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Robertson v. Lofton

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 25, 2013

DEIDRE ROBERTSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SUSAN LOFTON, in her individual and official capacities; CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Deidre Robertson filed a nine-count First Amended Complaint against Defendants Susan Lofton, principal at Nicholas Senn High School ("Senn"), and Chicago Public Schools ("CPS"). She alleges that the defendants violated her civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VII, and the Civil Rights Act of 1971, and also asserts various state-law claims. Now before the court is the defendants' motion to dismiss Counts II, VI, VII, VIII, and IX of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and motion for a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e) as to the remaining counts. For the reasons explained below, the motion to dismiss is granted as to Counts VI (without prejudice), VII (with prejudice), and IX (with prejudice against the Board and without prejudice against Lofton). The motion to dismiss is denied as to Counts II and VIII. All claims against Lofton in her official capacity are dismissed, and Count I is dismissed against Lofton in her individual capacity. The court also dismisses Count V with prejudice. The motion for a more definite statement is denied as moot, based on Robertson's representation that she plans to file an amended complaint to clarify her allegations.

I. BACKGROUND

The court accepts the facts alleged in the complaint as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. Robertson, an African American woman, was employed as a high school English teacher at Senn until July 2011. She was involved in a brief altercation with a student on October 2, 2010. The student was restrained by several individuals and suffered mild abrasions on her arms. A security guard removed the student from the scene. According to the complaint, no eyewitness accounts or video footage suggested that Robertson touched the student.

According to Robertson, Lofton did not contact the Department of Children and Family Services ("DCFS") about the incident, although the student had been involved in several incidents with school personnel, and Robertson alleges that Lofton, as a mandated reporter, "had a duty to report any suspected child abuse." (First Am. Compl. ¶ 60, ECF No. 1.)[1] The school nurse reported the incident to DCFS, as did the Vice Principal. Robertson also initiated contact with DCFS herself. DCFS investigated the incident and notified Robertson that there was no evidence of abuse.

As a result of the incident and "the fabrications that followed, " Robertson was suspended and issued a warning resolution, adopted by the Board of Education of the City of Chicago, stating that she had engaged in unsatisfactory conduct. ( Id. at ¶ 37.) Lofton did not provide copies of any official reports about the incident to Robertson at the time they were placed in Robertson's personnel file. The complaint alleges that reports were placed in Robertson's file several months after the incident. Although the complaint does not clearly allege what the reports were, attached as an exhibit is an "Investigative Memorandum" dated October 19, 2010, which concludes that credible evidence supported the allegation that Robertson grabbed the student's arm. (First Am. Compl. Ex. O, ECF No. 17-2.)

In July 2011, Robertson received a letter stating that she had been removed from her full-time teaching position and placed into the Reassigned Teacher Pool, due to a "lack of enrollment" at Senn. (First Am Compl. ¶ 67.) Teachers in the Reassigned Teacher Pool have "minimal expectations for continued employment with [CPS]." ( Id. at ¶ 68.) According to the complaint, no such lack of enrollment occurred, and Senn in fact hired new teachers in 2011 and 2012.

Robertson filed suit against Lofton and CPS in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Her initial pro se complaint was filed in August 2012. After the state court gave her leave to amend her complaint, she filed a nine-count First Amended Complaint on January 28, 2013. Defendants removed the action to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction on April 29, 2013.

In her First Amended Complaint, Robertson brings five federal claims. In Count I, she alleges that she was unfairly disciplined on the basis of her race, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), when she was placed in the Reassigned Teacher Pool and when she was accused of child abuse, issued a warning resolution, and subjected to inaccurate recordkeeping, which were "used to keep her from obtaining a position with [CPS]." ( Id. at ¶ 71.) She claims that Lofton ignored severe disciplinary infractions by other staff "while disciplining Robertson for a supposed inability to maintain discipline without resorting to security." ( Id. at ¶ 73.) She further alleges that other members of protected classes employed at Senn suffered similar discriminatory termination or discipline.

In Count II, Robertson claims that the defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by discriminating against her based on her race. In Count III, Robertson alleges that she was deprived of a protected property interest in her position as a tenured teacher at Senn without procedural due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. She also claims that she had a liberty interest in her occupation as a teacher and counselor and was stigmatized by the conduct of Lofton and CPS, and that she has subsequently suffered repeated denials of employment as a result of the information published by Lofton and CPS. In Count IV, Robertson claims that she was deprived of substantive due process, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, because she "received a warning resolution which permanently forecloses [her] ability to earn a living" in her profession as a teacher. Finally, in Count V, Robertson brings a "class of one" claim, arguing that she was intentionally singled out for differential treatment without a rational basis, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Robertson also brings four state-law claims. In Count VI, she claims that she received a warning resolution in violation of the Illinois Personnel Records Review Act ("IPRRA"), 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 40/13. In Count VII, Robertson claims tortious interference with contractual relations, in violation of Illinois law. In Count VIII, Robertson alleges that CPS negligently supervised Lofton, in violation of state law, including by failing to verify Lofton's accusations against Robertson prior to the adoption of a warning resolution. And in Count IX, Robertson claims defamation, in violation of state law, based on Lofton's false reports "that Robertson was derelict in her teaching duties and that Robertson was an unsatisfactory teacher, " along with anonymous comments Lofton caused to be published which stated that Robertson was unable to "perform her role as a teacher" and "had committed acts of child abuse." ( Id. at ¶¶ 107-08.) Robertson alleges that these statements were made with malicious intent and "are not privileged." ( Id. at ¶ 109.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint 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). A motion to dismiss should be granted if the plaintiff fails to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The factual allegations in a complaint must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010) ("[P]laintiff must give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together."). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the court takes all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, although conclusory allegations that merely recite the elements of a claim are not entitled to this presumption of truth. Virnich v. Vorwald, 664 F.3d 206, 212 (7th Cir. 2011). A plaintiff may "plead [herself] out of court" if she would have to contradict her own complaint in order to prevail on the merits of her case, and the defendant may use unnecessarily pleaded facts "to demonstrate that she is not entitled to relief." Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1086 (7th Cir. 2008).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Claims against CPS and Lofton in Her Official Capacity

The defendants first ask the court to dismiss CPS as a defendant because it is not a legal entity. The court agrees that the proper defendant in this is case is the Board of Education of the City of Chicago ("the Board"), which filed the motion to dismiss on the defendants' behalf. See Douglas v. Lofton, No. 12 C 8592, 2013 WL 2156053, at *1 n.1 (N.D. Ill. May 17, 2013). Robertson is accordingly directed to amend her complaint to name the Board as the proper defendant. So as to guide Robertson should she choose to amend her complaint, in what follows, the court addresses the counts in the complaint as though they were alleged against the Board.

The defendants further argue that the official capacity claims against Lofton and the claims against the Board are redundant. The defendants are correct, and the claims against Lofton in her official capacity are dismissed. See, e.g., Jungels v. Pierce, 825 F.2d 1127, 1129 (7th Cir. 1987) (explaining that "nothing was added" by suing a mayor in his official capacity along with the city); Brown v. Chi. Bd. of Educ., No. 12 C 1112, 2013 WL 5376570, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 25, 2013) (by naming a principal and ...


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