United States District Court, D. Nebraska
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
LAURIE SMITH CAMP, Chief District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Filing No. 569) filed by Defendant JBS USA, LLC f/k/a JBS Swift & Co., a/k/a Swift Beef Company ("JBS"). JBS moves for partial summary judgment arguing that some of Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion and that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") failed to meet the preconditions for bringing its Phase II claims. Also before the Court are Motions to Dismiss (Filing Nos. 594, 595) and a Joint Stipulation for Dismissal (Filing No. 596). For the reasons stated, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with respect to issue preclusion will be granted in part. The Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with respect to preconditions to suit will be denied without prejudice to reassertion. The Motions to Dismiss will be granted, and the Joint Stipulation will be approved.
Plaintiffs Sirad Adan, Fartun Warsame, Shukri Wais, Mohamad Guled Farah, Istar Said, Deeq Said, Mohamed Ali, Khadija Hassan, Fatuma Abdullahi, Hodan Abdulle, Burhan Yusuf, Mohamed Mohamed, Shamso Abshir, and Ahmed Dalmar, move to dismiss their claims of hostile work environment and failure to provide religious accommodation. (Filing No. 594.) Plaintiffs Yusuf Dulane, Amina Farah, and Maryan (Asha) Muse, move to dismiss their claim of failure to provide religious accommodation. (Filing No. 595.) The EEOC stipulates that it will not seek relief on behalf of aggrieved individuals in Phase II based on alleged denial of religious accommodations or hostile work environment, and agrees to dismissal of those claims. (Filing No. 596.)
In accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2), the Court concludes that the Motions to Dismiss (Filing Nos. 594, 595) should be granted as requested. The Court also concludes that the Joint Stipulation of the EEOC and JBS complies with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), and should be approved.
PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
STANDARD OF REVIEW
"Summary judgment is appropriate when, construing the evidence most favorably to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Crozier v. Wint, 736 F.3d 1134, 1136 (8th Cir. 2013) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). "Summary Judgment is not disfavored and is designed for every action." Briscoe v. Cnty. of St. Louis, 690 F.3d 1004, 1011 n. 2 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 513 (2011)) (internal quotations omitted). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court will view "all facts and mak[e] all reasonable inferences favorable to the nonmovant." Gen. Mills Operations, LLC v. Five Star Custom Foods, Ltd., 703 F.3d 1104, 1107 (8th Cir. 2013). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue... Rule 56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). The moving party need not negate the nonmoving party's claims by showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 325. Instead, "the burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing'... that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id.
In response to the movant's showing, the nonmoving party's burden is to produce specific facts demonstrating "a genuine issue of material fact' such that [its] claim should proceed to trial." Nitro Distrib., Inc. v. Alticor, Inc., 565 F.3d 417, 422 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). The nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Briscoe, 690 F.3d at 1011 (quoting Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042) (internal quotations omitted). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties'" will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment. Quinn v. St. Louis Cty., 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)).
In other words, in deciding "a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts." Guimaraes v. SuperValu, Inc., 674 F.3d 962, 972 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042) (internal quotations omitted). Otherwise, where the Court finds that "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, " there is no "genuine issue for trial" and summary judgment is appropriate. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042 (quoting Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009)) (internal quotations omitted).
The Court applies this standard first to JBS's arguments regarding issue preclusion, and then to its arguments that the EEOC failed to meet a precondition to suit.
A. Uncontroverted Factual Background
Unless otherwise indicated, the following facts were presented in the parties' briefs and were supported by pinpoint citations to admissible evidence in the record that the parties have admitted, or that the parties have not properly resisted as required by NECivR 56.1 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.
On April 15, 2011, Plaintiffs filed with the Court a joint Bifurcation Agreement to bifurcate discovery and trial into two phases, Phase I (involving the EEOC's pattern-or practice claims) and Phase II (all individual claims for relief). ( See Filing Nos. 76 at 3, 76-1.) Phase II was to address all individual claims for relief, and "[a]ny claims for which no pattern or practice liability was found in Phase I and any claims not tried in Phase I shall be tried under the traditional McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting paradigm [in Phase II], including all claims of harassment/hostile work environment, " as well as "[i]ndividual entitlement to back pay, compensatory, and punitive damages." (Filing No. 76.1 at 5.) On May 26, 2011, the Court adopted the Bifurcation Agreement to bifurcate discovery and trial into two Phases. (Filing No. 81.)
Discovery proceeded, and trial was held on the EEOC's pattern or practice claims from May 7, 2013, through May 17, 2013. At the close of the EEOC's evidence, JBS made an oral motion for judgment on partial findings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c). Based on agreement of the parties as reflected in the Final Pretrial Order, the Court permitted the submission of deposition designations and objections after the close of trial. ( See Filing No. 479 at 12.) On July 1, 2013, the EEOC submitted additional deposition designations in support of, and in addition to, testimony and evidence presented at the Phase I trial. On October 11, 2013, the Court issued its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law. (Filing No. 516 at 13, 26, 32-39.) The Court incorporates its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law into this Memorandum and Order. The Court concluded that although the EEOC established a prima facie case of denial of religious accommodation, the requested accommodations imposed an undue burden on JBS.
JBS argues that the Court's Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in Phase I preclude the individual Plaintiffs ("Individual Plaintiffs") from pursuing claims of religious discrimination and retaliation in Phase II. Specifically, JBS points to the Court's findings that (a) JBS did not discipline or discharge any of its Muslim employees for praying, and (b) Somali-Muslim employees who left the plant the night of September 18, 2008, were terminated for withholding work and violating the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). JBS asserts that these findings establish that its reason for terminating the employees was legitimate and nondiscriminatory, and preclude Plaintiffs from pursuing claims that they were terminated or otherwise retaliated against for requesting religious accommodation. Finally, JBS argues that because the Court concluded the Plaintiffs' requested religious accommodations would impose an undue hardship on JBS, it is established in Phase II that JBS did not unlawfully deny Plaintiffs' requested religious accommodations.
JBS's arguments are based on the doctrine of issue preclusion. "Issue preclusion refers to the effect of a judgment in foreclosing relitigation of a matter that has been litigated and decided." Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 77 n. 1 (1984). The Eighth Circuit has stated that collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, operates "to bar relitigation of a single ultimate issue of fact (not an entire cause of action) when that issue of fact has actually been determined by a valid judgment in a prior proceeding between the same parties." Lundquist v. Rice Mem'l Hosp., 121 F.Appx. 664, 668 (8th ...