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Douglas v. Lofton

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 6, 2013

VALERIE DOUGLAS, Plaintiff,
v.
SUSAN A. LOFTON, in her individual capacity and in her official capacity as Principal of Nicolas Senn High School, and the Board of Education of Chicago, d/b/a the CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

On February 23, 2013, Plaintiff Valerie Douglas ("Ms. Douglas") filed a six-count Amended Complaint against Defendants Susan Lofton ("Principal Lofton"), in her individual and official capacities as Principal of Nicolas Senn High School ("Senn") and the Board of Education of Chicago ("the Board") ("Defendants"), alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., as well as state law claims. On May 17, 2013, the Court dismissed Counts I and V of the Amended Complaint without prejudice and Count III, a state law defamation claim, with prejudice. The Court also struck without prejudice Paragraphs 16-23, 34-37, and 41-49 and Exhibits A, B, C, E, M, and N of Ms. Douglas' Amended Complaint. ( Id. ) The Court presumes familiarity with its May 17, 2013 Memorandum, Opinion, and Order.

On July 3, 2013, Ms. Douglas filed an eleven-count Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") asserting six federal claims and five state law claims. Defendants move to dismiss Counts I, IV through VII, and IX through XI of the SAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and to strike paragraphs 10-12, 14-20, 23 and 51, and Exhibits B, C, and H of Plaintiff's SAC pursuant to Rule 12(f).

For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion to dismiss. Also, the Court, in its discretion, grants Defendants' motion to strike in its entirety. Because Ms. Douglas has yet to exhaust her employment discrimination claims as alleged in Counts IV through VI, the Court stays this lawsuit until Ms. Douglas has exhausted these claims. See Palka v. City of Chicago, 662 F.3d 428, 437 (7th Cir. 2011). Once Ms. Douglas exhausts her administrative remedies and the Court re-opens this lawsuit, she may file her Third Amended Complaint in accordance with this order.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Valerie Douglas, a fifty-seven year old African-American female, worked as a teacher for the Chicago Public Schools for 27 years. (R. 57, SAC ¶¶ 4, 7.) Starting in 2010, Defendant Susan Lofton became Principal of Senn High School where Ms. Douglas was teaching. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Ms. Douglas' employment is subject to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the Board of Education, the City of Chicago, and the Chicago Teacher's Union, Local No. 1. ( Id. ¶ 13.)

In her SAC, Ms. Douglas alleges that during a meeting at Senn called by the administration on April 27, 2011, Principal Lofton "suddenly and aggressively moved across the table towards" her. ( Id. ¶ 26.) As a result, Ms. Douglas alleges that she developed a severe headache. ( Id. ¶ 27.) Later that day, Ms. Douglas left before school was over after completing the required paperwork. ( Id. ) Ms. Douglas was absent from April 27, 2011 through May 6, 2011. ( Id. ) On April 28, 2011, Ms. Douglas' doctor diagnosed her as having had a mild heart attack. ( Id. ¶ 29.) Another treating physician diagnosed Ms. Douglas with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. ( Id. ) Ms. Douglas asserts that she contacted the Board and Senn every day that she was absent during this time period. ( Id. ¶ 30.)

On May 9, 2011, Ms. Douglas returned to work, after which she filed a grievance with her union steward about Principal Lofton's conduct. ( Id. ¶ 31.) Further, Ms. Douglas alleges that she placed her medical note from her health care provider on file. ( Id. ) On that same day, Principal Lofton called Ms. Douglas into her office and gave her a Notice of Pre-Disciplinary Hearing. ( Id. ¶ 32.) The notice included the following alleged infractions: (1) leaving the classroom without permission; (2) negligently supervising students; (3) inattention to duty; (4) insubordination; (5) not following rules in behaviors that disrupt; (6) engaging in an act that an employee knew or should have known would compromise the integrity of the testing process; and (7) violating school rules. ( Id. ) As a result of the May 9, 2011 notice, "Douglas received a warning resolution that identified her as having interfered with testing protocols and negligently supervising students." ( Id. ¶ 48.) On June 20, 2011, Ms. Douglas participated in an appellate hearing regarding her discipline at the Board's office. ( Id. ¶ 44.) In the end, Ms. Douglas served a suspension day on September 13, 2011 related to this discipline. ( Id. ¶ 54.)

In addition, Ms. Douglas alleges that from September 14, 2011 until November 9, 2011 she was absent and under a doctor's care. ( Id. ¶ 55.) After Ms. Douglas returned to work, Principal Lofton had a pre-disciplinary meeting with her on Wednesday November 16, 2011 regarding Ms. Douglas' failure to enter student grades and complete other work while Ms. Douglas was on leave. ( Id. ¶ 60.) Ms. Douglas interpreted a statement by Principal Lofton during that meeting - "we have to hurry up and get you" - as a threat that she would be fired. ( Id. ) After this meeting, Ms. Douglas spoke to her union steward who "agreed that the statement was a notice that Douglas was going to be fired and advised Douglas to make arrangements for retirement." ( Id. ¶ 61.) Thereafter, on December 2, 2012, Principal Lofton placed Ms. Douglas into the "E3 process" which provides mentorship and assistance. ( Id. ¶ 63.)

Ms. Douglas further alleges that Principal Lofton entered her classroom on January 15, 2012, "mumbled a threat, and sat down." ( Id. ¶ 66.) Ms. Douglas also asserts that "[o]verwhelmed by the situation, Douglas experienced a fainting episode and panic attack." ( Id. ¶ 67.) Further, Ms. Douglas maintains that emergency medical personnel then took her to the hospital. ( Id. ) Thereafter, the Board sent Ms. Douglas a letter notifying her that if she did not return to work within ten days, the Board would terminate her for job abandonment. ( Id ¶ 70.) "Under doctor's care and advice, Douglas retired effective February 17, 2012." ( Id. ¶ 71.)

Relevant to the present motion to dismiss are the following claims: (1) an interference claim under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a) (Count I); (2) a state law tortious interference with contractual relations claim (Count VII); (3) a state law negligent supervision claim (Count IX); (4) a state law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim (Count X); and (5) a state law intentional spoliation of evidence claim (Count XI).

LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion challenges the sufficiency of the complaint. See Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chi. Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citation omitted). Under the federal notice pleading standards, a plaintiff's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. Put differently, 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

"In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true." Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013). "A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) can be based only on the complaint itself, documents attached to the complaint, documents that are critical to the complaint and referred to in it, and information that is subject to proper judicial notice." Geinosky v. City of Chicago, 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012). Also, "a plaintiff is not required to plead facts in the complaint to anticipate and defeat affirmative defenses, " but "when a plaintiff's complaint nonetheless sets out all of the elements of an affirmative defense, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate." Independent Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Serv. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012).

II. Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Standard

"Rule 12(f) provides that a district court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.'" Delta Consulting Grp., Inc. v. R. Randle Const., Inc., 554 F.3d 1133, 1141 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f)). Motions to strike are appropriate if they serve to expedite litigation. See Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder, 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989); see also Talbot v. Robert Matthews Distrib. Co., 961 F.2d 654, 664 (7th Cir. 1992) (allegations may be stricken if matter bears no possible ...


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