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Sommerfield v. City of Chicago

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS EASTERN DIVISION


February 26, 2009

DETLEF SOMMERFIELD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO AND SERGEANT KNASIAK, DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Detlef Sommerfield ("Sommerfield") has sued the City of Chicago (the "City") and Sergeant Knasiak ("Knasiak") bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and § 1983. Before the court are the City's motion to dismiss the complaint and Knasiak's motion to dismiss the complaint. For the reasons stated below, the City's motion is granted and the City is dismissed from the case. Knasiak's motion is granted in part and denied in part; defendant Knasiak shall answer the complaint within 21 days.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Sommerfield is a German Jew who immigrated to the United States. He has worked at the Chicago Police Department ("CPD") since 1994. In January 2000, CPD transferred Sergeant Knasiak ("Knasiak") into Sommerfield's department. Knasiak, now Sommerfield's supervisor, repeatedly made unwelcome comments about Sommerfield's Jewish and German heritage.

Sommerfield complained. Thereafter, Knasiak treated Sommerfield less favorably than other officers. For example, he assigned Sommerfield to high crime areas without a partner and disciplined him more harshly. Sommerfield filed a complaint with the CPD Internal Affairs Division in March 2004. Despite Sommerfield's complaints to the City, Knasiak's behavior continued unabated. After Sommerfield complained, he was suspended three times and was denied positions for which he was qualified.

In June 2006, Sommerfield filed a lawsuit, case number 06 C 3132. See Complaint, Sommerfield v. City of Chicago, No. 06 C 3132 (N.D. Ill. June 7, 2006) (doc. no. 1) (hereinafter "Sommerfield I"). In the four-count complaint, Sommerfield's sole count against Knasiak was for intentional infliction of emotional distress. On February 14, 2007, Judge Filip dismissed the count as barred by the applicable statute of limitations, thereby eliminating Knasiak from the suit. See Minute Entry, Sommerfield I, No. 06 C 3132 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 14, 2007) (doc. no. 38).

On August 16, 2007, Judge Filip denied Sommerfield's motion to amend the complaint to bring constitutional claims against Knasiak because it would be prejudicial in light of the impending close of discovery. See Minute Entry, Sommerfield I, No. 06 C 3132 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 16, 2007) (doc. no. 66). After the close of discovery was extended, Sommerfield again sought leave to add the claims, this time against both Knasiak and the City. This court, having been assigned the case by the Executive Committee, sustained, in part, Sommerfield's objections to Magistrate Judge Cole's denial of his motion to amend and allowed Sommerfield to add constitutional claims against the City as long as Sommerfield did not attempt to propound additional discovery. See Mem. Opinion & Order, Sommerfield I, No. 06 C 3132 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 29, 2008) (doc. no. 180). However, it upheld Magistrate Judge Cole's determination that adding Knasiak back into the case at such a late juncture would expand discovery considerably, thereby prejudicing the City. Id. at 4-5. Sommerfield then filed the instant suit. See Complaint, Sommerfield v. City of Chicago, No. 08 C 3025 (N.D. Ill. May 23, 2008) (doc. no. 1) (hereinafter "Sommerfield II").

In Sommerfield I, Sommerfield brings claims under Title VII against the City for discriminating against him on the basis of his religion and national origin and for retaliating against him for complaining about Knasiak. 2d Am. Compl. at 4-12, Sommerfield I, No. 06 C 3132 (N.D. Ill. May 10, 2008) (doc. no. 190). He also brings Monell*fn2 claims under § 1981 and § 1983 regarding the City's alleged policies of inadequate training on non-discrimination and inadequate investigation of complaints. Id. at 12-24. In Sommerfield II, Sommerfield brings a § 1983 claim against Knasiak for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and a § 1981 claim against Knasiak for racial discrimination as well as Monell claims against the City under § 1981 and § 1983.*fn3 See Complaint at 10-14, Sommerfield II, No. 08 C 3025 (N.D. Ill. May 23, 2008) (doc. no. 1).

