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Butler v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

September 12, 2017

Kiante Butler, Plaintiff,
Delta Air Lines, Inc., Defendant.


          Gray H. Miller United State District Judge

          Pending before the court is a memorandum and recommendation (“M&R”) filed by Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson. Dkt. 252. The Magistrate Judge considered a motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Delta Air Lines, Inc. (“Delta”) (Dkt. 60). Id. Having considered the M&R, the motion, plaintiff Kiante Butler's objections (Dkt. 127), defendant Delta's objections (Dkt. 128), Butler's response (Dkt. 130), Delta's response (Dkt. 129), and other relevant materials in the record, the court is of the opinion that Butler's objections and Delta's objections should be SUSTAINED IN PART AND OVERRULED IN PART and that the M&R should be ADOPTED IN FULL. Also pending is Butler's motion to consolidate (Dkt. 123). The court is of the opinion that the motion to consolidate should be DENIED.

         I. Legal Standards

          A. Magistrate Judge

         For dispositive matters, the court “determine(s) de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). “The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id. “When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Comm. Note (1983). For non-dispositive matters, the court may set aside the magistrate judge's order only to the extent that it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).

         B. Motion for Summary Judgment

         A court shall grant summary judgment when a “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(c). “[A] fact is genuinely in dispute only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Fordoche, Inc. v. Texaco, Inc., 463 F.3d 388, 392 (5th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552 (1986). If the party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the non-movant. Envtl. Conservation Org. v. City of Dall., Tex., 529 F.3d 519, 524 (5th Cir. 2008).

         II. Objections

         Butler and Delta both filed objections to the M&R.

         A. Butler's Objections

         Butler contends that he should be able to designate his experts past the deadline, and he takes issue with the fact that the court granted summary judgment as to attorneys' fees because Butler failed to designate an expert witness to testify, stating that the court did this on its own accord. Dkt. 130. However, in fact, Delta did move for summary judgment on the ground that Butler failed to designate an expert on attorneys' fees. Dkt. 60 at 11. As the Magistrate Judge explained in the order denying Butler's subsequent motion to designate experts, Butler had many opportunities at earlier points in time to designate experts, was on notice of this failure, and the deadlines for discovery and designation of expert witnesses has long passed. See Dkt. 132. Therefore, Butler's objections are OVERRULED.

         B. Delta's Objections

          Delta objects to the fact that the court denied summary judgment on Butler's claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel. Dkt. 128. The thrust of Delta's objections focuses on alleged plans by Butler's family members to permanently assume custody of A.B. from Butler upon A.B.'s arrival in Houston. Id.

         As to Butler's breach of contract claim, Delta argues that Butler cannot prove that his damages were caused by Delta's breach. Id. Delta contends that even if A.B. had been released to Butler's cousin, Shantel Pierce, as Butler intended, A.B. would not have been returned by Butler's family, and he would have had to go to court to retrieve her. Id. However, Delta's objection ignores the fact that the Magistrate Judge found that this case may fall under the limited exception allowing Butler to seek mental anguish damages for his breach of contract claim. Dkt. 124 at 19. Butler averred that Delta's actions caused him mental anguish, stating that his mental health issues “were worsened as a ...

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