Eleventh Circuit Narrows Application of Judicial Estoppel

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The Eleventh Circuit has revisited the question of when a debtor may be judicially estopped from pursuing a civil lawsuit due to his or her failure to disclose the claims forming the basis of the lawsuit in their bankruptcy. Judicial estoppel is an equitable doctrine intended to protect courts against parties who seek to manipulate the judicial process by changing their legal positions to suit the exigencies of the moment. In the context of a bankruptcy, judicial estoppel arises when a party takes two inconsistent positions under oath: one in their civil lawsuit swearing that they possess a valid claim, and one in their bankruptcy swearing that they do not have any such claims. Judicial estoppel also requires that those inconsistent positions are made with an intent to make a mockery of the judicial system. This situation arose in Slater v. U.S. Steel Corp., 871 F.3d 1174 (11th Cir. 2017), where former employee Slater brought a sex and race discrimination case against her former employer, United States Steel. Slater later filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in which she failed to disclose her lawsuit against U.S. Steel.

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