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ESPINOZA v. NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

January 28, 2004.

RODOLFO D. ESPINOZA, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUZANNE CONLON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Northwestern University ("Northwestern") hired Rodolfo Espinoza as a law library assistant on June 14, 1999. Northwestern terminated Espinoza just six months later, in December 1999. Espinoza filed a pro se complaint in federal court, alleging that Northwestern, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and the Chicago Police Department conspired to violate his civil rights. He also alleged Northwestern discriminated against him because he is Mexican-American, Ultimately, only Espinoza's Title VII claims reached summary judgment And those claims proved baseless: this court granted Northwestern summary judgment on Espinoza's discrimination and retaliation claims. Minute Order, 7/24/2003, Doc. No. 54. The case was then referred to a magistrate judge for a report and recommendation on Northwestern's motion for sanctions under Fed.R. Civ. P. 11 and the court's inherent authority. Minute Order, 7/25/2003, Doc. No. 56. After an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge recommended Northwestern's motion for sanctions be granted and that sanctions be imposed against Espinoza in the amount of $5,000. Minute Order, 11/19/03, Doc. No. 66. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Espinoza objects to the magistrate's recommendation to award sanctions. Page 2

BACKGROUND

  The centerpiece of Espinoza's lawsuit is a group of documents he claims to have received anonymously. Espinoza does not challenge the magistrate judge's findings of fact, he merely asserts that he has no "firsthand knowledge of the origins" of the documents at issue. Thus, the court adopts the magistrate's factual findings. Lowe v. SRA/IBM Macmillan Pension Plan, No. 01 C 58, 2003 WL 1565841, at *1 (N.D. Ill. March 25, 2003). The documents came in three sets. The first two sets purported to be letters and memoranda among Espinoza's supervisors and Northwestern officials regarding Espinoza's job performance and the reasons for his dismissal. The third set of documents purports to be a series of communications among senior Northwestern officials implicating Northwestern, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and the Chicago Police Department in a criminal conspiracy to violate Espinoza's constitutional rights. The letters detail alleged assaults on Espinoza's nephew, the fire-bombing of Espinoza's home, and tampering with public records.

  Espinoza first sought to introduce these documents in an action before the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Northwestern moved to bar the documents. Northwestern supported its motion with affidavits of the putative authors and recipients denying the documents' authenticity. Northwestern also offered the expert opinion of a forensic document examiner who concluded the documents' signatures were cut and pasted. Espinoza did not object to the motions to strike and they were granted. Espinoza then withdrew his Illinois Department of Human Rights case. He attempted to use the documents in connection with a public hearing in which he subsequently refused to participate. Page 3

  Espinoza then brought his claims and documents to federal court. Espinoza accused his supervisors of national origin discrimination and he alleged Northwestern officials conspired with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Chicago Police Department to intimidate and harass him. Espinoza relied on the anonymous documents as the foundation for his federal lawsuit. The documents were attached to his complaint and his three amended complaints. The documents, as well as a handwritten log detailing the discrimination he suffered at Northwestern, were produced in his Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures. At his deposition, Espinoza testified that he understood his filings with this court must be true and accurate.

  Pre-trial discovery demonstrated that the documents and the handwritten log were not authentic. The magistrate judge found Espinoza's deposition contained many disturbing admissions. Espinoza conceded that the affidavits of the purported Northwestern authors and recipients of the anonymous documents denying authenticity were probably true. He acknowledged that the first two sets of documents were inherently suspect and likely forgeries. Espinoza admitted he had no plans to authenticate the documents and that he had never investigated their authenticity before incorporating them into his signed pleadings. Espinoza attempted to enlist the help of a journalist and the Law Assistance Foundation but was rebuffed because both questioned the authenticity of the documents.

  The magistrate judge also found that the circumstances surrounding Espinoza's receipt of the anonymous documents were suspicious. In his purported document log, Espinoza labeled the first set of documents as the "first set" before he received the other two sets of documents in the mail. Espinoza's handwritten log also aroused suspicion. Espinoza "discovered" the log only when he filed suit in federal court. Moreover, Northwestern's ink chemist determined that the Page 4 log was prepared within 12 to 16.5 months prior to the lawsuit, not during Espinoza's employment at Northwestern almost three years earlier.

  DISCUSSION

  The magistrate judge found that Espinoza acted in bad faith and recommended an award of sanctions pursuant to Rule 11, For the most part, Espinoza's objections merely recount the facts supporting the magistrate judge's recommendation. See Pl's Obj. at ¶¶ 7, 10 (admits the documents are forged and incredible). However, Espinoza presents two cognizable objections. First, he denies any involvement in the actual forgery of the documents. Pl's Obj. at ¶¶ 14, 20-21. Second, he asserts Northwestern's motion for sanctions should be denied because he lacks the ability to pay. Id. at ¶¶ 15-18.

 I. Legal Standard

  In reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of the record to which a specific written objection is directed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). However, the district court is not required to conduct another hearing to review the magistrate's findings and credibility determinations. Goffman v. Gross, 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 1995). Rather, the district court may accept, reject, or modify the recommended decision.

 II. Espinoza's Objections

  Initially, the court notes that Espinoza's objections do not comply with Rule 72. He failed to submit the magistrate judge's recommendation with his motion. Furthermore, his objections are untimely. Under Rule 72, Espinoza had 10 days after service of the report and recommendation to file his objections. Kruger v. Apfel, 214 F.3d 784, 786-87 (7th Cir. 2000). Page 5 The magistrate judge notified Espinoza of his decision at the November 19, 2003 hearing, orally stating his recommendation. The minute order reflecting the decision was mailed to Espinoza the same day. Accordingly, Espinoza's specific written objections were due December 10, 2003. See Kruger, 214 F.3d at 786-87 (10 days plus 3 days for mailed notice, excluding weekends and holidays). Espinoza did not file his objections until January 7, 2004. However, the deadline for filing objections is not jurisdictional. But Espinoza must demonstrate sufficient cause for failing to timely object. United States v. Raymond, 228 F.3d 804, 810 (7th Cir. 2000); Hunger v. Leininger, 15 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 1994). Espinoza claims his delinquency should be excused for two reasons: (1) because he never received a copy of the magistrate judge's order; and (2) because of "the many changes in [his] personal and work related environments." Espinoza Aff. at ¶¶ 4-7. Espinoza does not support these conclusory arguments. Given Espinoza's reckless approach to this litigation, the court finds his statements dubious. See, e.g., Minute Order 9/26/03, Doc. No. 65 (he failed to appear at status hearing); Minute Order ...


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