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Hoang v. Abbott Laboratories

November 6, 2008

DIEP X. HOANG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ABBOTT LABORATORIES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge

Diep X. Hoang, representing herself pro se, has filed a lawsuit against Abbott Laboratories and a number of current and former employees at Abbott. Defendants moved to dismiss all of Hoang's claims. The Court converted defendants' motion to a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants summary judgment in defendants' favor on Hoang's breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims but declines to grant summary judgment on her patent-related claims. Instead, the Court orders Hoang to file a supplement to her amended complaint, as detailed below.

Facts

Because defendants have moved for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to Hoang and draws reasonable inferences in her favor. See, e.g., Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

Hoang was employed as a scientist at Abbott from 1993 until January 2002. After her termination, Hoang sued Abbott and a number of its employees, claiming (over the course of five complaints) sexual harassment, gender discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation, Family Medical Leave Act violations, unlawful restraint, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. That suit was titled Hoang v. Abbott Laboratories, et al., No. 03 C 2910 (N.D. Ill.) ("Hoang I"). On September 28, 2007, Judge Guzman entered summary judgment in the defendants' favor on all claims in Hoang I. Hoang filed a notice of appeal to the Seventh Circuit on January 25, 2008. That appeal is currently pending.

Later in 2008, Hoang filed this case ("Hoang II"). Because Hoang is a pro se litigant, her claims are somewhat difficult to discern. Her claims appear to fall into three categories: (1) breach of employment contract (¶¶ 7-8); (2) unjust enrichment (¶¶ 3-6); and (3) patent-related claims (¶¶ 1-2, 10). Except for the patent-related claims asserted in paragraph 2, defendants argue that all of Hoang's claims are barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion.

Discussion

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Lesch v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., 282 F.3d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 2002).

Hoang's claims for breach of an employment contract are based on her contentions that a supervisor improperly gave her a bad review and that three Abbott employees detained her in an office. Hoang says that these acts prevented her from performing her employment contract responsibilities of "inventing" and working on her ideas. Defendants argue that these claims could have been raised in Hoang I and are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, also known as claim preclusion.

Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, if a plaintiff could have raised claims in a prior suit that was decided on the merits, she cannot raise those claims in a later suit. E.g., Brzostowski v. Laidlaw Waste Sys., Inc., 49 F.3d 337, 338 (7th Cir. 1995). In other words, if Hoang could have raised a claim in her first lawsuit but did not, she cannot raise it in this lawsuit. To succeed on their claim preclusion defense, defendants must prove (1) the existence of a final judgment on the merits by a court with proper jurisdiction; (2) identity of causes of action; and (3) identity of the parties bound by the prior judgment. Id.

The undisputed evidence demonstrates that the breach of employment contract claims in Hoang II are precluded by the doctrine of claim preclusion. First, Judge Guzman issued a final ruling in Hoang I. Second, there is an identity of the parties in the two cases. In both cases, Hoang is the plaintiff, and Abbott and various employees or former employees are the defendants. See Henry v. Farmer City State Bank, 808 F.2d 1228, 1235 n.6 (7th Cir. 1986) (holding that directors, officers, and employees were in privity with their employer as co-defendants for claim preclusion purposes). Finally, there is identity of the causes of action. This element is satisfied if both claims are based on "the same core of operative facts." Brzostowski, 49 F.3d at 339 (quotation omitted). The breach of contract allegations in Hoang II are based on the same set of allegations that formed part of the discrimination and harassment claims that Hoang made in Hoang I, specifically, her allegations that a supervisor improperly reviewed her and that Abbott employees restrained her in an office on two occasions, preventing her from "inventing." See id. at 338-39 (holding that ADEA violation and breach of employment contract were same claim for claim preclusion purposes); Cole v. Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ill., 497 F.3d 770, 773 (7th Cir. 2007) (finding identity of causes of action when two complaints alleged same series of wrongdoing).

The doctrine of claim preclusion also bars Hoang's unjust enrichment claims that she has asserted in Hoang II. As discussed earlier, there is identity of parties, as well as a final judgment on the merits in the earlier case. There is also identity of the causes of action, because the same operative facts give rise to both the claims in Hoang I and the unjust enrichment claims in Hoang II. In Hoang II, the unjust enrichment claims are based on a series of events in which particular Abbott employees received awards and other benefits after allegedly stealing Hoang's ideas. In Hoang I, Hoang's allegations of discrimination were based largely on defendants' extensive efforts to make her working conditions unbearable and steal her ideas for their own benefit.

In any event, summary judgment would be appropriate on two of the four unjust enrichment claims in this case, as they clearly allege claims barred by the statute of limitations. See Frederickson v. Blumenthal, 271 Ill. App. 3d 738, 742, 648 N.E.2d 1060, 1063 (1995) (holding five-year limitations period for unjust enrichment claims). The unjust enrichment claims found in paragraphs three and six of the ...


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