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Crozier v. Venture, Inc.

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

November 4, 2014

VENTURE, INC. d/b/a SAVE-A-LOT, et. al., Defendants.


DANIEL P. JORDAN, III, District Judge.

This employment-discrimination case is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [90]. Plaintiff responded in opposition [92]. Because both parties relied on record evidence, the Court considers the motion under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. And having done so, it concludes that Defendants' Motion should be granted.

I. Background

The question is whether res judicata bars Plaintiff Jasmine Crozier from pursuing this case. Crozier worked at two Save-A-Lot grocery stores in Jackson, Mississippi, from October 2011 until July 2013. She alleges that her supervisor, Jeff Stewart, "routinely engaged in unwanted, degrading, sexual misconduct toward [Plaintiff], including offensive remarks, gestures, overt demands for sexual services, and other improper conduct as a condition of her continued employment at Save-A-Lot." Id.

In September 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Venture, Inc., d/b/a Save-A-Lot, on behalf of various female employees who allegedly suffered on-the-job sexual harassment at Stewart's hands. See EEOC v. Venture, Inc. d/b/a Save-A-Lot, 3:11-CV-596-WHB-RHW (S.D.Miss. Sept. 24, 2013) (hereinafter Venture I ). The suit resulted in a Consent Degree, settling all claims for similarly situated persons who suffered sex-based discrimination and retaliation. Crozier was specifically listed as a settling class member.

In addition to her claims in Venture I, Crozier filed the instant action, which now names Venture, Inc., d/b/a Save-A-Lot; Business Management Services, Inc., d/b/a Save-A-Lot; Jeff Stewart; and Dan Myers. She included claims for (1) unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII; (2) unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII; (3) negligent hiring and/or supervision; (4) defamation; and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Defendants filed an early motion to dismiss based on res judicata, but the Court denied that motion, without prejudice, to allow Crozier an opportunity to conduct discovery. When that discovery concluded, Defendants again moved to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment. The Court has subject-matter and personal jurisdiction, the parties have submitted their briefs, and the Court is prepared to rule.

II. Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) grants the district court broad discretion to convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to Rule 56 motion. In this case, both parties rely on the record evidence they developed during discovery. The Court will therefore apply Rule 56.

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324 (citation omitted). When such contradictory facts exist, the court may "not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

But factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, "only when... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc). Significant to the present motion, conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002). The 2010 amendments to Rule 56 make this clear. Pursuant to Rule 56(c)(1), a party asserting that a fact "is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Finally, "[t]he court has no duty to search the record for material fact issues. Rather, the party opposing the summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate precisely how this evidence supports his claim." RSR Corp. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

III. Analysis

Defendants invoke res judicata as a bar to all claims against all Defendants. "Federal law determines the res judicata effect of a prior federal court judgment." Russell v. SunAmerica Sec., Inc., 962 F.2d 1169, 1172 (5th Cir. 1992) (citations ...

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