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Sledge v. Bellwood School District 88

April 20, 2010


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

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Before the Court are multiple motions that have been filed by the parties. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint [21]. Defendant's motion contends that Plaintiff's action is barred by the doctrine of res judicata, which generally prevents a person from litigating a case before one court and then re-litigating the case before another court, in search of a favorable outcome. The Court, construing Plaintiff's pro se pleading liberally, perceives eight claims in Plaintiff's amended complaint [9]. As stated below, all of the claims, except for Plaintiff's Title VII and EEOC-specific claims, must be dismissed on res judicata grounds.

In addition to Defendant's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff has filed two motions to amend his complaint for cause [27, 28]-the latter document is styled as a notice of motion but contains numerous allegations. The filings are difficult to decipher and appear to be unnecessary under the liberal notice-pleading standards of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, particularly as those rules are applied to pro se litigants. The federal rules do not require a plaintiff to plead legal theories-a plaintiff need only make allegations about what happened to him or her so that a defendant is on notice of the nature of the claim against it. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). And a plaintiff need do so only once, unless the complaint is defective for some reason or there is a need to add additional claims against a defendant. Only as the case moves forward (for example, to summary judgment) does a plaintiff need to put a fine point on her legal theories in order for the case to proceed to trial. The Court does not perceive in Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint that he has added additional allegations that put Defendant on notice of anything new-indeed, the motion to amend only reinforces the conclusion that much of Plaintiff's action is barred on res judicata grounds. Therefore, the Court strikes Plaintiff's motions [27, 28] without the need for briefing by the parties.

As a final preliminary matter, the Court observes that Plaintiff may wish to avail himself of the assistance offered by the Pro Se Help Desk, which is located on the 20th Floor of the Dirksen Federal Building. The Help Desk is available to assist Plaintiff, should he have questions about the form of his filings, matters of court procedures, and the like.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in July 2009. His First Amended Complaint ("FAC") [9] states that in 2005 he was a school bus driver for Defendant. Plaintiff alleges that a job became vacant, that procedures that preferenced bargaining employees (like Plaintiff) were not followed in filling that job, and that because "of these above reasons plaintiff filed a complaint in the circuit court." FAC ¶¶ 1-9. Assembling the various statements within Plaintiff's filings and the attachments that Plaintiff deemed pertinent, the position for which Plaintiff applied was the "Evening Building and Grounds Coordinator." See, e.g., Pl. Resp. at 8, 13 (discussing another employee who may or may not have been considered for the position; discussing Defendant's response to the EEOC Charge).*fn1

After Plaintiff filed his complaint with the circuit court, he states that Defendant began to retaliate against him. Specifically, Plaintiff states that Defendant lied regarding some sort of incident involving a student: "Defendant claimed a Child coming out off [sic] the garage setting off the alarm assumed got off the bus plaintiff was driving. That same day plaintiff went to the Bellwood police department asking whether the alarm went off the officer replied no alarm went off." FAC ¶¶ 10-12. What is more, Plaintiff states that although the school district's superintendant says that Plaintiff was negligent, the superintendant was unable to say what procedures had been violated. When Plaintiff's employment was terminated, he states that no reason was provided. And when Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), Plaintiff alleges that Defendant submitted falsified documents to the EEOC. FAC ¶¶ 13-20. (In Plaintiff's EEOC charge, he repeats the allegation that he was retaliated against, although the incident that he highlights is the one that Defendant's say led to Plaintiff's dismissal-allegedly leaving a student on a school bus. See Pl. Resp. at 3.)

Plaintiff seeks damages for several wrongs based on numerous theories; construed liberally, they are as follows: First, Defendant ultimately hired "an outside applicant that breached" the employer's manual and Plaintiff seeks damages caused by that breach. Second, Defendant interfered with Plaintiff's due process rights in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Third, Defendant falsified documents to the EEOC hearing officer. Fourth, Defendant engaged in discrimination against Plaintiff in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Fifth, Defendant tortiously interfered with a prospective business relation. Sixth, Defendant intentionally interfered with Plaintiff's employment relationship. Seventh, Defendant violated the Illinois School Code (the provision to which Plaintiff alludes is 105 ILCS 5/24-12, which pertains to "removal or dismissal of teachers in contractual continued service"). Eighth, Defendant violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution "regarding breach of Employer's manual * * *."

II. Legal Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss

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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (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, 127 S.Ct. at 1969. 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).

III. Analysis

Defendant's motion to dismiss invokes the doctrine of res judicata, arguing that Plaintiff is re-litigating a case that he has litigated (and lost) in state court. Res judicata is a legal doctrine that prevents a person from litigating her dispute in one forum and then re-litigating the dispute in another forum, in search of a more favorable outcome. See, e.g., Federated Dep't Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981) (no re-litigation of issues that were, or could have been, raised). The doctrine enjoys an established pedigree and advances important values. The "doctrine of res judicata * * * is a rule of fundamental and substantial justice, of public policy and private peace, which should be cordially regarded and enforced by the courts * * *." Hart Steel Co. v. R.R. Supply Co., 244 U.S. 294, 299 (1917). In applying the doctrine, federal courts look to state preclusion law to determine whether an earlier state court action bars a later federal court action. Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96 (1980); 28 U.S.C. § 1738. Under Illinois law, res judicata will bar an action where there is: (1) a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) an identity of causes of action; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies. In re Liquidation of Legion Indem. Corp., 870 N.E.2d 829, 834 (Ill. App. Ct. 2007).

Taking up the matter of res judicata is not the usual course of action at the motion to dismiss phase: Res judicata is an affirmative defense (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)), which generally cannot be raised until a motion for judgment on the pleading pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See Forty One News, Inc. v. County of Lake, 491 F.3d 662, 664 (7th Cir. 2007); Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) (listing seven defenses that may and must be brought before a responsive pleading is filed, which list omits res judicata). Nonetheless, res judicata may provide grounds for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)-failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted-where a plaintiff has pleaded herself out of court by establishing the facts that prove the defense. Muhammad v. Oliver, 547 F.3d 874, 878 (7th Cir. 2008) (plaintiff can plead self out of court based on res judicata). In Oliver, the Seventh Circuit cited the First Circuit's decision in In re Colonial Mortgage Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2003), as ...

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