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Lee v. Northwestern University

July 13, 2010


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


This matter comes before the court on the motions of Defendants Northwestern University ("NU") and Northwestern University Police Department ("NUPD," collectively referred to herein as "Northwestern") to dismiss and to strike portions of Plaintiff Frederick Lee's amended complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), 12(b)(1), and 12(f). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


According to the allegations of the complaint, which we must accept as true for purposes of the instant motion,*fn1 Lee was hired as a campus police officer by NUPD in September 2005. He claims he experienced several incidents of discrimination and retaliation by his superiors and fellow officers at NUPD: one in June 2006, two in April 2007, one in September 2007, one in January 2008, four in April 2008, and one in June 2008. He claims that this treatment was directed at him because he is Chinese-American. Lee also claims that in or around November or December 2008, an NUPD lieutenant prepared a training schedule that segregated minority officers. However, after the police department chief was alerted to the structure of the proposed training schedule, it was altered to include attendees of all races. On August 18, 2009, Lee claims he found his shoes scattered in various areas of the NUPD locker room.

The following month, NU placed Lee on administrative leave and Lee underwent a psychological evaluation to determine his fitness for duty. During this leave, Lee could not access his personal laptop, voice recorder, CDs, and journals that he had stored in his campus locker. He believes that the contents of these items were searched during that time. On September 25, 2009, he filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. His employment was terminated on October 20, and he filed a second charge on December 18.

On February 19, 2010, Lee filed the instant suit. The currently operative pleading contains five counts pertaining to alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as state law claims for conversion, trespass to chattels, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and intrusion upon seclusion. Northwestern now moves to dismiss or strike particular portions of the complaint.


A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is used to test the legal sufficiency of a 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 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 be cognizable, the factual allegations within a complaint must raise a claim for relief "above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To state a cognizable claim, a complaint must describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant notice of what it is and the grounds upon which it rests and plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief. EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007).

A complaint's legal sufficiency is not compromised simply because it does not anticipate or otherwise preemptively address potential defenses. Xechem, Inc. v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., 372 F.3d 899, 901 (7th Cir. 2004). If, however, the presence of an affirmative defense is apparent from the allegations contained within a complaint, the affected allegations can be dismissed before a responsive pleading is filed. Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1009-10 (7th Cir. 2002). If the presence of an affirmative defense cannot be established without resort to information outside the complaint, it is improper to grant a motion to dismiss on the basis that an affirmative defense exists. See Deckard v. General Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 556, 560 (7th Cir. 2002).

B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) requests that the court dismiss an action for lacking subject matter jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the "power to decide" and must be conferred upon a federal court. In re Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific R. Co., 794 F.2d 1182, 1188 (7th Cir. 1986). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the jurisdictional requirements have been met. See Kontos v. United States Dep't of Labor, 826 F.2d 573, 576 (7th Cir. 1987). When reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), this court "must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Ezekial v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir. 1999).

C. Motion to Strike Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f)

Fed R. Civ. P. 8 requires a "short and plain statement of the claims showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The rule states that "each averment of a pleading shall be simple, concise and direct." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1). Fed R. Civ. P. 12(f) is designed to reinforce the requirement of Rule 8(e) that pleadings be simple, concise and direct, and a district court has discretion under Rule 12(f) to strike a complaint if it does not ...

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