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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. JBS USA, LLC

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

January 27, 2014

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
JBS USA, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Clarify (Filing No. 517) and Motion for New Trial (Filing No. 524) filed by the plaintiff, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Also before the Court is the Motion for Judgment to be Certified as Final Judgment on Phase I Proceedings (Filing No. 531), and Motion for Attorney Fees, Expert Witness Fees, and Related Nontaxable Expenses (Filing No. 518) filed by the Defendant JBS USA, LLC ("JBS"). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Judgment to be Certified will be granted, the Motions for Attorney Fees and for a New Trial will be denied, and the Motion to Clarify will be denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

This case was bifurcated into two phases. Phase I determined the EEOC's pattern or practice claims, and Phase II will determine the remaining individual claims asserted by the EEOC and Intervenors. (Filing No. 76-1; Filing No. 77.) The facts and legal issues presented by some of the individual claims overlap with the EEOC's pattern or practice claims decided in Phase I, including failure to provide religious accommodation. ( See Filing No. 91; Filing No. 99; Filing No. 100.) A bench trial was held on May 7, 2013, through May 17, 2013. On October 11, 2013, the Court found in favor of JBS on Phase I of this matter after granting JBS's Motion for Judgment on Partial Findings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c), concluding that JBS had proved its affirmative defense of undue hardship. (Filing No. 516.) The Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (the "Findings") (Filing No. 516) contain a detailed recitation of the Court's factual findings and legal conclusions, and they are incorporated by reference into this Memorandum and Order.

DISCUSSION

I. Entry of Final Judgment

A. Standard

JBS requests that the Court certify final judgment as to Phase I under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The EEOC opposes certification on several grounds, arguing that the Court should proceed with Phase II. Generally, "only orders that dispose of all claims [are considered] final and appealable under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291." Williams v. County of Dakota, Nebraska, 687 F.3d 1064, 1067 (8th Cir.2012) (alteration brackets and citation omitted). "Rule 54(b) creates a well-established exception to this rule by allowing a district court to enter a final judgment on some but not all of the claims in a lawsuit." Id. (quoting Clark v. Baka, 593 F.3d 712, 714 (8th Cir. 2010)). "However, the district court may enter final judgment under this rule only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.'" Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b)).

"When deciding whether to grant Rule 54(b) certification, the district court must undertake a two-step analysis." Williams, 687 F.3d at 1067. First, the district court must "determine that it is dealing with a final judgment... in the sense that it is an ultimate disposition of an individual claim." Id. (quoting Outdoor Central, Inc. v. GreatLodge.com, Inc., 643 F.3d 1115, 1118 (8th Cir.2011)). "Second, in determining that there is no just reason for delay, the district court must consider both the equities of the situation and judicial administrative interests, particularly the interest in preventing piecemeal appeals.'" Id. (quoting Outdoor Central, Inc., 643 F.3d at 1118 (alteration brackets omitted)). "Certification should be granted only if there exists some danger of hardship or injustice through delay which would be alleviated by immediate appeal." Id. at 1067-68 (quoting Hayden v. McDonald, 719 F.2d 266, 268 (8th Cir.1983)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Conversely, certification should not be granted merely because the resolved claims "are in some sense separable from the remaining unresolved claims, " or merely because there is "the potential for multiple trials... and... inconsistent jury verdicts involving the same incident." Huggins v. FedEx Ground Package System, Inc., 566 F.3d 771, 774 (8th Cir.2009) (citations omitted). The Eighth Circuit has stated that interlocutory appeals are "generally disfavored, " and "it is only the special case that warrants an immediate appeal from a partial resolution of the lawsuit." Williams, 687 F.3d at 1067 (quoting Clark, 593 F.3d at 714-15).

B. Prevailing Party Seeking Certification

As a preliminary matter, the EEOC argues that JBS is not the proper party to seek certification under Rule 54(b). The EEOC quotes Exchange National Bank of Chicago v. Daniels, 763 F.2d 286, 291 on reh'g in part, 768 F.2d 140 (7th Cir. 1985), for the proposition that a district court should not grant a Rule 54(b) motion unless the losing party requests it. The actual quote from Daniels reveals that this is not a hard line rule. In Daniels, the Seventh Circuit stated "...Rule 54(b) orders are the exception, usually entered at the request of the losing party. A district judge ordinarily should not enter a Rule 54(b) document unless the losing party requests it." Daniels, 763 F.2d at 286 (emphasis added). As the decision in Daniels indicates, while ordinarily the losing party requests the Rule 54(b) certification, a prevailing party is not precluded from doing so. See Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. General Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 3 (1980) (approving the prevailing party's motion for certification under Rule 54(b)); Oklahoma Turnpike Auth. v. Bruner, 259 F.3d 1236, 1241 (10th Cir. 2001) (approving a Rule 54(b) certification where both parties moved for certification). Accordingly, JBS is not precluded from seeking certification under Rule 54(b).

C. Equities and Judicial Administrative Interests

The Court must determine whether its decision on Phase I of this action is a "special case" that overcomes the Eighth Circuit's preference against certification and warrants an immediate appeal. Williams, 687 F.3d at 1067. Under the first step articulated in Williams, the Court concludes that its Findings are the ultimate disposition of the EEOC's pattern or practice claim alleging that JBS failed to provide religious accommodations. While the EEOC's Phase I claims are based on the same events giving rise to the Phase II claims, each of the Phase I claims has been decided on the merits. Accordingly, the Court's Findings under Phase I are the ultimate disposition of an individual claim, and step one has been satisfied.

The parties' arguments focus the second step of the analysis, the determination of whether there is "no just reason for delay, " in light of "both the equities of the situation and judicial administrative interests, particularly the interest in preventing piecemeal appeals." See Williams, 687 F.3d at 1067 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). After carefully weighing the ...


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