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Martineau v. Wier

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

September 29, 2017

Paige Martineau, Plaintiff,
v.
Joel Wier, Diane Wier, and Richard Guest, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Hon. Margaret B. Seymour, Senior United States District Judge

         On July 27, 2016, Plaintiff Paige Martineau (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, brought the underlying action against Richard Guest, and his sister and brother-in-law Diane and Joel Wier (collectively “Defendants”), alleging claims of: (1) rescission of settlement agreement for fraudulent inducement to enter a settlement; (2) negligence; (3) gross negligence; (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (5) negligent supervision; (6) negligent entrustment; (7) assault; and (8) battery. ECF No. 1.

         In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Shiva V. Hodges for pretrial handling. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on October 10, 2016. ECF No. 21. On October 11, 2016, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised of the dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if she failed to respond properly. ECF No. 22. Plaintiff filed a response on November 17, 2016, to which Defendants filed a reply on December 1, 2016. ECF No. 24, ECF No. 25. Plaintiff filed a sur reply on December 12, 2016, and Defendants filed a response to the sur reply on December 22, 2016. ECF No. 27, ECF No. 28. On January 18, 2017, the Magistrate Judge advised the parties that she was inclined to treat Defendants' motion to dismiss as a summary judgment motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) and provided them the opportunity to supplement the record with additional material pertinent to the motion. ECF No. 29. Plaintiff filed supplemental documentation on June 20, 2017. ECF No. 48. This matter is now before the court on Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“Report”) filed on May 4, 2017, recommending the court grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 40.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 13, 2009, Richard Guest attacked Plaintiff near Guest's apartment on Devine Street in Columbia, South Carolina. Compl. at ¶¶ 6-7. Plaintiff was visiting her then-boyfriend who resided in the apartment above Guest's apartment. Id. at ¶ 7. Joel Wier and Diane Wier owned the apartment where Guest resided at the time of the attack. Id. at ¶ 8. Guest was charged with kidnapping and assault and battery with intent to kill in October 2009. Id. at ¶ 10. On or about June 20, 2012, Plaintiff learned Guest was incompetent to stand trial and began exploring options for a civil lawsuit against Guest[1] and the Wiers. Id. at ¶¶ 14, 16.

         As Plaintiff explored her options, she had a telephone conversation with Joel Wier. Id. at ¶ 18. Mr. Wier purportedly represented to Plaintiff that neither he nor Diane Wier had “any reason” to know Guest was mentally ill or dangerous. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges Mr. Wier stated that the only relationship he and Diane Wier had with Richard Guest was “landlords just like any other landlord.” Id. at ¶ 21. Although she was represented by counsel, Plaintiff contends the Weirs' representations led her to believe that they “could not be held liable for negligence or negligent entrustment[.]”Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff states she relied on these representations and signed a Settlement Agreement and Release on October 22, 2012, for potential claims against the Wiers and Guest. Id. at ¶ 23, ECF No. 21-1 at 4.

         On December 30, 2013, Plaintiff discovered additional documents that indicated the Wiers had significant knowledge of Guest's decades-long history of mental illness and purported dangerousness. Id. at ¶ 24-25. Plaintiff claims Diane Wier was a trustee of a “mental health trust” for Guest. Id. at ¶ 25. Plaintiff claims the Weirs must have also known of Guest's dangerousness because of “involuntary civil commitments and poems they discovered about bloody stabbings.” Id. at ¶ 25. Plaintiff alleges Diane Wier allowed Guest to live in an unsupervised apartment building without ensuring that he take medication or undergo treatment. Id. at ¶ 26.

         Plaintiff filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on June 29, 2015, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. See In re Paige Jacqueline Martineau, C/A No. 4:15-bk-02767-JJT (“Bankruptcy Case”).[2] On July 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Guest and the Weirs. ECF No. 1. Although Plaintiff was aware of facts to support this claim against Defendants in December 2013, she did not list this potential lawsuit in her Bankruptcy Case. ECF No. 21-3 at 8. Plaintiff also did not list this potential lawsuit as non-exempt property before her debts were discharged on October 6, 2015. ECF No. 21-3 at 11, ECF No. 21-4.

         On October 10, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss contending, that Plaintiff lacks standing because the claims are property of the Bankruptcy Case and, alternatively, because the claims are barred by the statute of limitations. ECF No. 21 at 1. In addition, Defendants contend Plaintiff fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted on the fraud in the inducement, negligent supervision, and negligent entrustment claims because Defendants owe no duties to Plaintiff. ECF No. 21-1 at 11-20. On November 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion in bankruptcy court to reopen the case to administer an omitted asset. ECF No. 25-1, 2. On November 17, 2016, the bankruptcy court granted Plaintiff's motion.[3] Plaintiff attached an amended summary of schedules to her motion. ECF No. 25-2, 2. The amended schedule included a $50, 000 unliquidated claim against Defendants. ECF No. 25-2, 5. She also claimed the property as exempt. ECF No. 25-2, 7.

         On November 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed her response to Defendants' motion, asserting she obtained standing after amending her Bankruptcy Case schedules to claim an exemption as to the present lawsuit. ECF No. 24 at 25-26. Plaintiff's asserts that “exemption alone is sufficient” if the exemption occurred prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations. ECF No. 42 at 16. However, Plaintiff provides no case law to support this argument. ECF No. 42 at 16. Plaintiff further argues that the fraudulent inducement claim is within the statute of limitations and that Defendants' fraud tolls the remaining claims. ECF No. 24 at 10. To support this statement, Plaintiff argues that, under South Carolina law, boilerplate releases do not bar fraudulent inducement claims. ECF No. 24 at 12.

         Defendants filed a reply on December 1, 2016, asserting Plaintiff had not been given permission by the bankruptcy court to exempt this lawsuit at the time she filed the complaint and as a result Plaintiff's claims remain property of the Bankruptcy trustee. ECF No. 25 at 4. Further, Defendants state Plaintiff should be judicially estopped from asserting the present lawsuit. To support this argument, Defendants argue that judicial estoppel applies “when debtors fail to list a lawsuit in his or her bankruptcy schedules and then try to assert their civil claims.” ECF No. 25 at 5.

         On May 4, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation in which she determined that Plaintiff lacks standing to maintain this action, or alternatively, the court should exercise its discretion to invoke the doctrine of judicial estoppel. ECF No. 40 at 13.[4]Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on May 22, 2017. ECF No. 42. Defendants filed their reply to Plaintiff's objections on June 5, 2017. ECF No. 46.

         On June 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File Exhibits to Objections that included affidavits from family and friends to support her contention that she suffered from PSTD during 2016. ECF No. 48. Defendants filed a reply on July 5, 2017, contending that Plaintiff's financial and mental health are irrelevant to the Magistrate Judge's findings and conclusions in the Report and Recommendation. This matter is now before the court for review of the Magistrate's Judge Report and Recommendation.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence would affect the disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where, after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Newsport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).

         Any inference drawn from the facts should be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating to the district court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotox Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317-23 (1986). Once the moving party ...


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