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Thompson v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Connecticut

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

October 4, 2013

DAREADELL TERRELL THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
TRAVELERS INDEMNITY COMPANY OF CONNECTICUT, DEFENDANT

For Dareadell Terrell Thompson, Plaintiff: Jim D. Waide, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Ronnie Lee Woodruff, WAIDE & ASSOCIATES, P.A., Tupelo, MS.

For Travelers Indemnity Company of Connecticut, Defendant: Michael W. Baxter, LEAD ATTORNEY, Barry Hassell, COPELAND, COOK, TAYLOR & BUSH, Ridgeland, MS.

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Tom S. Lee, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This cause is before the court on the motion of defendant Travelers Indemnity

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Company of Connecticut (Travelers) for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff Dareadell Terrell Thompson has responded to the motion and the court, having considered the memoranda of authorities, together with attachments, submitted by the parties, concludes that Travelers' motion is well taken and should be granted.

On February 26, 2010, plaintiff Dereadell Thompson was terminated from his employment as a police officer with the City of Meridian. Following his termination, and after timely filing an EEOC charge, he filed suit in this court against the City under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging he was terminated on account of his race and that he was denied a fair appeal of his termination in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The case was tried in June 2012 and resulted in a jury verdict for the City on both claims.

A month later, on July 13, 2012, Thompson filed the present action against Travelers for negligent misrepresentation, alleging that a proximate, contributing cause of his termination was a letter sent by Travelers to the City in September 2009 in which Travelers, the City's workers' compensation insurer, negligently and falsely reported that Thompson had obtained workers' compensation benefits to which he was not entitled by misrepresenting his work status to Travelers, and further, that after it was brought to plaintiff's attention that a benefits check had been sent to him in error, plaintiff not only failed to return the check as he said he would but cashed it and kept the money. Travelers argues in its motion for summary judgment that Thompson's claim against it fails as a matter of law for one or more of the following grounds: (1) Thompson is collaterally estopped from relitigating his wrongful termination issue upon which his claim against Travelers is predicated; (2) Travelers' alleged misrepresentations or false statements regarding Thompson's workers' compensation claim were not the proximate cause of Thompson's termination by the City; and (3) Travelers made no material misrepresentations or false statements to the City regarding Thompson's workers' compensation claim.

Travelers is not entitled to summary judgment on ground (1) or ground (3). As to ground (1), Travelers argues that in order for Thompson to succeed on his claim against Travelers, he must necessarily establish that he was wrongfully terminated by the City and yet the jury in his previous lawsuit already found that he was not wrongfully terminated, so that he is collaterally estopped from relitigating this issue. In fact, however, Thompson's suit against the City did not determine whether he was wrongfully terminated. Rather, the issues presented to the jury were whether Thompson was discriminated against because of his race and whether he was denied due process. The jury was not asked to determine and did not determine whether Thompson was wrongfully terminated. There is thus no merit to Travelers' collateral estoppel argument. Travelers' argument as to ground (3) is also without merit, as Thompson has presented evidence that in the court's view is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Travelers' letter to the City contained material misrepresentations.

However, Travelers is entitled to summary judgment based on ground (2), for in the court's opinion, as a matter of law, Travelers' letter did not proximately cause or contribute to plaintiff's termination. Ultimately, plaintiff was not terminated on the basis that he attempted to

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defraud Travelers or that he failed to return monies that had received from Travelers in error. Rather, he was terminated because the newly-elected police chief, Lee Shelbourn, concluded, afer reviewing plaintiff's personnel file, that during his tenure with the police department, plaintiff had repeatedly engaged in misconduct, and indeed had committed a number of serious infractions, which Shelbourn believed warranted his discharge. That is, after reviewing plaintiff's file, Shelbourn concluded that plaintiff's history of violations, and the failure of progressive discipline, left him with " no alternative but to terminate [plaintiff's] employment." [1]

Thompson asserts that Travelers' letter was a proximate cause of his termination since it was Travelers' letter which prompted Shelbourn to go back through his personnel file and look at his previous disciplinary infractions, which in turn led to his termination for those infractions. He reasons that if Travelers had not recklessly sent the letter making false charges concerning the workers' compensation claim, Shelbourn would not have gone through ...


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