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Sudeikis v. Chicago Transit Authority

October 2, 1985

ANNE L. SUDEIKIS AND STEPHEN J. KABALA, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION; JAMES R. QUINN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS VICE-CHAIRMAN OF THE CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY BOARD; DONALD J. WALSH, ERNIE BANKS, WALLACE D. JOHNSON, AND LAWRENCE G. SUCSY, AS MEMBERS OF THE CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY BOARD; AND TERRELL W. HILL, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Nos. 75 C 2277 and 83 C 5962 (Consolidated) Frank J. McGarr, Judge.

Author: PECK

Before CUDAHY and COFFEY, Circuit Judges, and PECK, Senior Circuit Judge.*fn1

PECK, Senior Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs-appellants Anne Sudeikis (Sudeikis) and Stephen Kabala (Kabala) appeal from the dismissal of their consolidated actions stemming from a 1975 employment dispute with defendant-appellee Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). The trial court ruled in dismissing the first of these actions, filed in 1982, which sought enforcement of a 1975 settlement decree, that it had not been brought within a reasonable time and therefore, was barred by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FED. R. CIV. P.) 60(b)(6). The court also dismissed the second of the consolidated actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, finding that that complaint did not state a § 1983 cause of action.*fn2 Finally, the court dismissed appellants' pendent state claim, since with the federal claims dismissed, the state claim did not provide an independent basis for federal jurisdiction. We affirm.

II.

In 1975, Sudiekis served as CTA's supervisor of customer services. Kabala was manager of CTA's marketing department, and apparently was Sudeikis's supervisor. In the course of her employment, Sudeikis made unauthorized statements to the press. CTA believed that Kabala had acquiesced in the statements. In April 1975, CTA terminated both Kabala and Sudeikis, allegedly because of the unauthorized press statements. Sudeikis and Kabala filed an action against CTA that July in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that their termination had violated their constitutional rights. In August of that year the parties entered an agreement settling the dispute. The agreement provided that Sudeikis and Kabala would be reinstated to their positions, with back pay and benefits. The agreement further provided that Sudeikis and Kabala would then immediately resign; they would, however, receive severance pay through mid-October 1975, plus any vacation pay to which they were entitled. In addition, CTA agreed to pay Sudeikis's and Kabala's attorneys' fees and other legal costs, and Sudeikis and Kabala and CTA released each other from any further liability. Pursuant to the settlement, the federal lawsuit was dismissed with the court's consent.

The settlement agreement approved by the district court did not include any language providing what sort of response CTA would give prospective employers seeking information on Sudeikis and Kabala. The parties have stipulated, however, in the course of the present litigation, that they had agreed to the contents of the letters of recommendation which CTA would send. The agreed-to letters of recommendation were extremely favorable; they described the "creativity," "efficiency and skill," and "unending dedication" of appellants. The parties have stipulated that they agreed that CTA would send this letter "and nothing more" to appellants' potential employers.

In appellants' view, however, CTA has not kept this part of the bargain. Appellants also allege that CTA has responded to some employment inquiries with defamatory statements against them. Appellants allege that CTA has responded to employment inquiries with a flat statement that Sudeikis and Kabala once worked for it but do so no longer, or even with the ominous sounding (and untrue) statement that it is not at liberty to discuss their employment records. According to appellants, CTA's alleged failure to observe the settlement agreement has restricted their employment opportunities severely.

In 1978, Sudeikis filed a suit against CTA in an Illinois state court, alleging breach of the settlement agreement. Her pursuit of this suit has been desultory at best. The trial court dismissed the action, but a state appellate court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for trial in 1980. Since then, Sudeikis has not pursued this suit; instead, by her own account, she has "spent considerable time and energy" seeking an attorney satisfactory to herself.

In 1983, Sudeikis found a new attorney and she and Kabala filed an action in federal court seeking enforcement of the settlement agreement, in spite of the fact that Sudeikis had an action seeking the same relief pending in state court. While this action was pending, Sudeikis and Kabala filed yet another action, again in federal court. This action, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleged that CTA had violated appellants' constitutional rights by failing to follow the settlement agreement and by making slanderous statements against appellants to potential employers. This behavior, appellants alleged, was retaliation against appellants' exercise of their first amendment right to free speech and their right, guaranteed by the Illinois constitution, to seek redress of grievances. The action also alleged deprivation of constitutionally protected liberty and property interests through failure to observe the settlement agreement.

The two federal suits were consolidated for trial, and appellees filed a motion to dismiss both. In granting this motion as to Kabala's action to enforce the settlement agreement, the court noted that FED. R. CIV. P. 60(b)(6) has been interpreted as granting district courts which dismiss actions in accordance with settlement agreements jurisdiction over suits to enforce the agreements, provided the suits are brought "within a reasonable time." Aro Corp. v. Allied Witan Co., 531 F.2d 1368 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 862, 50 L. Ed. 2d 140, 97 S. Ct. 165, 191 U.S.P.Q. (BNA) 751 (1976). Further noting that the definition of a "reasonable time" is decided on a case-by-case basis, the court concluded that Kabala's section 1983 suit to enforce a 1975 settlement agreement was not timely. The court conceded that Kabala had submitted an affidavit alleging a 1982 violation of the settlement agreement, but called this single alleged violation "too slim a reed" on which to base a suit to enforce an agreement seven years old when the suit was filed.

The court found, for similar reasons, that appellant Sudeikis's suit was also untimely. In addition, the court held that she could not use the federal courts "to escape the effects of her inattention to the state court suit." Accordingly, Sudeikis's enforcement action was dismissed as well.

The court also dismissed the action stating constitutional claims. It cited Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 47 L. Ed. 2d 405, 96 S. Ct. 1155 (1976), for the proposition that the stigma arising from allegedly defamatory statements by a governmental instrumentality is not actionable in the absence of an actual termination from government employment. Since the complained-of CTA conduct was not connected with Sudeikis's and Kabala's termination, it was not actionable, the court held. finally, the court dismissed the count alleging violation of the right to seek redress of grievances guaranteed by the Illinois constitution on the ground that it alone could ...


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