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Owens v. City of Chicago

August 31, 2009

MITCHELL M. OWENS, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case arises out of Defendant City of Chicago's ("City") termination of Plaintiff Mitchell M. Owens, Sr.'s employment in 2000. Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss [32] Plaintiff's amended complaint [24] for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion to dismiss [32] is granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff was employed by the City of Chicago in its Department of Streets and Sanitation ("Department") Bureau of Forestry. On November 11, 1999, he was injured in the course of performing his duties with the Department and received five stitches above his left eye. Although Plaintiff returned to work on November 17, 1999, he was unable to perform his duties on that day, called his supervisor so that he could return to the doctor, and was sent home. Subsequently, Plaintiff gave his supervisor at the Department a letter written by his family doctor explaining that Plaintiff was unable to work because of his injury. Plaintiff then received a letter from the Department, dated January 14, 2000, stating that his employment with the City was being terminated effective that day and providing ten days from receipt of that letter to respond. Plaintiff states that he provided reasons for his absence both before and after the January 14 letter was sent. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that he wrote two letters to the City, dated January 12 and January 15, 2000, explaining that he was still under his doctor's care for the injury that he sustained in November 1999. Plaintiff further states that he personally delivered the January 12, 2000 letter to the Department. Nonetheless, Plaintiff was terminated from his position. Plaintiff alleges that the Department falsely stated that it did not know where he was and why he was not working when the City terminated his employment.

Plaintiff's amended complaint, consisting of a two-page narrative and more than 230 pages of exhibits, centers on his termination in January 2000. Although the complaint does not clearly articulate the claims that Plaintiff seeks to assert or include references to specific counts, the Court must construe Plaintiff's complaint liberally because he is proceeding pro se. See Bridges v. Gilbert, 557 F.3d 541, 546 (7th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

Defendant contends that a fair reading of Plaintiff's complaint suggests two claims against the City: (i) wrongful discharge (or retaliatory discharge) under Illinois law and (ii) disability discrimination pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The latter claim certainly was intended. Plaintiff not only attached an EEOC right to sue letter dated January 22, 2008 indicating that he had the right to institute a civil action under Title I of the ADA, but he has previously filed an ADA claim against the City; Judge Kennelly dismissed that case (Owens v. City of Chicago, No. 07-cv-4447) for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The state law claim does not reveal itself as clearly. Plaintiff's complaint includes a request to transfer a case from Cook County to this Court and attaches several orders from that case, as well as a printout from the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County indicating that the case that Plaintiff wants transferred involves "Retaliatory Discharge." Defendant attached to its motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint in that state court action, which is based on the same facts that Plaintiff alleges in his current complaint and is titled "Complaint for Wrongful Termination." Because Plaintiff has asked to transfer that state court action to this Court, it is a reasonable interpretation that he intended to bring the same claim here.

II. Analysis

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the case. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level," assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Svcs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1973 n.14). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563. The Court accepts as true all of the well-pleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Barnes v. Briley, 420 F.3d 673, 677 (7th Cir. 2005). However, "if the plaintiff chooses to provide additional facts, beyond the short and plain statement requirement, the plaintiff cannot prevent the defense from suggesting that those same facts demonstrate the plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Thompson v. Ill. Dep't of Prof'l Regulation, 300 F.3d 750, 753 (7th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). "In other words, if a plaintiff pleads facts which show he has no claim, then he has pled himself out of court." McCready v. eBay, Inc., 453 F.3d 882, 888 (7th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted).

Defendant asserts several arguments in support of its motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, each of which relies on materials beyond the face of the complaint. For example, Defendant makes a res judicata argument that relies on a previous state court action ("Case No. 02 L 506") filed by Plaintiff to which he refers in his complaint. Defendant also seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's ADA claim as time barred on the basis of materials attached to Plaintiff's complaint.

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court generally is limited to the allegations in the complaint, any exhibits attached thereto, and supporting briefs. See Thompson, 300 F.3d at 753; Rosenblum v. Travelbyus.com Ltd., 299 F.3d 657, 661 (7th Cir. 2002). Because res judicata typically implicates information beyond those documents, it is one of the affirmative defenses that often cannot be raised at this early stage. See Muhammad v. Oliver, 547 F.3d 874, 878 (7th Cir. 2008). However, when the basis for dismissing a case pursuant to an affirmative defense is apparent from the complaint and materials attached to it or referenced in it, dismissal can be proper. See id. (citations omitted). That departure from the usual practice is consistent with the principle that a plaintiff can plead himself out of court. See id. (citation omitted).

A. Plaintiff's Wrongful Discharge Claim

Plaintiff's amended complaint refers to a state court matter, Case No. 02 L 506, and requests that it be transferred to this Court. He also attaches a motion to transfer to federal court that he filed in the state court action, an order from the state court entering and continuing plaintiff's motion to reconsider, and a printout of the first page of the summary of that action. Although those documents are considered to be part of the pleading (see Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c)), they are insufficient on their own to enable the Court to determine whether res judicata applies.

However, Defendant attaches to its motion to dismiss other documents from the state court action that make a res judicata determination possible -- specifically, the state court complaint, the order dismissing the state court action, and an order denying the motion to reconsider the dismissal. In relying on those materials, Defendant invokes a narrow exception to Rule 10(c), pursuant to which "documents attached to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to his claim." Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Ins. Co., 417 F.3d 727, 731 n.3 (7th Cir. 2005).

Although this case arguably presents an opportunity to utilize that exception, the Court need not examine whether the documents in Case No. 02 L 506 were "central to his claim" because the Court simply may take judicial notice of the state court action and its disposition. "[W]hen a defendant raises res judicata as an affirmative defense and it is clear from the complaint's face and matters of which the court can take judicial notice, that plaintiff's claims fail as a matter of law, then dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate." Gann v. William Timblin Transit, Inc., 552 F. Supp. 2d 1021, 1026 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (citations omitted).*fn1 A court may take judicial notice of matters of public record without converting a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Evid. 201; Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080-1082 (7th Cir. 1997). Proceedings and records from other courts fall under this exception. See Gen. Elec. Capital, 128 F.3d at 1080-1082. The only requirement is that the adjudicative ...


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