Parks v. Covidien Holding, Inc., A21-1396

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtBJORKMAN, JUDGE
PartiesScott Parks, Appellant, v. Covidien Holding, Inc., et al., Respondents.
Decision Date13 June 2022
Docket NumberA21-1396

Scott Parks, Appellant,
v.

Covidien Holding, Inc., et al., Respondents.

No. A21-1396

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 13, 2022


This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).

Anoka County District Court File No. 02-CV-20-3685

Gale D. Pearson, Michael Gorwitz, Fears Nachawati, PLLC, Dallas, Texas (for appellant)

Nicole E. Narotzky, Thomas R. Pack, Greenberg Traurig LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Anupama D. Sreekanth, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Bryan T. Pratt (pro hac vice), Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P., Kansas City, Missouri (for respondents)

Considered and decided by Bjorkman, Presiding Judge; Segal, Chief Judge; and Bratvold, Judge.

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BJORKMAN, JUDGE

Appellant challenges summary judgment dismissing his product-liability claims against respondents medical-device manufacturers based on judicial estoppel. He argues that (1) judicial estoppel is not available under Minnesota law, and (2) the requirements for judicial estoppel are not met in this case. Because the district court misapplied the law regarding judicial estoppel, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

In September 2016, appellant Scott Parks underwent a surgery that involved use of a surgical stapler. After complications with the staples, he received corrective surgery. He was discharged from the hospital the following month.

In August 2017, Parks filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. When completing the property schedule for his bankruptcy petition, Parks was asked to indicate "yes" or "no" to the following prompt: "Claims against third parties, whether or not you have filed a lawsuit or made a demand for payment. Examples: Accidents, employment disputes, insurance claims, or rights to sue." Parks selected "No." Parks amended his bankruptcy petition in May 2018 but did not change his information about claims against third parties. The following month, the bankruptcy court confirmed Parks's bankruptcy plan. It reconfirmed his plan in early 2020, again without any indication from Parks of a potential legal claim.

In September 2020, Parks initiated this action against respondents Covidien Holding Inc., Covidien LP, Covidien LLC, Covidien Sales LLC, and Medtronic Inc. (collectively, Covidien), asserting product-liability claims related to the surgical staples used in his

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surgery. Covidien moved for summary judgment on February 10, 2021, arguing that Parks's representation in the bankruptcy proceeding that he possessed no claims should judicially estop his claims against Covidien. Two weeks later, Parks added his Covidien claims to the property schedule in his open bankruptcy case. In opposing summary judgment, Parks argued that Minnesota does not recognize judicial estoppel and the requirements for judicial estoppel are not met since he corrected his bankruptcy filing. During the motion hearing, Parks offered to submit an affidavit indicating that he failed to list the claims earlier because he was unaware he needed to do so until Covidien moved for summary judgment; the district court told him it was unnecessary.

The district court granted summary judgment, reasoning that Parks failed to provide "any reason why he waited until after this summary judgment motion was filed . . . to disclose his claims" and could not "escape textbook judicial estoppel merely by amending his initial inconsistent position." Parks appeals.

DECISION

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and the moving party "is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01. It is a "blunt instrument" and "should not be granted when reasonable persons could draw different conclusions from the evidence presented." Staub v. Myrtle Lake Resort, LLC, 964 N.W.2d 613, 620 (Minn. 2021) (quotation omitted). When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolves all factual inferences and doubts against the moving party. Montemayor v. Sebright Prods., Inc., 898 N.W.2d 623, 628 (Minn. 2017). We

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review de novo whether there are genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court properly applied the law. Kenneh v. Homeward Bound, Inc., 944 N.W.2d 222, 228 (Minn. 2020).

Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine that protects the integrity of the judicial system by "prohibiting parties from deliberately changing positions according to the exigencies of the moment." New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 749-50 (2001) (quotation omitted). The doctrine is not applied for the benefit of defendants, Spaine v. Cmty. Contacts, Inc., 756 F.3d 542, 547 (7th Cir. 2014), and is "not intended to eliminate all inconsistencies," Park v. Atty. Gen. of U.S., 472 F.3d 66, 73 (3d Cir. 2006) (quotation omitted). Rather, it aims to protect courts from deception and manipulation. Spaine, 756 F.3d at 547. In this sense, the doctrine "embodies the notions of common sense and fair play." Kirk v. Schaeffler Grp. USA, Inc., 887 F.3d 376, 384 (8th Cir. 2018) (quotation omitted). Whether to apply the doctrine is a question of law, which we review de novo. State v. Pendleton, 706 N.W.2d 500, 507 (Minn. 2005); see also Melrose Gates, LLC v. Moua, 875 N.W.2d 814, 821-22 (Minn. 2016) (explaining that a district court's determination whether the requirements of an equitable doctrine are met is a legal issue that appellate courts review de novo).

I. Judicial estoppel is an available doctrine.

Parks contends the district court erred by applying judicial estoppel because the Minnesota Supreme Court has not adopted the doctrine. This argument is unavailing. Our supreme court has thus far declined to adopt judicial estoppel, but it has also expressly declined to reject the doctrine. E.g., Ryan Contracting Co. v. O'Neill & Murphy, LLP, 883 N.W.2d 236, 248-49 (Minn. 2016);

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see also Dickhoff ex rel. Dickhoff v. Green, 836 N.W.2d 321, 331-32 & n.10 (Minn. 2013) (explaining that the court's refusal to adopt a doctrine in a particular case is not controlling on whether the court has rejected the doctrine). Indeed, the supreme court has consistently declined to formally adopt judicial estoppel because it has concluded that the doctrine does not apply under the circumstances of the cases before it. Ryan Contracting, 883 N.W.2d at 249; Pendleton, 706 N.W.2d at 507; Ill. Farmers Ins. Co. v. Glass Serv. Co., 683 N.W.2d 792, 801 (Minn. 2004); State v. Profit, 591 N.W.2d 451, 462 (Minn. 1999). The caselaw persuades us that the supreme court has left the door open for Minnesota courts to apply judicial estoppel.

Moreover, judicial estoppel is a well-established common-law doctrine. See New Hampshire, 532 U.S. at 749-50. We have applied it. E.g., Bauer v. Blackduck Ambulance Ass'n, Inc., 614 N.W.2d 747, 750 (Minn.App. 2000). So have state and federal courts across the country. See Whitacre P'ship v. Biosignia, Inc., 591 S.E.2d 870, 878-86 (N.C. 2004) (stating that "at least thirty-five other states and the United States Supreme Court" recognize judicial estoppel and examining the doctrine's history).[1] Accordingly, we discern no error in the district court's determination that judicial estoppel is a doctrine available to Minnesota courts.

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II. The district court misapplied the law regarding judicial estoppel.

Parks contends the district court erred in concluding the requirements of judicial estoppel are satisfied because he corrected his bankruptcy petition to disclose his claims against Covidien. He also maintains that his initial nondisclosure was inadvertent. We are persuaded that the district court's analysis was incomplete and misapplied the law of judicial estoppel because it (1) relied on Bauer to establish the parameters of judicial estoppel and (2) did not properly consider whether Parks's prior position was based on inadvertence or mistake.

A. The district court erred by relying on Bauer to establish the parameters of judicial estoppel.

Bauer involved a plaintiff who obtained workers' compensation benefits as an injured employee, then sought to recover in tort (as a non-employee) from the entity she had asserted to be her employer. 614 N.W.2d at 750. In applying judicial estoppel to bar Bauer's tort claim, we identified three factors that govern the application of the doctrine: (1) "the later position" of the party to be estopped "must clearly be inconsistent with [its] earlier position," (2) "the facts at issue should be the same in both cases," and (3) "the party to be estopped must have convinced the first court to adopt its position." Id. (quotation omitted). Neither party urged a different formulation of the doctrine, and the district court recited these three factors from Bauer. But while Bauer supports the conclusion that judicial estoppel is an available doctrine, it does not articulate the parameters of judicial estoppel applicable in this case.

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First, it is doubtful that Bauer represents current law on judicial estoppel. The year...

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