action, Plaintiff filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland. Def.'s Motion ¶¶ 15 & 16, Exs. L & M. Plaintiff was represented by Jill A. Kolodner, Esquire, in the bankruptcy; Ms. Kolodner filed the relevant forms on Plaintiff's behalf. Def.'s Motion, Exs. L & M. Schedule B of the bankruptcy petition requires the debtor to identify personal property. Def.'s Motion, Ex. M, p. 9-11. The last line on Schedule B asks for "other personal property of any kind not already listed." Def.'s Motion, Ex. M, p. 11, line 35. Plaintiff's form reports "Pending Worker's Compensation claim with AMTRAK for accident on 8/25/2008 - no lost wage claim."*fn2 Id. On

July 14, 2009, the bankruptcy petition filed on April 9, 2009, was dismissed for material default in plan payment, and the matter was closed without a discharge. Def.'s Motion, Ex. L.

About one month after filing the present action, on November 20, 2009, Plaintiff filed a second voluntary bankruptcy petition in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland. Def.'s Motion ¶ 6, Exs. C & D. Plaintiff was represented by Wanda D. Browne, Esquire, in this bankruptcy, and Ms. Browne filed the relevant forms on Plaintiff's behalf. Def.'s Motion, Exs. D, E & H. Again, Schedule B of the bankruptcy petition requires the debtor to identify personal property. Def.'s Motion, Ex D, p. 18-19. Among the type of property listed on Schedule B appears "other contingent and unliquidated claims of every nature, including tax refunds, counterclaims of the debtor, and rights to setoff claims . . . ." Def.'s Motion, Ex. D, p. 18, line 21. Plaintiff's form is checked "None," thus indicating to the Bankruptcy Court that he had no such claims. Id. The last line on Schedule B states "other personal property of any kind not already listed." Def.'s Motion, Ex. D, p. 19, line 35. Plaintiff's form at this line reports only "Toro lawn mower." Id. On January 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed an Amended Chapter 13 Plan, and on February 9, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Chapter 13 Plan. Def.'s Motion, Exs. E & H. These amendments do not mention Plaintiff's FELA lawsuit. Def.'s Motion, Exs. E & H.

On March 29, 2010, the Bankruptcy Court issued an Order confirming the Chapter 13 Plan, and also issued an Order that AMTRAK should garnish Plaintiff's wages so that creditors could be paid. Def.'s Motion, Exs. I & J. On July 14, 2010, Plaintiff file an amended bankruptcy petition and Schedule B to reflect his pending FELA claim. Plf.'s Response, Ex. A. As a result, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order disallowing Plaintiff's previously claimed exemptions.*fn3

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment shall be granted "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Id. at 248-29. It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. ...


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