Steinbach v. Maxion Wheels Sedalia LLC

Decision Date02 November 2021
Docket NumberWD 84502
Citation637 S.W.3d 493
Parties Suzanne STEINBACH, Appellant, v. MAXION WHEELS SEDALIA LLC, Respondent.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

Martin M. Meyers, Kansas City, MO, for appellant.

J. Randall Coffey, and James C. Sullivan, Kansas City, MO, for respondent.

Before Division Four: Cynthia L. Martin, Chief Judge, Presiding, Mark D. Pfeiffer, Judge and James E. Welsh, Senior Judge

Cynthia L. Martin, Judge

Suzanne Steinbach ("Steinbach") appeals from the trial court's entry of summary judgment in favor of Maxion Wheels Sedalia LLC ("Maxion Wheels"). Steinbach asserts that the entry of summary judgment was inappropriate because, as a matter of law, Steinbach did not split a single claim of discrimination by filing two suits against Maxion Wheels in that each suit concerned different time periods during which alleged discrimination, harassment, and retaliation took place. Steinbach alternatively argues that Maxion Wheels acquiesced to the claim being split, and that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Steinbach's motion for leave to file a reply to an amended answer out of time to assert the affirmative avoidance of acquiescence. Because the trial court abused its discretion in denying Steinbach's motion for leave to file a reply to an amended answer out of time, we reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural History1

Steinbach filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights ("MCHR") on February 2, 2018 ("February 2018 charge of discrimination").

In the February 2018 charge of discrimination, Steinbach alleged that from approximately September 1, 2017, to the date of filing, she suffered discrimination on the basis of her sex and retaliation by her employer, Maxion Wheels. In particular, Steinbach alleged that, shortly after she reported ongoing sexual harassment and a hostile work environment to human resources in late September 2017, Steinbach's work was rejected though properly performed, Steinbach was assigned more physically demanding tasks than her typical job duties despite recently returning from medical leave, and Steinbach was transferred to a less desirable shift.

The MCHR issued Steinbach a right-to-sue letter on August 13, 2018. Steinbach filed a petition against Maxion Wheels in the circuit court of Pettis County on October 24, 2018 ("October 2018 Petition"), asserting a claim of discrimination and harassment on the basis of sex for the period from May 2016 through September 2017, and a claim of retaliation, continued discrimination, and harassment for the period from September 2017 through January 2018 ("instant case"). Maxion Wheels filed its answer ("Answer") on December 17, 2018, denying Steinbach's allegations and asserting various affirmative defenses.

On October 25, 2018, the day after the October 2018 Petition was filed, Steinbach filed a second charge of discrimination with the MCHR ("October 2018 charge of discrimination"). Steinbach's October 2018 charge of discrimination "attached and incorporated [the February 2018 charge of discrimination] fully ... by reference." The October 2018 charge of discrimination alleged that when the February 2018 charge of discrimination was filed, Steinbach was beginning a medical leave of absence, and that when she returned to work on June 6, 2018, she was assigned strenuous work that was not typical work for her job title and that was designed to aggravate her injuries. The October 2018 charge of discrimination alleged that, because the work was too strenuous, she took additional time off to recover, and was informed in August 2018 that she would be discharged from her employment effective August 30, 2018, if she could not return to work. Steinbach alleged the change in her work duties and her discharge were in retaliation for earlier complaints of discrimination.

The MCHR issued Steinbach a second right-to-sue letter on April 24, 2019. Steinbach filed a second petition against Maxion Wheels in the circuit court of Pettis County on July 22, 2019 ("July 2019 Petition"), asserting a claim of retaliation that was "part of a pattern and practice of [Maxion Wheels]" following her complaints to human resources about the sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination she suffered at work. Maxion Wheels removed the second filed action to federal court on August 30, 2019 ("Federal Case"). While the Federal Case was pending, Maxion Wheels did not assert an affirmative defense or otherwise object on the basis of the similarity of the claims asserted in the Federal Case and the instant case.

The Federal Case was tried in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri in September 2020. The jury found in favor of Maxion Wheels. Judgment was entered in favor of Maxion Wheels on September 24, 2020 ("federal court judgment").2

On October 15, 2020, Maxion Wheels filed an amended answer ("Amended Answer") in the instant case. The Amended Answer stated that it was being filed with Steinbach's consent pursuant to Rule 55.33(a).3 The Amended Answer was identical to the Maxion Wheel's Answer, except that the Amended Answer asserted the following affirmative defense:

Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata, claim preclusion and/or collateral estoppel based on the [federal court judgment] in [the Federal Case]. The parties in the Federal Case were the same as the parties in this case. In addition, Plaintiff's claims in the Federal Case and this case arise out of the same act, contract, transaction or occurrence, and, by exercising reasonable diligence, Plaintiff could have asserted the claims in this case in the Federal Case. Notably, all of the events that make up all of Plaintiff's claims occurred on or before August 31, 2018, before this case and the Federal Case were filed in court. In the Federal Case, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant retaliated against her for filing the charge of discrimination on which her Petition in this case is premised. Plaintiff conducted discovery in the Federal Case regarding the allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation contained in her Petition in this case. Moreover, during the trial of the Federal Case, Plaintiff offered evidence regarding the sexual harassment and retaliation alleged in the Petition.

