United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
April 29, 2004.
GEORGE ROBERSON, WILLIE JOHNSON and OLIVER TAYLOR, Plaintiffs,
ALLIANCE MIDWEST TUBULAR PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: BLANCHE MANNING, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Willie Johnson and Oliver Taylor, who are both
African-American, contend that defendant Alliance Midwest Tubular
Products violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended,
42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. Specifically, Mr. Johnson asserts
that Alliance Midwest discriminated and retaliated against him on the
basis of his race by denying him overtime hours and Mr. Taylor asserts
that Alliance Midwest discriminated against him by wrongfully failing to
hire him. In their motion for summary judgment, Alliance Midwest
contends, among other things, that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor's claims
are time-barred. For the following reasons, the court agrees and thus
grants Alliance Midwest's motion for summary judgment.
The pertinent facts are straightforward and uncontested. On September
14, 1999, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor received right to sue letters from
the EEOC. On November 16, 1999, a pro se complaint was filed which listed
George Roberson, Calvin Smith, Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Taylor as plaintiffs
in the caption. The complaint's allegations, however, focused solely on
facts relating to Alliance Midwest's alleged discrimination against Mr.
Roberson, who is also African-American.
Specifically, Mr. Roberson wrote the complaint in the first person and
was the only person to sign the complaint. According to Mr. Roberson,
after his interview with Alliance Midwest, he repeatedly called back to
see if he had been hired. Alliance Midwest told him that it was not
hiring but nevertheless hired sixteen Caucasians, one African-American,
and one Hispanic. Mr. Roberson attached his EEOC charge to the complaint.
In his charge, Mr. Roberson stated that he believed that Alliance Midwest
had discriminated against him based on his race because he had extensive
relevant experience, Alliance Midwest was hiring mostly Caucasians, and
only 10% of its workforce was African-American.
The complaint did not contain any pattern and practice allegations,
refer in any way to the remaining three plaintiffs, or attach any of
their EEOC documents. On February 7, 2000, the plaintiffs amended their
complaint to add allegations addressing Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor. The
claims against Mr. Smith were subsequently dismissed.
Standard for a Motion for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is proper when the "pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue of any material fact."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986). "The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all
justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Valenti v,
Qualex. Inc., 970 F.2d 363, 365 (7th Cir. 1992). The determination as to what facts are "material" in employment
discrimination cases depends upon the substantive law of employment
discrimination, and the burden of proof applicable under the law.
Williams v, Williams Electronics, Inc., 856 F.2d 920, 922
(1988). When considering motions for summary judgment in discrimination
cases, the court applies these criteria with added rigor because the
matters of intent and credibility are crucial issues. See Sarsha
v. Sears, Roebuck, & Co., 3 F.3d 1035, 1038 (7th Cir. 1993).
A plaintiff has ninety days after receipt of a right to sue letter from
the EEOC to file a Title VII action. See
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1); see also Velasco. v. Illinois Dept. of Human
Services., 246 F.3d 1010, 1018 (7th Cir. 2001). In this case, the
original complaint, which included Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor in the
caption, was filed within the statutory 90 day period. Alliance Midwest,
however, contends that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor's claims against it
first appeared in a recognizable form in the amended complaint, which was
filed after the 90 day period had expired. They thus argue that these
claims are untimely because they do not relate back to the original
The relation back rule is premised on the idea that a defendant should
have fair notice of a claim. See generally 6 A C. Wright, A.
Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d
§ 1497 at 94-95 (2d ed. 1990). "An amendment of a pleading relates
back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the claim or defense
asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction,
or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original
pleading." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(2). "[R]elation back is permitted under
Rule 15(c)(2) where an amended complaint asserts a new claim on the basis
of the same core of facts, but involving a different substantive legal theory than that advanced in the
original pleading. . . . Thus, a new substantive claim that would
otherwise be time-barred relates back to the date of the original
pleading, provided the new claim arises from the same `conduct,
transaction, or occurrence' as was alleged in the original complaint."
Bularz v. Prudential Insurance Company of America,
93 F.3d 372, 379 (7th Cir. 1996).
This means that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor's Title VII claims are
timely only if they arise out of the same "conduct, transaction, or
occurrence" set forth in the original complaint. See id. In
their response to Alliance Midwest's motion for summary judgment, Mr.
Johnson and Mr. Taylor stress that their names appeared in the caption of
the original complaint. Based on this fact, they assert that Alliance
Midwest should have inferred that they were raising Title VII claims. The
court disagrees. It is well established that a plaintiff cannot state a
claim against a defendant by merely including the defendant's name in the
caption. See Collins v. Kibort, 143 F.3d 331, 335 (7th Cir.
