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COFFEE v. AMERITECH

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division


January 17, 2003

SYLVIA COFFEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERITECH, INC., DEFENDANT.

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

ORDER

Plaintiff Sylvia Coffee sued her former employer, Ameritech Corporation ("Ameritech")*fn1 alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., ("ADA") (Counts I and II). In July 2002, Coffee amended her complaint to include a claim alleging a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1933, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. ("FMLA") (Count III). Coffee again moves this court to amend her complaint to add Count IV, a state law claim for defamation. As explained below, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint and Extend Discovery is hereby denied.

Background*fn2

Coffee was hired by Ameritech on July 1, 1985, as a customer service administrator. On January 22, 2001, she received a notice of deposition in Sibley v. Ameritech, an employment discrimination case brought by a fellow employee. Coffee was deposed on January 31, 2001. On February 20, 2001, Ameritech informed Coffee that she was suspended indefinitely as a result of calling in sick three times prior to July 2000. In this lawsuit, Coffee alleges that her suspension violated the ADA and also claims that she was retaliated against because she provided testimony at the January 2001 deposition. Coffee asserts that Ameritech "intentionally and knowingly worsened her psychological disability" by suspending her in spite of her satisfactory work performance. Finally, Coffee states that she was suspended for absences which were protected by the FMLA. Coffee now seeks to add a defamation claim based on allegedly defamatory statements made in September 2001, seven months after her suspension.

Analysis

While the court's guiding principle is that leave to amend normally should be freely given, this principle is inapplicable where the amendment would prove futile, Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962), that is, when the amendment would not survive a motion to dismiss. Sports Center, Inc. v. Brunswick Marine, 63 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 1995). "To hold otherwise would impose upon the defendants and the courts the arduous task of responding to an obviously futile gesture on the part of the plaintiffs. Rule 15(a) does not require the courts to undertake such an exercise." Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 472 (7th Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). The court must therefore determine whether Coffee's new claim would survive a motion to dismiss challenge.

Ameritech contends that Count IV should not be allowed as it would not survive a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). The standard applied to a 12(b)(1) motion is similar to the standard applied to a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Brown v. Keystone Consol. Indus., Inc., 680 F. Supp. 1212, 1215 (N.D. Ill. 1988). Namely, the court must take all of plaintiff's allegations as true and must view them, along with all reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Orchard Hills Coop. Apartments, Inc. v. Resolution Trust Corp., 779 F. Supp. 104, 106 (C.D.Ill. 1991). In deciding a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, the court may look beyond the complaint and view any extraneous evidence submitted by the parties to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. United Transp. Union v. Gateway Western Ry. Co., 78 F.3d 1208, 1210 (7th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). The plaintiff, however, always bears the burden of establishing that the jurisdictional requirements have been met. Kontos v. United States Dep't of Labor, 826 F.2d 573, 576 (7th Cir. 1987).

Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, Coffee's new state-law claim for defamation does not automatically fall within the court's original jurisdiction. In order for this court to have jurisdiction over Count IV, the claim must fall within the court's supplemental jurisdiction. District courts, in their discretion, have supplemental jurisdiction over "all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy." 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Thus, a federal court may exercise jurisdiction over a pendent state-law claim that shares a "common nucleus of operative facts" with a federal claim. United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966). "A loose factual connection between the claims is generally sufficient." Ammerman v. Sween, 54 F.3d 423, 424 (7th Cir. 1995).

Coffee attempts to tie her alleged defamation to the ADA claim through an attenuated string of separate events. To support her ADA claim, Coffee alleges that Ameritech needlessly exacerbated her mental disability when it suspended her in retaliation for providing deposition testimony in a separate ADA case. After her suspension, Coffee applied for short and long term disability benefits. As part of this process, Coffee had to undergo psychiatric evaluations. One of Coffee's psychiatrists "expressed concern about [Coffee] being homicidal towards managers and co-workers at [Ameritech]." Coffee's Reply at 3.

In her defamation claim, Coffee alleges that, seven months after her suspension, Ameritech's head of security "falsely accused [Coffee] of making threats of an intent to physically harm [her former supervisor]." Plaintiff's Proposed Third Amended Complaint ¶ 27. Coffee fails, however, to explain how this statement relates, if at all, to her ADA claims.

Ameritech argues that this court cannot exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Coffee's defamation claim because there is no factual nexus between Count IV and the original federal claims. Ameritech points out that the alleged activity giving rise to the defamation charge occurred in September 2001 — or seven months after the suspension which underlies Coffee's federal claims. The defamation claim, Ameritech argues, is a separate controversy with its own distinct facts. Ameritech concludes that because Count IV is a state-law claim, and it does not share common facts with the federal claims, this court does not have jurisdiction to hear it.

This conclusion is consistent with the case law within this circuit concerning the exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over state defamation claims in cases factually similar to the one at bar. In Jackson v. Local 705, 95 C 7510, 2002 WL 460841 (N.D.Ill. Mar. 22, 2002), the plaintiff attempted to join several state-law causes of action, including one for defamation, with a Title VII wrongful discharge case. Id. at *1. Because the statements at issue occurred post-termination and concerned individuals who were not in a position to effect the triggering events in the federal claims, this court dismissed the defamation claims as outside the court's supplemental jurisdictional power. Id. at *10-11. In that case, this court found that "there is no common date, audience, or any other factual link between these statements and the failure of Joint Council 25 to turn Jackson's chaplaincy into a full-time, paid position. Without such a common nucleus of operative fact, the Court is without jurisdiction to entertain this state law claim." Id.

Similarly, in Freiburger v. Emery Air Charter, Inc., 795 F. Supp. 253 (N.D.Ill. 1992), the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a state-law claim based on an allegedly defamatory statement, made months after the initial conduct upon which the federal claims were based. The plaintiffs in Freiburger attempted to include state-law claims, including one for defamation, in their complaint alleging wrongful discharge for protected union organizing activity. Id. at 258-59. Even though the alleged defamation grew directly out of the plaintiff's union activity, the court held that it lacked jurisdiction over that claim because the alleged defamation occurred after the plaintiff's termination. Id. The court found that these were separate controversies based on their chronology. Id. While recognizing that only a "loose connection" was required, the court determined that the alleged defamatory statements at issue were not sufficiently tied to the federal claims to satisfy the requirements for supplemental jurisdiction. Id.

Based on these cases and the facts provided by Coffee, the court declines to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction. Count IV does not involve the same nucleus of facts as Counts I, II and III. There is no common date or other factual link between the alleged defamatory statements and Coffee's ADA and FMLA claims. The facts pertinent to Counts I, II and III center on events leading up to, and culminating in, Coffee's suspension in February 2001. The facts pertinent to Coffee's new claim occurred seven months later and center on a conversation between two Ameritech employees who were not involved in Coffee's suspension. The facts underlying Coffee's federal claims are completely unrelated to the events which occurred seven months later which form the basis of her defamation claim. Because there is no common nucleus of operative facts, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Count IV.

Because Coffee's proposed Count IV cannot survive a motion to dismiss, this court finds that allowing an amendment to her complaint would be futile. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint and Extend Discovery is denied.


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