II. ANALYSIS

The City has moved to dismiss Sommerfield II pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) as duplicative of Sommerfield I. It also argues that the complaint should be dismissed because it violates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 and is a flagrant attempt to circumvent the court's orders in Sommerfield I. Knasiak moves to dismiss Sommerfield II for similar reasons.

A. The City's Motion To Dismiss

The City argues that Sommerfield II should be dismissed because it is duplicative of Sommerfield I and is an attempt to circumvent the bar on further discovery in Sommerfield I. Sommerfield argues that the court did not bar the filing of a new complaint and the City has not met its burden to show that the complaint should be stricken.

A district court has "'a great deal of latitude and discretion' in determining whether one action is duplicative of another . . . ." Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 3 F.3d 221, 223 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Ridge Gold Standard Liquors v. Joseph E. Seagram, 572 F. Supp. 1210, 1213 (N.D. Ill. 1983)). As a general rule, "a suit is duplicative if the 'claims, parties, and available relief do not significantly differ between the two actions.'" Id. (quoting Ridge Gold Standard Liquors, 572 F. Supp. at 1213).

Even a cursory review of the pleadings reveals that Sommerfield is the plaintiff and the City is a defendant in both Sommerfield I and Sommerfield II.*fn4 In both cases, Sommerfield's prayer for relief for his constitutional claims is identical. However, contrary to the City's protestations of identity of claims in the two suits, the Monell claims in Sommerfield I relate to the City's alleged failure to train and failure to investigate whereas in Sommerfield II they relate to the City's failure to intervene or stop Knasiak's allegedly discriminatory actions. Of course, such an observation begs the question of whether this difference is significant enough to save the litigation from being deemed duplicative where the operative facts underlying the Monell claim in Sommerfield II are identical to those underlying the Title VII claims in Sommerfield I. In both cases, the allegations are that Knasiak allegedly discriminated against Sommerfield and the City's actions and policies did nothing to prevent the behavior.

In response,*fn5 Sommerfield asserts that the court did not bar him from filing a new lawsuit when it granted limited leave to amend in Sommerfield I and that the court's conclusion that discovery would be prejudicial to the City was tied to the age and procedural posture of Sommerfield I. Although this is true, it does not follow that the court should therefore allow Sommerfield to assert different theories of liability based on the same facts in separate cases. See Sterling v. United States, 85 F.3d 1225, 1229 (7th Cir. 1996) ("A party who wants to raise different legal theories of liability against the same defendant must present all in a single case); Mendez v. Gen. Motors Corp., 161 F.2d 695, 699 (7th Cir. 1947) (holding that a plaintiff may not split causes of action between suits).

He argues that the suits are not duplicative because Sommerfield II applies to events during the applicable statute of limitations before May 2008, while Sommerfield I covers earlier dates. But his conclusory statement that the timeframe and associated damages differ is insufficient given that, as the City notes, the faces of the complaints demonstrate no such bifurcation of allegations or claims and the nature of Monell claims suggests that there will be considerable overlap in time in regard to the evidence.*fn6 Sommerfield next argues that the cases should not be found duplicative because they are both pending before the same judge. This argument is meritless; the main issue is whether the suits are duplicative, not the forum in which the duplicative claims are presented. The court concludes that, as to the claims against the City, Sommerfield II is duplicative of Sommerfield I. Sommerfield's citation of case law based on inapposite factual circumstances does not demand a contrary conclusion.

"[B]efore dismissing a suit as duplicative, 'the district court should consider any special factors counseling for or against the exercise of jurisdiction in the case before [it].'" Serlin, 3 F.3d at 224 (quoting Calvert Fire Ins. Co., 600 F.2d 1228, 1234 (7th Cir. 1979)). In favor of dismissal, the City urges the court to consider that allowing discovery in Sommerfield II would have the effect of vacating the bar on further discovery in Sommerfield I. However, until objectionable discovery has been propounded in Sommerfield II, this argument is premature. The City also asserts that Knasiak would be prejudiced by allowing Sommerfield II to proceed. However, the City's standing to object to prejudice to Knasiak is unclear, as is the logic of dismissing a case against one defendant because of alleged prejudice to another defendant.

