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Huon v. Johnson and Bell, Ltd.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

May 13, 2013

MEANITH HUON, Plaintiff,


AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

On June 4, 2012, pro se Plaintiff Meanith Huon, an attorney who has been licensed in the State of Illinois since 1996, [1] filed the present First Amended Complaint alleging that his former employer, the law firm of Johnson & Bell, Ltd. ("Johnson & Bell"), intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of his race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. In his First Amended Complaint, Huon also alleges a state law claim of intentional interference with prospective economic advantage against the individual Defendants William Johnson, William Beatty, and Scott Hoyne. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) based on the doctrine of res judicata. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' Rule 12(c) motion and dismisses this lawsuit in its entirety.[2]


Rule 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings differ from Rule 12(b) motions to dismiss because they are brought after the pleadings are closed. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Buchanan-Moore v. County of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009). Despite the difference in timing, the Court reviews Rule 12(c) motions under the same standards that apply to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637-38 (7th Cir. 2012); Buchanan-Moore, 570 F.3d at 827. Under Rule 12(c), the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Fail-Safe, LLC v. A.O. Smith Corp., 674 F.3d 889, 892 (7th Cir. 2012). To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must plead sufficient facts to state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

Because Defendants answered Huon's First Amended Complaint on June 1, 2012 and res judicata is an affirmative defense, a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is appropriate at this procedure posture. See Carr v. Tillery, 591 F.3d 909, 913 (7th Cir. 2010). In determining Rule 12(c) motions, the Court may consider the complaint, the answer, and any written instruments attached as exhibits. See Northern Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, Ind., 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998); Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c) ("A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes."). When deciding whether the affirmative defense of res judicata applies under the circumstances, the Court must necessarily look to the details of the earlier lawsuit to make any such determination. See Czarniecki v. City of Chicago, 633 F.3d 545, 549 (7th Cir. 2011); see, e.g., Carr, 591 F.3d at 913-14.


In his First Amended Complaint, Huon alleges that Johnson & Bell employed him from December 2003 until January 9, 2008. (R. 78, First Am. Compl. § 11.) Huon further asserts that on or about January 9, 2008, Defendant Johnson, the President of Johnson & Bell, discharged him without cause. ( Id. §§ 12, 18.) Thereafter, on July 7, 2008, Huon filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") and the IDHR cross-filed Huon's charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). ( Id. §§ 13-14.) On September 24, 2009, Huon received his right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. ( Id. § 15.) Huon then filed the original complaint in this federal lawsuit on December 21, 2009. (R. 1.)

Huon, who is Asian-American, alleges that during his employment, Johnson & Bell treated him differently than white employees because Defendants denied him the same responsibilities, work assignments, salary and compensation, and promotional opportunities in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII. (First Am. Compl. § 24, Count I §§ 58-66, Count III §§ 58-68.) In particular, Huon alleges that Defendants assigned minority attorneys at Johnson & Bell, including himself, paralegal or secretarial work that was not commensurate with their legal experience, whereas they gave white attorneys more job responsibilities. ( Id. §§ 31, 42, 43.) Huon specifically maintains that Defendants did not give him opportunities to do substantive legal work, such as working on civil jury trials. ( Id. § 44.) Also, Huon asserts that Defendants never allowed him to work independently and that they passed him up for partnership based on his race and national origin. ( Id. §§ 44-47.) Furthermore, Huon contends that Defendants did not give him the same annual performance evaluations as white employees, despite his satisfactory job performance. ( Id., Count I § 62.) Huon bases his intentional interference with prospective economic advantage against the individual Defendants on these same facts. ( Id., Count II, §§ 1-62.)


On August 26, 2010, the district court granted Defendants' motion to stay based on the abstention doctrine enunciated in Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976), reasoning that Huon's claims would be barred by the doctrine of res judicata once the judgment in the parties' state court case became final. Huon filed a notice of appeal on September 27, 2010, arguing that the two lawsuits at issue were not parallel and that the district court abused its discretion because no exceptional circumstances justified the stay. See Adkins v. VIM Recycling, Inc., 644 F.3d 483, 499 (7th Cir. 2011). On September 21, 2011, the Seventh Circuit vacated the district court's order and remanded this matter for further proceedings concluding that the parties' state and federal lawsuits were not parallel and that the district court abused its discretion by not considering whether exceptional circumstances justified abstention under the Colorado River doctrine. See Huon v. Johnson & Bell, Ltd., 657 F.3d 641, 646-48 (7th Cir. 2011).

On remand, the district court granted Huon's motion for leave to file an amended complaint, and thus Huon filed his First Amended Complaint on June 4, 2012. Defendants answered on June 18, 2012. On September 6, 2012, Defendants filed the present Rule 12(c) motion and on December 6, 2012, the Executive Committee reassigned this case to the Court due to District Judge Blanche M. Manning's retirement from the bench. On March 8, 2013, the Court directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing the issue of whether Huon may split his claims under Illinois law as directed by the Seventh Circuit. See Huon, 657 F.3d at 647. Defendants' Rule 12(c) motion became fully briefed on April 15, 2013.

Before filing the present lawsuit, on January 8, 2009, Huon filed a Complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Law Division, and on April 13, 2009, Huon filed a First Amended Complaint in the state court action. In his state court First Amended Complaint, Huon alleged defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED") claims against Defendants Johnson & Bell, Beatty, and Hoyne, as well as Charles Rantis, who is not a party to this federal lawsuit. (R. 103, Ex. C, First Am. Compl.) On July 29, 2009, the Circuit Court Judge dismissed - with prejudice - Huon's state court defamation claims concluding that the statements made in the context of Huon's 2007 performance evaluations were statements of opinion. See 735 ILCS 5/2-615. The Circuit Court also dismissed Huon's IIED claim for Huon's failure to sufficiently allege extreme and outrageous conduct. Huon appealed and, on March 25, 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the Circuit Court's dismissal. In May 2011, Huon filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal ("PLA") to the Supreme Court of Illinois. On October 3, 2011, the Supreme Court of Illinois denied Huon's PLA.


In their Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendants argue that Huon's federal First Amended Complaint is barred by the doctrine of res judicata due to the final judgment in Huon's state court lawsuit. "Because the prior adjudication was in Illinois state court, " the Court applies "Illinois res judicata principles." Chicago Title Land Trust Co. v. Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Sales Ltd., 664 F.3d 1075, 1079 (7th Cir. 2011). Under Illinois law, "[r]es judicata applies if there is (1) a final judgment on the merits in an earlier action; (2) an identity of the causes of action; and (3) an identity of parties or their privies." Ennenga v. Starns, 677 F.3d 766, 776 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park, 184 Ill.2d 290, 234 Ill.Dec. 783, 703 N.E.2d 883, 889 (1998)). Also under Illinois law, res judicata "extends to what was actually decided in the first action, as well as those matters that could have been decided in that ...

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