LYNN R. RÍOS-CAMPBELL, Plaintiff, Appellant,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE et al., Defendants, Appellees.
FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF
PUERTO RICO [Hon. Carmen Consuelo Cerezo, U.S. District
Roldán-González on brief for appellant.
Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney,
Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States
Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Antonio L.
Perez-Alonso, Assistant United States Attorney, on brief for
Torruella, Selya, and Lynch, Circuit Judges.
written that "[t]o every thing there is a season, and a
time to every purpose." Ecclesiastes 3:1. This
proverb may ring as true in federal civil procedure as in
nature: because the court below, acting on a fully developed
motion for summary judgment, employed a legal standard meant
for use at an earlier stage of the case, its judgment must be
vacated. The tale follows.
briefly rehearse the relevant facts and procedural history.
On March 5, 2015, plaintiff-appellant Lynn R.
Ríos-Campbell commenced a civil action in the United
States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. In his
complaint, the plaintiff - a native of Puerto Rico - alleged
that his employer, the United States Department of Commerce,
along with several federal functionaries, had discriminated
against him on the basis of his national origin and, in the
bargain, had subjected him to retaliation when he raised the
issue. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint, not relevant
here, and then filed a second amended complaint on December
23, 2015. After the defendants filed an answer and the
district court entered a scheduling order, the parties
engaged in pretrial discovery. The discovery period closed on
March 31, 2016.
thereafter, the defendants moved for summary judgment.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Their motion papers included
over 1, 200 pages of exhibits. The plaintiff opposed the
motion, and the defendants replied to his opposition.
matter lay relatively fallow for over a year. On March 29,
2018, the district court entered an order stating in
pertinent part: "[h]aving considered the Motion for
Summary Judgment filed by defendants . . . as a motion to
dismiss for failure to state a plausible claim, said Motion
for Summary judgment is GRANTED." The court advised that
a "[s]tatement of reasons" would follow.
2, the court amended its March 29 order nunc pro tunc. The
amended order confirmed that the court, sua sponte, had
treated the defendants' motion for summary judgment as a
motion to dismiss "pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6)" and had granted the motion on that
understanding. Its accompanying statement of reasons
memorialized the court's view that the plaintiff's
second amended complaint failed to state a plausible claim
upon which relief could be granted. This timely appeal followed.
the fact that the parties do not quarrel with the district
court's treatment of the defendants' motion for
summary judgment as a motion to dismiss, that issue casts a
large shadow over any attempt to review the ruling below. In
our view, the orderly administration of justice counsels in
favor of addressing the issue here and now. Our consideration
of the appeal begins - and ends - there.
review the district court's decision to treat the
defendants' motion for summary judgment as a motion to
dismiss for abuse of discretion. See Vélez v.
Awning Windows, Inc., 375 F.3d 35, 41 (1st Cir. 2004)
(holding that "[a]ppellate review of a district
court's case-management decisions is solely for abuse of
discretion"); cf. Rubert-Torres v. Hosp. San Pablo,
Inc., 205 F.3d 472, 475 (1st Cir. 2000) (explaining that
review of district court's conversion of "Rule 12
motion into motion for summary judgment [is] for abuse of
discretion"). The dispositive question is whether, in
the absence of special circumstances or persuasive reasons,
the district court abused its discretion in transmogrifying a
fully developed motion for summary judgment, replete with
exhibits gleaned partially through discovery, into a motion
to dismiss for failure to state a claim. We think that it
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure offer litigants a number of
avenues through which they may attempt to terminate civil
actions short of trial. The earliest available option is a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b), which "must be made
before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). The rule itself lists several grounds
upon which such a motion may rest, including (as relevant
here) "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To withstand a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must "contain sufficient
factual matter . . . to 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" Haley v. City of
Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).
very nature, the plausibility standard is time-sensitive.
Refined to bare essence, it "is a screening mechanism
designed to weed out cases that do not warrant either
discovery or trial." Atieh v. Riordan, 727 F.3d
73, 76 (1st Cir. 2013). This screening comprises a
"threshold inquiry." Grajales v. P.R. Ports
Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 46 (1st Cir. 2012). ...