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Fontana v. Elrod

decided: August 19, 1987.

MARY J. FONTANA, MICHAEL A. MACINO AND PETER G. POLMEN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
RICHARD J. ELROD, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 85 C 2424 James B. Moran, Judge.

Coffey and Ripple, Circuit Judges, and Eschbach, Senior Circuit Judge.

Author: Ripple

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge

Appellants, former employees of the Cook County Sheriff's Office, are members of the class certified in Burns v. Elrod. After their petition to file a late claim in the class settlement was denied on the ground that the notice to the class of the settlement had been adequate, Burns v. Elrod, 757 F.2d 151, 154 (7th Cir. 1985), they commenced a new class action on behalf of former employees of the Sheriff's Office who were not included in or did not receive notice of the settlement in Burns. In this suit, the appellants sought the same relief as was requested in the original case. The district court dismissed the complaint. We affirm.

I

Background

To understand the procedural history of this case, we must review the background and disposition of the original class action in Burns. In January and February 1971, the appellants were discharged from their positions with the Sheriff's Office after the appellee, Sheriff Elrod, a Democrat, replaced the incumbent Sheriff, a Republican, in December 1970. On March 10, 1971, other employees of the Sheriff's Office initiated a class action. They alleged that the Sheriff had discharged them for political reasons in violation of the first and fourteenth amendments. The complaint sought injunctive and declaratory relief, back pay, reinstatement and punitive damages. The district court dismissed the complaint. The dismissal was reversed by this court, Burns v. Elrod, 509 F.2d 1133 (7th Cir. 1975), and this court's decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court, Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 49 L. Ed. 2d 547, 96 S. Ct. 2673 (1976). On remand, the district court certified the class under Rule 23(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The present appellants, while not named plaintiffs, were members of the class.

Prior to trial, a settlement agreement was reached which, while it somewhat narrowed the class, still included the present plaintiffs. The district court ordered that notice be sent to each member of the class.*fn1 The district court later determined that the best practicable notice had been provided and, following a fairness hearing, approved the settlement on June 26, 1981.

On January 25, 1983, more than a year and a half after the deadline, the appellants petitioned to file their late claims. After the petitions were denied by the district court on May 31, 1983, they appealed to this court on the ground that the notice of settlement provided to class members was inadequate. This court determined that the notice given the class was adequate and affirmed the district court's denial of the petition to file a late claim. Burns v. Elrod, 757 F.2d 151 (7th Cir. 1985).

The appellants then filed this action in the district court. The court dismissed the complaint on the ground of res judicata.*fn2 It held that the prior litigation, which determined that notice of the settlement had been adequate, barred the appellants from filing another suit. Fontana v. Elrod, No. 85 C 2424, mem. op. at 7 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 25, 1986); R.22 at 7 [hereinafter cited as Mem. op.].

II

Discussion

The district court decided this case on the defendant's motion to dismiss. In reviewing the district court's dismissal, the factual allegations in the plaintiffs' complaint must be accepted as true. International Caucus of Labor Comm. v. City of Chicago, 816 F.2d 337, 340 (7th Cir. 1987). "Dismissal is therefore only proper where 'it appears beyond doubt that [the plaintiffs] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claims which would entitle [them] to relief.'" Pryzina v. Ley, 813 F.2d 821, 822 (7th Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (quoting Fromm v. Rosewell, 771 F.2d 1089, 1091 ...


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