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Walthour v. Potter

May 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Bernthal U.S. Magistrate Judge


In November 2008, Plaintiff Travis Walthour, acting pro se, filed a Complaint (#7) against Defendant John Potter, Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service, alleging violations of federal law. In May 2009, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint (#32). Federal jurisdiction is based on federal question pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The parties have consented to the exercise of jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge.

In March 2010, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#55). In April 2010, Plaintiff filed his response, titled Reply to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#69). Defendant subsequently filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response to the Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment (#70). After reviewing the parties' pleadings, memoranda, and evidence, this Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (#55).

I. Legal Standard

A court will grant summary judgment "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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court must decide, based on admissible evidence, whether any material factual dispute exists that requires a trial. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that no such issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

The Court must draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings or upon conclusory statements in affidavits; rather, he must go beyond the pleadings and support his contentions with proper documentary evidence. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Because the purpose of summary judgment is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims, the nonmoving party must respond to the motion with evidence setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Albiero v. City of Kankakee, 246 F.3d 927, 932 (7th Cir. 2001). To successfully oppose a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must do more than raise a "metaphysical doubt" as to the material facts, and instead must present definite, competent evidence to rebut the motion. Wolf v. Nw. Ind. Symphony Soc'y, 250 F.3d 1136, 1141 (7th Cir. 2001); Albiero, 246 F.3d at 932.

II. Background

At relevant times, Plaintiff worked as a mail carrier for the Urbana Post Office; his job began around July 2006. Kathy Burr was Postmaster at the Urbana Post Office and Rebecca Myers was Plaintiff's supervisor.

In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated Title VII by discriminating against him based on his race (Count I) and by retaliating against him after he exercised his right to file a complaint against his employer (Count II). Although Plaintiff's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (hereinafter "EEOC") documents refer to discrimination based on race, color, and sex, Plaintiff's complaint and amended complaint allege discrimination based only on race. Accordingly, Plaintiff has waived any claims of discrimination other than race discrimination.

The Court is cognizant of its special obligation with respect to a pro se litigant. See Caruth v. Pinkney, 683 F.2d 1044, 1050 (7th Cir. 1982). The Seventh Circuit has defined a court's role as insuring that the claims of a pro se litigant are given "fair and meaningful consideration." Madyun v. Thompson, 657 F.2d 868, 876 (7th Cir. 1981). Furthermore, a pro se plaintiff is entitled to a great deal of latitude where procedural requirements are concerned and is entitled to provide supporting evidence. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 519-20 (1972). When responding to a summary judgment motion, a pro se plaintiff need not comply with the specific procedural requirements described in Rule 7.1(D) of the Local Rules for the Central District of Illinois (see CDIL-LR 7.1(D)(6)). Nevertheless, to avoid summary judgment, he must respond with admissible evidence setting forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Michael v. St. Joseph County, 259 F.3d 842, 845 (7th Cir. 2001).

In support of his claims, Plaintiff provided his deposition, several unsworn statements or letters by Plaintiff and others, copies of several grievance forms submitted by Plaintiff, and letters from two of his co-workers, Johnathon McMullen and Terry Prinn, accompanied by declarations signed by McMullen and Prinn stating that "my statement was written by me and is true." (McMullen Declaration, Prinn Declaration.) These declarations do not indicate what "statements" they are referring to; furthermore, they are dated April 3, 2010, and March 30, 2010, respectively, while Prinn's "statement" or letter is dated March 2008 and the other letter is undated. It is questionable whether these letters would be admissible, but the Court will give Plaintiff the benefit of the doubt on the issue of admissibility at this time. The Court has reviewed these documents and the other documents Plaintiff filed during the case.

Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that affidavits offered in opposition to a summary judgment motion be made on personal knowledge, setting forth facts that would be admissible in evidence, and showing affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein. FED. R. CIV. P . 56(e). As an initial matter, only Plaintiff's deposition and the McMullen and Prinn letters arguably satisfy Rule 56(e); the remaining documents are not admissible and the Court may not consider them. Furthermore, many of the assertions in the McMullen and Prinn letters do not constitute the "definite, competent evidence" required to rebut Defendant's facts. See Michael, 250 F.3d at 845. For example, in McMullen's undated letter, he states that he has witnessed racist treatment. Although "personal knowledge" may include inferences and opinions, those inferences must be substantiated by specific facts. Drake v. Minn. Mining & Mfg. Co., 134 F.3d 878, 887 (7th Cir. 1998) (citing Davis v. City of Chi., 841 F.2d 186, 189 (7th Cir. 1988)). "Rule 56 demands something more specific than the bald assertion of the general truth of a particular matter, rather it requires affidavits that cite specific concrete facts establishing the existence of the truth of the matter asserted." Hadley v. County of Du Page, 715 F.2d 1238, 1243 (7th Cir. 1983). McMullen's statement and others like it constitute the type of conclusory allegation that Rule 56 counsels should be disregarded on summary judgment and the Court will not consider those conclusory statements.

To avoid summary judgment against him, Plaintiff must show the existence of a dispute of material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). All properly supported material facts set forth in either party's case are deemed admitted unless properly controverted. See Flaherty v. Gas Research Inst., 31 F.3d 451, 453 (7th Cir. 1994). Here, Defendant presented his properly supported Statement of Material Facts. However, Plaintiff's responses to those facts, if any, were not supported by reference to admissible, competent evidence. When the nonmoving party does not adequately respond to the moving party's statement of facts, the nonmoving party concedes the moving party's version of the facts. Waldridge, 24 F.3d at 922. As a result, the Court will treat Defendant's material facts as undisputed, unless Plaintiff has clearly contradicted them with admissible evidence.

Nevertheless, Plaintiff's failure to dispute Defendant's version of the facts does not automatically result in summary judgment for Defendant. See LaSalle Bank Lake View v. Seguban, 54 F.3d 387, 392 (7th Cir. 1995) (a party's failure to submit a response to a motion for summary judgment does not automatically result in summary judgment for the moving party). It remains the moving party's burden to demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that he is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Doe v. Cunningham, 30 F.3d 879, 883 (7th Cir. 1994). Accordingly, the Court must determine whether the undisputed facts in this case show that summary judgment is proper as a matter of law. LaSalle Bank, 54 F.3d at 392.

III. Analysis

Defendant argues that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Counts I and II because Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case as to either claim.

As Plaintiff points out, racial discrimination in employment is clearly contrary to law. This does not mean, however, that an employee is entitled to a stress-free environment or that every unpleasant aspect of an employee's working environment rises to the level of actionable conduct simply because the employee belongs to a protected class. As the Seventh Circuit notes, "not everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action." Nagle v. Vill. of Calumet Park, 554 F.3d 1106, 1116 (7th Cir. 2009); Crews v. City of Mt. Vernon, et. al., 567 F.3d 860, 869-70 (7th Cir. 2009) (stating that a plaintiff must show more than petty slights or minor annoyances that often take place at work and that all employees experience).

A. Scope of Count I

Defendant first argues that the applicable statute of limitations bars any claims in the complaint that were first alleged in Plaintiff's ...

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