Steinbach did not file a responsive pleading to the Amended Answer.

On November 30, 2020, forty-five days after the Amended Answer was filed, Maxion Wheels filed a motion for summary judgment, suggestions in support, and a statement of uncontroverted facts (collectively "Motion for Summary Judgment") in the instant case. The Motion for Summary Judgment asserted that Maxion Wheels was entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law because the claims asserted in the instant case are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, given that:

(1) the parties in the [instant case] and the Federal Case are identical; (2) the claims in the [instant case] and the Federal Case arise out of the same group of operative facts or are part of the same transaction or series of transactions; and (3) a final judgment has been rendered in the Federal Case.

Steinbach filed suggestions in opposition and responses to the statement of uncontroverted facts (collectively "Suggestions in Opposition") on December 30, 2020. Steinbach argued in her Suggestions in Opposition that Maxion Wheels had waived the defense of res judicata by consenting and acquiescing to separate trials in the instant case and the Federal Case. Steinbach also argued that the claims asserted in the instant case are not the same as the claims adjudicated in the Federal Case.

On January 11, 2021, Maxion Wheels filed a reply in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment ("Reply Suggestions") in which it argued that waiver of the affirmative defense of res judicata is an affirmative avoidance, and that Steinbach was barred from raising the affirmative avoidance to defend the Motion for Summary Judgment because Steinbach failed to file a reply to the Amended Answer within thirty days of its filing.

Two days later, January 13, 2021, Steinbach filed a motion to file a reply out of time ("Motion to File a Reply"). The Motion to File a Reply argued that, pursuant to Rule 55.33(a), Steinbach should be allowed leave to file a reply out of time because she had not believed the Amended Answer required a response since it did not include a counterclaim, and because she had not believed she needed to oppose the affirmative defense of res judicata by pleading an affirmative avoidance. Maxion Wheels opposed Steinbach's Motion to File a Reply, arguing that Rule 44.01(b) applied, not Rule 55.33(a), to determine whether Steinbach should be afforded leave to file a reply out of time. Maxion Wheels argued that Rule 44.01(b) only allowed the trial court to extend Steinbach's time to file a reply upon a showing of excusable neglect, and that Steinbach's Motion to File a Reply did not demonstrate excusable neglect.

The trial court entered a judgment denying Steinbach's Motion to File a Reply and granting Maxion Wheels’ Motion for Summary Judgment on April 1, 2021 ("Judgment"). The trial court concluded that Steinbach's Motion to File a Reply to assert the affirmative avoidance of acquiescence should be denied because Rule 44.01(b) required Steinbach to establish excusable neglect and "[n]one has been shown." The Judgment then found that Steinbach admitted in her October 2018 charge of discrimination that the discrimination and retaliation therein asserted were related to the complaints she made in her February 2018 charge of discrimination. Thus, the Judgment concluded that the sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims in the instant case and in the Federal Case were connected so that, by filing separate...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8 cases
  • Jeschke AG Serv., LLC v. Bell
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 28, 2022
    ...rules of res judicata to be applicable, a final judgment must have been rendered in prior litigation. Steinbach v. Maxion Wheels Sedalia LLC , 637 S.W.3d 493, 509-10 (Mo. App. W.D. 2021) (citing Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 13 (1982) ). In this matter, the Defendants raised the defen......
  • Jeschke AG Serv. v. Bell
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 28, 2022
    ..."generally applies to suits filed after the conclusion of a prior suit, [but] the doctrine also applies to actions pending simultaneously." Id. (quoting G.B. Crossroads Academy-Central Street, 618 S.W.3d 581, 591 n.8 (Mo. App. W.D. 2020)). "[W]here actions are simultaneously pending, claim ......
  • Aldrich v. Aldrich
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • November 2, 2021
  • Cox v. Callaway Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • February 7, 2023
    ...... affirmative defense.'" Steinbach v. Maxion. Wheels Sedalia LLC , 637 S.W.3d 493, 501 (Mo. App. W.D. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT