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Brown v. Sears Holdings Management

August 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge


This matter comes before the court on the motion of Plaintiff Ericka Brown to dismiss the counterclaim of Defendant Sears Holdings Management Company ("Sears") for declaratory judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and the motion of Sears for summary judgment on the counterclaim. For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is denied and the motion for summary judgment is granted.


According to the complaint, Brown was employed by Sears as an auditor from August 14, 2006, until March 31, 2009, when her employment was terminated as part of a reduction in force. In return for severance pay, Sears asked Brown to sign a release, which provided, in part, the following:

I...[release Sears]...from any and all claims arising out of my employment or the termination thereof...[including] any and all common law claims....

I...waive and give up any right to become, and promise not to consent to become, a member of any class in a case in which claims are asserted against [Sears] that are related in any way to my employment or the termination of my employment with [Sears]....If, without my prior knowledge and consent, I am made a member of a class in any proceeding, I will opt out of the class at the first opportunity....Excluded from this General Release and Waiver Agreement are my claims which cannot be waived by law....I do, however, waive my right to any monetary recovery should any agency or other third party pursue any claims on my behalf. I represent and warrant that I have not filed any complaint, charge, or lawsuit against [Sears] with any governmental agency and/or any court.

On April 9, 2009, Brown filed the instant suit, which alleges that Brown and similarly situated employees were misclassified as exempt and denied overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL") as well as common-law claims of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment. Brown asserts individual, class, and collective actions for these claims. On April 14, Sears was served with the complaint; two days later, Brown signed the release containing the language quoted above, despite the representation within it that she had not filed any complaint against Sears in any court. At present, no plaintiff other than Brown has opted into the FLSA claim and no motion for class certification has been presented on any of the state law claims.

In conjunction with answering the complaint, Sears asserted affirmative defenses and filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment predicated on a theory that Brown breached the terms of the release by filing this suit. The counterclaim seeks a declaration that Brown has released her common-law claims as well as her ability to proceed on the class and collective actions asserted for the IMWL and FLSA claims, respectively.

Brown now moves to dismiss Sears' counterclaim on the ground that it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Sears moves for summary judgment in its favor on the counterclaim.


A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) evaluates the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff, construe all allegations of a complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations in the complaint. Bontkowski v. First Nat'l Bank of Cicero, 998 F.2d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1993); Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir. 1991). To state a claim on which relief can be granted, a plaintiff must satisfy two conditions: first, the complaint must describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests; and second, its allegations must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief, raising that possibility above a speculative level. EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, - U.S. -, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007). The court will apply the notice-pleading standard on a case-by-case basis to evaluate whether recovery is plausible. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th Cir. 2008).

B. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant in entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the non-movant. Buscaglia v. United States, 25 F.3d 530, 534 (7th Cir. 1994). The movant in a motion for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact by specific citation to the record; if the party succeeds in doing so, the burden shifts to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554 (1986). In ...

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