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Mette v. Village of Maywood

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 4, 2013



EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Kenneth Mette, was a firefighter employed by Defendant Village of Maywood up until August 2009. R. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. Following a change in policy requiring firefighters to live within fifteen miles of Maywood, Mette, who did not live within the approved radius, was informed that he would be fired. R. 5-2, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 10, 19. Mette ultimately tendered his unconditional resignation on August 24, 2009. Id. ¶ 19.

Mette challenged the residency requirement that led to the end of his employment by filing a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), but the EEOC dismissed the charge in 2011. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-21. The Notice of dismissal went unclaimed, so the EEOC reissued the Notice in 2012. Id. ¶ 22. Later that year, Mette filed a state-court complaint with a claim he entitled "wrongful discharge." See Compl. at 1. Then, in 2013, Mette amended his complaint to add claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29, 34, 37. Maywood removed the case to federal court, [1] and has moved to dismiss Mette's federal claims as time-barred and Mette's state claim as "inappropriate given the grievance procedures in the relevant contract." R. 5; R. 19, Def.'s Reply at 1. The Court agrees that the federal claims are time-barred and dismisses them. Having dismissed the federal claims from Mette's lawsuit, the Court also relinquishes jurisdiction over Mette's remaining state claim.

I. Background

Mette was employed as a firefighter by Maywood from August 1980 to August 2009. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2. At some point during Mette's employment, Maywood established a residency requirement that required its employees to live within fifteen miles of Maywood. Id. ¶ 6. Mette lived outside of this radius, and, in May 2009, was told that he was in violation of the residency rule and needed to leave work immediately. Id. ¶ 10. Following the unsuccessful resolution of this issue through his workplace grievance procedure, Mette submitted his unconditional resignation on August 24, 2009. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 15-19.

Mette then filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC on November 4, 2009, asserting that Maywood applied its residency requirement with greater rigidity to its white employees than its employees of color. Id. ¶ 20. The EEOC dismissed the charge on December 12, 2011, advising Mette in a mailed Notice that he had 90 days from receipt of the Notice to file a Title VII claim. Id. ¶ 21. Mette alleges he never received that letter. Id. Because the letter was returned to the EEOC unclaimed, the EEOC reissued the Notice on January 26, 2012. Id. ¶ 22. Mette received the reissued Notice soon thereafter. Id. On April 12, 2012, Mette filed-in state court-a complaint containing a single claim for "wrongful discharge." Compl. at 1. Mette expressly asserted his federal claims for the first time in his amended complaint filed on January 23, 2013. Am. Compl.

II. Standards of Review

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citations omitted). A "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). These allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). And the allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

To determine the applicable statute of limitations for section 1983 actions for a claim such as Mette's, the federal court adopts the forum state's statute of limitations for personal injury claims. See Ashafa v. City of Chicago, 146 F.3d 459, 461 (7th Cir. 1998). In Illinois, the borrowed statute of limitations for personal-injury section 1983 cases filed in federal court is two years. 735 ILCS 5/13-202; Mitchell v. Donchin, 286 F.3d 447, 450 & n.1 (7th Cir. 2002) (applying two-year Illinois statute of limitations to a First Amendment claim) ; Ashafa, 146 F.3d at 462;; see also Lucien v. Jockisch, 133 F.3d 464, 466 (7th Cir. 1998) (applying two-year Illinois statute of limitations to an equal protection claim, among others). Some section 1981 claims, on the other hand, "arise[] under an Act of Congress enacted after December 1, 1990" and are therefore governed by the federal "catch-all" four-year statute of limitations. Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369, 382 (2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). In particular, wrongful termination claims were made possible only by the 1991 amendments to section 1981, so the catch-all period applies to wrongful termination claims. Id. at 383.

III. Analysis

A. First Amendment Claim

Mette concedes that he expressly pled his First Amendment claim for the first time in his amended complaint, which was filed on January 23, 2013. R. 18, Pl.'s Resp. at 2. But Mette's amended complaint was filed well over two years after the date on which the alleged speech occurred (the date is not specified, but it had to be sometime before August 24, 2009-the date of Mette's resignation). Am. Compl. ¶ 19. Mette nevertheless argues that his First Amendment claim is not time-barred: "[b]y timely filing his [original] Complaint in State court, METTE effectively put the Defendant VILLAGE on notice that he would be pursuing redress for the adverse action he had suffered." Pl.'s Resp. at 2. Moreover, Mette appears to argue that even if his claim would otherwise be time-barred, because his earlier attempts to articulate his First Amendment arguments were "frustrated by the sham grievance process, " the Court should equitably toll the two-year statute of limitations period. Id. at 3-4; see Lucien, 133 F.3d at 466 (citations omitted). The Court rejects both arguments.

First, even had Mette's original complaint effectively put Maywood on notice that Mette might later bring a First Amendment claim, notice alone is not sufficient to preserve Mette's claim.[2] Were mere notice of a potential claim sufficient to satisfy a statute of limitations requirement, prospective plaintiffs could wait indefinitely to actually bring a claim in circumstances where the defendant was made generally aware of the claim within the statute of limitations period. Such a rule would render statutes of limitations effectively meaningless, and Mette cites no authority for the proposition he advances. Because Mette did not raise his First Amendment claim until ...

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