A review of the dockets in these cases indicates that Sommerfield unsuccessfully attempted to add claims against Knasiak multiple times, each time being thwarted by procedural hurdles. This has not affected his ability to bring claims against the City, however. Indeed, the court granted him leave to add Monell claims against the City and he did so, at least in regard to certain theories of liability. Sommerfield has advanced no persuasive rationale for why the City should be subject to suit in two separate cases when the underlying facts in both cases are the same; the court can conceive of none. As the Serlin court noted, adverse consequences resulting from a party's own conduct or actions in a case does not override the "wholly legitimate concern for wise judicial administration." Serlin, 3 F.3d at 224; see Kim v. Sara Lee Bakery Group, Inc., 412 F. Supp. 2d 929, 941 (N.D. Ill. 2006) (dismissing a duplicative second action, notwithstanding that the plaintiff's relief would be limited, "as a consequence of a failure to diligently pursue discovery and to supplement discovery responses, or to otherwise move with more expedition in the First Action"). Having to defend duplicative lawsuits would be unduly burdensome to the City; therefore, the court dismisses Count I (and, consequently, the City) from Sommerfield II. The court does not reach the City's Rule 8 arguments and denies the motion to stay discovery as moot.

B. Knasiak's Motion To Dismiss*fn7

Knasiak, as did the City, argues that Sommerfield II should be dismissed because it is duplicative of Sommerfield I and is an attempt to circumvent a bar on discovery in Sommerfield I. Although the operative facts remain the same in both suits, the suits are not duplicative as to Knasiak. See Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 3 F.3d 221, 223 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Ridge Gold Standard Liquors v. Joseph E. Seagram, 572 F. Supp. 1210, 1213 (N.D. Ill. 1983) for the proposition that "a suit is duplicative if the 'claims, parties, and available relief do not significantly differ between the two actions.'"). The most obvious difference between the suits is that Knasiak is a party only to Sommerfield II. Knasiak's assertion that the parties in the two suits are the same because he was originally named in Sommerfield I is without merit. Knasiak is no longer a party to Sommerfield I, for -- as he points out -- the count asserted against him was dismissed in February 2007. Given that the court has dismissed the City from Sommerfield II, Sommerfield has separate suits against separate defendants. Knasiak points to no authority that suggests this is improper; indeed, no obvious bar exists on asserting separate suits. See, e.g., Sterling, 85 F.3d at 1229 (noting that "when sequential suits name different parties, only issues actually and necessarily decided in the first case carry over to the second under the doctrine of issue preclusion").

Knasiak's argument that Sommerfield is attempting to get around prior orders disallowing amendments in Sommerfield I is unpersuasive. The court was concerned about prejudice to the City, not to Knasiak, when it denied leave to amend to add Knasiak at a late stage in the litigation of Sommerfield I. The court agrees with Knasiak's assessment that Sommerfield is attempting to remedy mistakes made in Sommerfield I by filing this suit; however, Knasiak has provided no citation to authority that suggests this is not allowed,*fn8 nor has he explained how suits against different defendants will result in double recovery for the same claims. It is always prejudicial to a defendant to be sued. However, as Sommerfield notes, the court did not bar the filing of a new lawsuit and Knasiak has provided no evidence that he was dismissed from Sommerfield I with prejudice; therefore, Knasiak cannot expect anything other than the running of the statute of limitations to protect him from further claims. See Elmore v. Henderson, 227 F.3d 1009, 1011 (7th Cir. 2000) (noting hat "a suit dismissed without prejudice is treated for statute of limitations purposes as if it had never been filed").

Knasiak argues that if discovery is allowed to proceed in Sommerfield II, Sommerfield will be able to obtain the discovery he was denied in Sommerfield I. Knasiak also mentions that he has been deposed already in Sommerfield I, indicating concern for duplicative discovery. As far as the court knows, no discovery has yet been propounded and no depositions have been noticed in Sommerfield II. Hypothetical prejudice from not-yet-propounded discovery is not ripe for consideration. If such a situation arises, Rule 37 provides a means of relief.

