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Sandra Sutton v. Patrick R. Donahoe

July 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


In several lawsuits against her former employer, the United States Postal Service, Plaintiff Sandra Sutton has claimed that the Postal Service violated various statutory and constitutional rights by failing to accommodate her disability, subjecting her to harassment and retaliation, terminating her employment, and denying various medical benefits. Two new complaints are before the court, and the Postal Service has moved to dismiss them. The Postal Service urges that Sutton's claims are barred by res judicata, that her employment discrimination claims are untimely, and that her constitutional claims are barred by the Supreme Court's decision in FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471 (1994).

As more fully explained below, the motion to dismiss must be granted. Although Sutton believes the wrongdoing continues, all of her new claims arise from her employment relationship with the Postal Service, and were the subject of earlier litigation. Claims relating to Sutton's employment, which ended in 2002, are untimely. Claims that post-date her employment are also untimely, as well as barred under the doctrine of res judicata. Claims arising under the Age Discrimination in Employment or Rehabilitation Act are subject to charge-filing requirements; assuming the charges that Ms. Sutton filed were themselves timely, she failed to file her complaints in this court within 90 days of receiving a final decision on those charges, as required by law.

Finally, any common law or constitutional claims for money damages are barred by sovereign immunity. For all of these reasons, the complaints in this case are dismissed.


From 1988 until 1992, Sandra Sutton was employed as a "mark-up clerk" at the North Suburban office of the United States Postal Service in River Grove, Illinois. See Sutton v. Potter, No. 02 C 2702, 2004 WL 603477, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 22, 2004) (Leinenweber, J.). Soon after she began the job, Sutton claims, she became sick from exposure to particulate matter in the workplace. Id. On the recommendation of her doctor, the Postal Service transferred her to a newly opened facility in Palatine, Iliinois, but during her first day at the new location, she suffered a severe allergic attack. Id. Following this incident, she left the workplace and never returned to work for the Postal Service. Id. She drew benefits from the federal Office of Workers' Compensation Programs ("OWCP") until July 2000. Id. at *3. More than a year later, in November 2001, Sutton was "administratively separated" from the Postal Service. Id. at *4.

In years since then, Sutton has filed numerous complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") office and with OWCP. She has also filed six prior lawsuits against the Postal Service in this court. (Exs. 1-6 to Postal Service's Mot. to Dismiss.) First, in 2002, Sutton filed Case No. 02 C 2702, alleging that the Postal Service violated the Rehabilitation Act and the Age Discrimination Employment Act ("ADEA") by failing to accommodate "her medical condition of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis." Sutton, 2004 WL 603477, at *1. That case resulted in a settlement in June of 2004. (June 23, 2004 Minute Order [72], No. 02 C 2702.) In September of 2004, the court granted Sutton's motion to enforce the settlement, and ordered the Postal Service to pay Sutton $35,000 as soon as practicable. (Sep. 14, 2004 Minute Order [82], No. 02 C 2702.)

In October of 2004, Sutton brought a similar employment discrimination suit on behalf of her deceased mother, who allegedly also once worked for the Postal Service. (No. 04 C 6922.) Judge Andersen dismissed that case for want of prosecution. (Feb. 03, 2006 Minute Order [7], No. 04 C 6922.) In November of 2004, Sutton brought another employment discrimination suit on her own behalf against the Postal Service. (No. 04 C 6967.) Judge Lindberg dismissed the case without prejudice, observing, "it appears to the court that this case is either a refiling of Case No. 02 C 2702, or is a new claim for which plaintiff has not yet exhausted her administrative remedies." (Nov. 24, 2004 Order [7], No. 04 C 6967.)

Sutton took no further action against the Postal Service until October 27, 2006. On that date, she filed three new lawsuits, Case Nos. 06 C 5870, 06 C 5871, and 06 C 5872. The three district judges to whom those cases were assigned dismissed them for reasons including sovereign immunity and failure to state a claim (June 1, 2007 Minute Order [23], No. 06 C 5870 (St. Eve, J.)); res judicata (June 5, 2007 Minute Order [18], No. 06 C 5871 (Lefkow, J.)); and lack of jurisdiction (Nov. 3, 2006 Mem. Order [6], No. 06 C 5872 (Shadur, J.)). Almost two years later, Sutton tried again, asking Judge Leinenweber for leave to reopen her original case, No. 02 C 2702; the court promptly denied the motion. (July 21, 2008 Minute Order [87], No. 02 C 2702.)

On April 18, 2011, Sutton initiated her most recent action by filing a grievance with an Equal Employment Opportunity Counselor. She alleged in her grievance that the Postal Service harassed her on the bases of race, gender, age, retaliation, and disability when (1) the OWCP refused to pay for her medication, (2) the Postal Service subjected her to illegal surveillance, and (3) the OWCP improperly compensated her. The EEO concluded that Sutton's grievance was identical to claims previously adjudicated in multiple forums, and therefore dismissed it. (Dismissal of Formal EEO Compl., attached to Compl., No. 11 C 5912, at 3-4.) On May 26, 2011, Sutton received the EEO's final decision dismissing her claims and notifying her that she was entitled to file a civil action in federal court "within 90 calendar days of receipt of this decision." (Id. at 5 (emphasis omitted).)

On August 25, 2011-91 days after May 26-she initiated a new lawsuit, Case No. 11 C 5912. Yet another case (No. 11 C 5961), filed the following day, has been consolidated with this one. This decision addresses those two new complaints.

Sutton again proceeds pro se. In Case No. 11 C 5912, she claims that the Postal Service discriminated against her on the bases of her age and disability by continued harassment, by failing to accommodate her disabilities, by terminating her employment, by retaliating against her for asserting her discrimination claims, by conducting illegal surveillance, and by denying her medical benefits. (Compl., No. 11 C 5912.) In Case No. 11 C 5961, Sutton claims that the Postal Service violated her constitutional rights by using excessive force against Sutton, failing to intervene to protect her from violations of her civil rights, failing to provide her with medical care, denying pay to which she was entitled, failing to disclose workplace hazards, denying her retirement disability benefits, conspiring to violate her civil rights, and subjecting her to surveillance. (Compl., No. 11 C 5961.)


I. Res ...

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