1998); see also Iwachiw v. New York State Dept. of Motor
Vehicles, 299 F. Supp.2d 117, 121 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (complaint failed
to state claim against governor where the plaintiff only mentioned the
governor's name in the complaint's caption and did not allege any
wrongdoing by the governor in the body of the complaint); Tolley v,
Kivett, No. 1:0ICV00410, 2002 WL 31163773 at *2 (M.D.N.C. Jul 01,
2002) (dismissing complaint for failure to state a claim where the
plaintiff named a defendant in the caption and one paragraph of the
complaint and did not provide any allegations relating to how the
defendant violated the law or injured him); Florian v. Sequa
Corp., No. 98 C 7459, 2002 WL 31844985 at *3 n.2 (N.D. III. Dec 18,
2002) (naming of defendant's name in the caption was not enough to state
claim against that defendant); Dove v. Fordham Univ.,
56 F. Supp.2d 330, 335 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), aff'd sub nom. Dove v. 0'Hare, 210 F.3d 354 (2nd Cir. 2000)
(unpublished order) (`where the complaint names a defendant in the
caption but contains no allegations indicating exactly how the defendant
violated the law or injured the plaintiff, a motion to dismiss the
complaint in regard to that defendant should be granted"); Holder v.
State of N.Y., No. 98 CIV. 0354 (MBM), 1998 WL 744021 at *3
(S.D.N.Y. Oct 26, 1998) (dismissing complaint for failure to state a
claim as to defendants who were merely listed in the caption).
So, does the rule that a plaintiff cannot state a claim against a
defendant by simply including that defendant in the caption mean that a
plaintiff who names himself in the caption but provides absolutely no
details in the complaint regarding the nature of his suit also fails to
state a claim? The court finds that the answer to this question is "yes"
because in both cases, the defendant knows it is being sued but does not
To illustrate, suppose X and Y wish to sue Z for employment
discrimination. In scenario #1, X and Y sue Z but the complaint (as in
the case actually before the court) does not provide Z with any
indication as to the basis of Y's claims although it does include Y in
the caption. Z is left to ponder its past relationship, if any, with Y
and come up with hypotheses as to why Y might be suing it. In scenario
#2, which is the reverse situation, X and Y again sue Z but their
complaint alleges wrongdoing that is completely unconnected with Z. Z is
again left to figure out why it is being sued.
The Seventh Circuit and numerous other courts have found that scenario
#2 does not state an actionable claim because it is the plaintiff's job
to alert the defendant to the broad contours of his claim. See
supra. This logic applies equally to scenario #1 because in that
situation, the defendant also does not know what claim the plaintiff is
attempting to bring. Accordingly, the mere presence of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor's names in the caption
fails to state a recognizable claim against Alliance Midwest.
This is so even though the plaintiffs were proceeding pro se at the
time they filed their complaint. The court construes pro se pleadings as
generously as possible, but at the end of the day, it cannot create an
entirely new set of procedural rules to govern pleadings filed by pro se
litigants. See Potter v, Clark, 497 F.2d 1206, 1207 (7th Cir.
1974) (per curiam) (complaint was properly dismissed, even under the
liberal construction to be given pro se complaints, where it alleged no
specific conduct on the part of the defendant and was silent as to the
defendant except for his name appearing in the caption). The court thus
declines to adopt a rule which would require defendants to divine a pro
se plaintiff's cause of action based on the presence of his name in a
caption. See id.
The court also notes that, in any event, the claims raised by Mr.
Johnson and Mr. Taylor in the amended complaint do not arise out of the
same conduct, transaction, or occurrence alleged in the original
complaint. With the benefit of hindsight, the court knows that all of the
plaintiffs named in the original complaint wanted to raise discrimination
complaints against Alliance Midwest. However, each plaintiff's claim was
based on a unique and unconnected set of facts and circumstances. While
simply saying, "the defendant discriminated against me on the basis of my
race," is enough to state a claim for race discrimination,
Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998),
the original complaint here did not even contain this rudimentary
information. Instead, it left Allied Midwest with the untenable task of
figuring out who the plaintiffs were, how they might have been connected
to Allied Midwest, and what their claims might possibly be. To conclude, the court finds that, despite Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor's
pro se status, they did not state a colorable claim for discrimination
against Alliance Midwest in the original complaint. This means that the
amended complaint, which raises specific discrimination claims on behalf
of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor for the first time, does not relate back to
the original complaint because that original complaint did not contain
any claims relating to either Mr. Johnson or Mr. Taylor. There is thus
nothing for the amended complaint to relate back to.
Alternatively, the court finds that the allegations in the amended
complaint do not arise out of the same conduct, transaction, or
occurrence alleged in the original complaint so they do not relate back.
This means that, despite the court's preference for resolving claims on
their merits, the court finds that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor's Title VII
claims against Alliance Midwest are time-barred.
Alliance Midwest's motion for summary judgment [49-1] is granted.
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