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Robinson v. Schnuck Markets, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 6, 2019

MINOR ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SCHNUCK MARKETS, INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PATRICIA L. COHEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Schnuck Markets, Inc.'s (“Employer”) motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [ECF No. 17] Employer moves to dismiss Plaintiff Minor Robinson's two-count petition alleging race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count I) and civil conspiracy in violation 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Count II).[1] Plaintiff opposes the motion. [ECF No. 25] For the following reasons, the Court denies Employer's motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The facts, as alleged in the petition, are as follows: Plaintiff, who is African American, worked as an overnight grocery clerk for Employer for twenty years. [ECF No. 5 at ¶¶ 6-9] Plaintiff's shift was eight and a half hours and included two unpaid fifteen-minute breaks. [Id. at ¶ 11] “The night shift employees [were] free to take their breaks at times of their choice.” [Id. at ¶ 13] Plaintiff would work eight consecutive hours, take his two fifteen-minute breaks and eat his lunch, and “then…leave at the end of his eight and one-half [hour] shift.” [Id. at ¶ 12]

         Plaintiff's co-worker accused him of exceeding his break time by forty-five minutes, and she reported the alleged violation to management “in order to have Plaintiff terminated so that a white employee named Sam could get more hours.” [Id. at ¶ 14] Employer subsequently investigated the report and determined the “alleged extension of break time was de minimis and not a material violation of the break time policy.” [Id. at ¶ 16] Despite these findings, Employer discharged Plaintiff. [Id. at ¶ 18] Plaintiff's petition identified three “similarly situated white grocery clerks” who, he alleged, regularly violated Employer's break-time policy and were not discharged. [Id. at ¶¶ 15-17] Employer replaced Plaintiff with a white employee. [Id. at ¶ 23]

         Plaintiff's union arbitrated his challenge to his termination, and the arbitrator found in favor of Employer. [Id. at ¶ 24] Plaintiff subsequently filed an action against Employer in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County alleging that his termination violated the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). See Robinson v. Schnuck Markets, Inc., 17SL-CC02430 (“Robinson I”). The state court involuntarily dismissed Plaintiff's action but set aside the involuntary dismissal in January 2018. [See ECF No. 25-1] Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his MHRA claim without prejudice in March 2018. [See ECF No. 27-2]

         In May 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant case in the Circuit Court of St. Louis County against Employer and a second defendant, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 655 (“the Union”). [ECF No. 5] In Count I, Plaintiff sought damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for Employer's alleged race discrimination in terminating Plaintiff's employment. [ECF No. 5] In Count II, Plaintiff alleged Employer and the Union were liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) for conspiring “to imped[e], hinder[], obstruct[], or defeat[], the due course of justice…with the intent to deny Plaintiff” equal protection. [Id.] Employer removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. [ECF No. 1] The Court previously granted the Union's motion to dismiss Count II for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). [ECF No. 30]

         Employer moves to dismiss Plaintiff's section 1981 action on the ground that the “doctrine of res judicata bars relitigation of those claims which were or could have been raised in a prior action.” [ECF No. 18 at 2] More specifically, Employer argues that res judicata bars Plaintiff's section 1981 action because: (1) it arises from the same facts and involves the same parties as Robinson I; and (2) under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)'s two-dismissal rule, Plaintiff's voluntary dismissal in Robinson I “operates as an adjudication on the merits” for purposes of res judicata.[2] [Id. at 4]

         Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Employer's motion to dismiss asserting that res judicata does not apply because Robinson I was not “adjudicated on the merits.” [ECF No. 25] In regard to Employer's effort to invoke the two-dismissal rule, Plaintiff states that Employer's argument fails because the state court's “involuntary dismissal without prejudice was set aside and held to be void, [and] the voluntary dismissal without prejudice [in Robinson I] was the first and only dismissal[.]” [Id. at 1-2]

         Employer filed a reply memorandum in support of its motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff's “voluntary dismissal [in Robinson I] served as final adjudication of his MHRA claims and all claims or legal theories that arise out of his termination.” [ECF No. 27 at 2] Employer also contends for the first time in its reply memorandum that the instant action is barred by the MHRA's statute of limitations.[3]

         II. Legal Standard

         The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint so as to eliminate those actions “which are fatally flawed in their legal premises and deigned to fail, thereby sparing the litigants the burden of unnecessary pretrial and trial activity.” Young v. City of St. Charles, 244 F.3d 623, 627 (8th Cir. 2001). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         III. Discussion

         Employer asserts that the doctrine of res judicata bars Plaintiff's section 1981 action because Plaintiff's “voluntary dismissal [in Robinson I] served as a final adjudication of his MHRA claims and all claims or legal theories that arise out of his termination.” [ECF No. 27 at 2] Plaintiff counters that a voluntary ...


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