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HOFMANN v. FERMILAB

May 30, 2002

I.M. HOFMANN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
FERMILAB NAL/URA, AND VALERIE HOFFMAN, DEBORAH KOP/MAHONEY, AND SEYFARTH, SHAW, FAIRWEATHER & GERALDSON, AND H. EVAN WILLIAMS, AND O'HAGAN, SMITH, & AMUNDSEN, AND TOMMY THOMPSON, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY, MARION NEALON, JOANNE TRAVOLIERI, AND LINDA SHOVEIN AND SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, AND CHAMPUS/TRICARE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine B. Bucklo, United States District Judge

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This opinion discusses, and I hope ends, a long-standing dispute that the plaintiff, now acting pro se, has had with her former employer and everyone involved in any way, as well as some persons or entities not even remotely involved in the matter.

In 1989, I.M. Hofmann filed charges with the Illinois Department of Human Rights against her employer, Universities Research Association ("URA"), alleging sex and disability discrimination. She was fired in 1990, and subsequently amended her complaint to include, in addition, claims of harassment and retaliation. She sued in federal court in 1998, alleging discrimination because of sex, age, national origin, sexual harassment, retaliation, assault, battery, defamation, and personal injury in the previous case, Hofmann v. Fermilab, 98 C 7646 (N.D. Ill. filed Nov. 30, 1998). In September 1999, the parties reached a settlement agreement encompassing all of Hofmann's employment discrimination claims, but, after orally agreeing to the settlement, she refused to sign it. She fired her appointed lawyer, H. Evan Williams, and was appointed another, Robin Miller, for a hearing on the defendants' motion to enforce the settlement. After a hearing on December 16, 1999, the court ruled that there was an enforceable oral settlement agreement. Compl., Tab F, at 123-24. The case was dismissed without prejudice until January 21, 2000, in event of breach; if the case was not reinstated, the dismissal became one with prejudice. Hofmann appealed and lost. Compl., Tab D. The case was never reinstated. It was therefore terminated with prejudice.

Hofmann's present complaint is a rambling disquisition of 113 pages;, in clear violation of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (calling for "a short and plain statement of the claim"). It may be dismissed with prejudice on those grounds alone. Vicom, Inc. v. Harbridge Merchant Services, Inc., 20 F.3d 771, 775-76 (7th Cir. 1994) ("A prolix and confusing complaint should be dismissed under Rule 8 because it makes it difficult for a defendant to file a responsive pleading and difficult for a court to conduct orderly litigation, as well as to conserve judicial resources."), and I dismiss it on those grounds among others.

In any event, the complaint is without merit: not only does Hofmann attempt to relitigate matters decided in her previous employment discrimination case, which she appealed to the Seventh Circuit and lost, but she sues her own lawyer in that case — also largely over matters also litigated and decided in the prior case — and sues the lawyers of the defendant in the previous case, and also several agencies of the federal government and their employees — in one instance for things that have not been done to her, and in no case for anything or on any basis for which she could recover.

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, I must construe the complaint's allegations in the light most favorable to the plainliff and take all well-pleaded facts and allegations in the complaint as true. Bontkowski v. First Nat'l Bank of Cicero, 998 F.2d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1993). The allegations of a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of h[er] claim which would entitle h[er] to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)

I begin with Hofmann's employment discrimination and related claims against her former employer, URA. These claims are substantially barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion. The doctrine bars all claims that were or could have been raised against the parties and their privies in the previous case. Simon v. Allstate Employee Group Med. Plan, 263 F.3d 656, 657 (7th Cir. 2001). The basic policy of claim preclusion is finality: a plaintiff gets one chance to litigate a claim to final judgment, and, while she may appeal, she does not get to relitigate the same claim, or any related claim she could have brought in that action, merely because she lost the first time around. See Empire Fire and Marine Ins. Co. v. J. Transport, Inc., 880 F.2d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 1989). Federal rules of claim preclusion apply when, as here, the previous case was federal. Havoco of Am., Ltd. v. Freeman, Atkins & Coleman, Ltd., 58 F.3d 303, 307 n. 7 (7th Cir. 1995). The "three elements of federal claim preclusion [are] identity of claims, identity of parties, and a prior final judgment on the merits." Perry v. Globe Auto Recycling, Inc., 227 F.3d 950, 952 (7th Cir. 2000)

The claims relating to the discrimination allegedly committed by URA in this lawsuit were all ones that are or could have been raised in the first lawsuit. The parties are the same; the defense lawyers added to this lawsuit are in privity with the defendant there. See Henry v. Farmer City State Bank, 808 F.2d 1228, 1235 n. 6 (7th Cir. 1986) (Claim preclusion bars claims against attorneys of only defendant in the prior suit). And the court's order enforcing the settlement in the prior case is a final judgment. All matters relating to her claims of employment discrimination by URA are barred by claim preclusion.

Hofmann also sues her own attorney from that case, H. Evan Williams, and (by respondeat superior) his law firm, O'Hagen, Smith & Amundsen, apparently alleging legal malpractice, attorney misconduct, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract because Williams failed to advise her of settlement negotiations, acted without authority in those negotiations, and failed to protect her from a Medicare lien or to protect her rights under the Illinois Workers Compensation Act. Hofmann also alleges that Williams violated the Illinois Professional Code of Conduct and Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, breached a fiduciary duty to the government, should be criminally indicted for interference with federal contracts, violated Hofmann's civil rights and engaged in retaliation.

Hofmann also charges Williams with malpractice for settling her case without authority and without advising her of the negotiations. This claim is barred by the district court's holding to the contrary at the hearing approving the settlement, where these charges were the main issue before the court. Hofmann had fired Williams, apparently on the basis of these allegations, and was represented by a new lawyer, Miller. After a two-day evidentiary hearing, the district court rejected Hofmann's charges. Compl., Tab A, at 123 (Williams "fully informed" Hofmann of "all pertinent facts regarding the agreement."). The court held that Williams had the authority to negotiate and settle the case. Id. at 83, 87-89.

Here issue rather than claim preclusion applies, and since the prior case is federal, I use federal issue preclusion principles. Havoco, 58 E.3d at 307. Issue preclusion will apply if: (1) the issue sought to be precluded is the same as that involved in the prior action; (2) the issue was actually litigated; (3) the determination of the issue was essential to the final judgment; and (4) the party against whom estoppel is invoked was fully represented in the prior action. Id. The issues here and at the hearing on the motion to enforce the settlement is the scope of Williams' agency and his performance of it; the issues were argued and decided; their determination was essential to the enforcement of the settlement, and Hofmann was represented by counsel.

Hofmann alleges that Williams participated and orchestrated a fraudulent conspiracy while negotiating the settlement agreement. However, the circumstances constituting the fraud must be pled in detail. DiLeo v. Ernst & Young, 901 F.2d 624, 629 (7th Cir. 1990) This means "the who, what, when, where, and how: the first paragraph of any newspaper story." Id. That is lacking here. I note, moreover, that the fraud allegations are also issue-precluded, having been decided in Williams' favor by the court at the enforcement hearing.

Hofmann asks for recovery against Williams for misconduct on the basis of the Illinois Rules of Professional Responsibility, which do not create a private right of action. Zanders v. Jones, 680 F. Supp. 1236, 1239 (N.D. Ill. 1988). This issue is also precluded by the district court's findings in the enforcement hearing. Hofmann also asks for recovery on the basis of Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, and that issue is also precluded for lack of any finding of misconduct, as well as the fact that Rule 11 affords no private ...


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