Knasiak also argues that the complaint should be stricken for being full of redundant and improperly pled allegations. Rule 8 provides that a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief," along with jurisdictional allegations and a prayer for relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. Upon timely motion by a party, a "court may strike from a pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f)(2). Because "extraneous allegations . . are entirely ignorable," the Seventh Circuit has "advise[d] defense counsel against moving to strike extraneous matter unless its presence in the complaint is actually prejudicial to the defense." Davis v. Ruby Foods, Inc., 269 F.3d 818, 821 (7th Cir. 2001). Despite the disfavored status of a Rule 12(f) motion, a court may properly strike matter when it "has the effect of confusing the issues or where it is so lengthy and complex that it places an undue burden on the responding party." Anderson v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, 169 F. Supp. 2d 864, 868 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1382).

The complaint at issue contains 145 paragraphs. Although the court rejects Sommerfield's reading of Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007) as approving of evidence-laden complaints, "nothing in the federal rules forbids the filing of prolix complaints." Jackson v. Marion County, 66 F.3d 151, 154 (7th Cir. 1995). As Knasiak's own citations disclose, "mere redundancy or immateriality is not enough to trigger the drastic measure of striking the pleading or parts thereof; in addition, the pleading must be prejudicial to the defendant." See Hardin v. Am. Elec. Power, 188 F.R.D. 509, 511 (S.D. Ind. 1999) (citing Talbot v. Robert Matthews Distrib. Co., 961 F.2d 654, 664 (7th Cir. 1992)). Knasiak fails to demonstrate sufficient prejudice. Therefore, the court declines to strike the complaint. See Davis, 269 F.3d at 820 (holding that it is an abuse of discretion for a district court to dismiss a complaint "merely because of the presence of superfluous matter"). The court notes, however, that many of the allegations relate to the claims against the City, which has been dismissed from the case. The court consequently strikes Count I (paragraphs 82 through 103 inclusive).*fn9 Rule 8 provides a means by which Knasiak may deal with any remaining allegations that concern only the City.*fn10 See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)(6).

Finally, Knasiak requests consolidation of Sommerfield II with Sommerfield I. Sommerfield objects. Rule 42 provides that "[i]f actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, the court may: (1) join for hearing or trial any or all matters at issue in the actions; (2) consolidate the actions; or (3) issue any other orders to avoid unnecessary cost or delay." Fed. R. Civ. P. 42(a); see United States v. Knauer, 149 F.2d 519, 520 (7th Cir. 1945) (noting the court's "broad discretion" in the consolidation of cases and observing that it is inappropriate where "the issues . . . are certain to lead to confusion or prejudice"). Here, the two cases clearly involve a common question of fact. However, they are in very different procedural postures. Specifically, Sommerfield I is ripe for dispositive motions or trial whereas discovery has yet to commence in Sommerfield II. Thus, it is unclear whether consolidation would avoid "unnecessary duplication of effort in related cases." See EEOC v. G-K-G, Inc., 39 F.3d 740, 745 (7th Cir. 1994) (citing EEOC v. N. Hills Passavant Hosp., 544 F.2d 664, 670, 672 (3d Cir. 1976)). The parties are welcome to coordinate motion and status hearing dates for both cases; however, the court declines to consolidate the cases at this time absent agreement of the parties.

III. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, the City of Chicago's motion to dismiss is granted and its motion to stay is denied as moot. Defendant Knasiak's motion to dismiss is granted in part, in that paragraphs 82 through 103 are stricken, and denied in part, as to the remainder of the complaint. His motion to consolidate is denied. He shall answer the remaining allegations of the complaint within 21 days. The parties shall appear for status hearing and to set a discovery schedule at 10 a.m. on Wednesday April 8, 2009.

JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL United States District Judge


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