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Murray v. Better

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 7, 2014

SHARON MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONWIDE BETTER HEALTH, BARBARA LEY, and CYNTHIA NORTHRUP, Defendants.

OPINION

SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment and Other Relief filed by Defendants Nationwide Better Health (Nationwide), Cynthia Northrup, and Barbara Ley (d/e 108). Because no genuine issues of material fact remain, and Defendants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Motion is GRANTED as to Plaintiff's federal claims. Moreover, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims.

I. JURISDICTION

This Court has subject matter jurisdiction because several of Plaintiff's claims are based on federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States"). The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 ("[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form a part of the same case or controversy). Venue is proper because the events giving rise to the claim occurred in Sangamon County. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) (venue is proper in a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claim occurred).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying the evidence that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). No genuine issue of material fact exists if no reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party. Brewer v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill. , 479 F.3d 908, 915 (7th Cir. 2007). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. Woodruff v. Mason , 542 F.3d 545, 550 (7th Cir. 2008).

III. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In 2008, Plaintiff, a former AT&T Mobility LLC (AT&T) employee, sued AT&T for violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. See Sharon Murray v. AT&T Mobility LLC, Case No. 08-3159, United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division. Plaintiff proceeded pro se.

In that lawsuit, Plaintiff alleged that AT&T improperly interfered with her rights under the FMLA by miscalculating her FMLA use and retaliated against her for using FMLA leave. See Murray v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 2009 WL 2985721, at *11 (C.D. Ill. 2009). Plaintiff also claimed AT&T violated the ADA by failing to grant her an accommodation and by refusing to rehire her with accommodations. Id. at *14.

In September 2009, United States District Judge Jeanne E. Scott granted summary judgment in favor of AT&T. Id . The Seventh Circuit affirmed. See Murray v. AT&T Mobility LLC , 374 Fed.Appx. 667 (7th Cir. 2010) (unpublished).

In October 2010, Plaintiff, again proceeding pro se, filed the Complaint at issue herein against Nationwide, Northrup, and Ley. See also Memoranda of Points and Authorities (d/e 3). Nationwide was the third-party administrator who handled FMLA and short term disability claims for AT&T in 2007 and 2008. Nationwide provided said services pursuant to the "Disability, Family Medical Leave[, ] and Leaves Administrative Services Agreement" (Agreement) between Gates, McDonald and Company (now Nationwide) and Cingular Wireless LLC (now AT&T). Defendants Northrup and Ley were employees of Nationwide.

Plaintiff alleges violations of the FMLA, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.) (ERISA), perjury claims, violations of Plaintiff's Constitutional rights, and various state law claims. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Northrup filed a counterfeit document in the prior case; Northrup and Ley withheld critical documents in the prior case; Ley failed to disclose in the prior case that Plaintiff should have received additional disability pay; Nationwide failed to give Plaintiff proper notice that certain leave would be counted toward Plaintiff's FMLA allotment; Nationwide did not keep accurate records; and Defendants failed to preserve documents. See Complaint, d/e 1. Plaintiff seeks damages of $500, 000, consisting of disability benefits she claims she is owed, compensation for the actions that affected Plaintiff's credit, future damages, loss of her health insurance, and damages for the long-term effects on Plaintiff and her five children. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages. See Complaint, d/e 1, p. 16, 17, 19, 20.

In January 2011, Defendants filed an Answer and Affirmative Defenses (d/e 15) and, in June 2011, an Amended Answer and Affirmative Defenses (d/e 107). Defendants raised numerous affirmative defenses, including that Plaintiff failed to state a claim for which relief may be granted; the claims are barred by the statute of limitations; Plaintiff failed to plead sufficient facts for an award of punitive damages and is not entitled to punitive damages under ERISA or the FMLA; Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for the ERISA claims; the claims are barred by issue preclusion; Ley and Northrup are not proper parties under the ERISA claims; Defendants are not state actors; and ERISA provides no right to a jury trial.

On June 22, 2011, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Other Relief (d/e 108) and a Motion to Stay Proceedings Including Discovery Pending the Decision on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Other Relief (d/e 111). Defendants supported the Motion for Summary Judgment with the Affidavits of Northrup and Deborah Baugh.

On July 11, 2011, this Court entered an Order staying discovery pending a determination on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment with the exception that Plaintiff was entitled to conduct limited discovery on (1) whether Nationwide was a "covered employer" under the FMLA;

(2) whether Nationwide, Northrup, and Ley are "fiduciaries" of a "plan" under ERISA; (3) any agreements, policies, or contracts entered into between Nationwide and AT&T during the relevant time and related to the two issues cited above; and (4) the information provided by Northrup and Baugh in their Affidavits in support of the Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court set September 1, 2011 as the deadline for the completion of limited discovery and set September 26, 2011 as the deadline for Plaintiff to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment.

On September 26, 2011, Plaintiff filed her response to the Motion for Summary Judgment. See d/e 165, 166. However, Plaintiff encountered difficulty in conducting the limited discovery allowed by this Court. Therefore, on several occasions, the Court extended the deadline for Plaintiff to complete the limited discovery and granted Plaintiff additional time to file any additional response to the Motion for Summary Judgment. See, e.g., d/e 171; April 30, 2012 Text Order; May 9, 2012 Text Order; May 15, 2013 Text Order.

Plaintiff was ultimately able to complete the limited discovery. In August 2011, United States Magistrate Judge Byron G. Cudmore granted Plaintiff leave to propound 10 written questions to Barbara Ley, Corrine Archer, Chrissy Cauger, Nancy Vascyoc, Gaye Ann Pusch, and Christopher Meyers and to depose the two affiants who provided affidavits in support of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Cynthia Northrup and Deborah Baugh. See Opinion, d/e 150. In July 2013, Magistrate Judge Cudmore again granted Plaintiff leave to serve written questions on both Ley and Cauger. See Opinion d/e 355.

In December 2012 and May 2013, Plaintiff completed the depositions Northrup and Baugh. See December 5, 2012 Minute Entry; May 15, 2013 Minute Entry. After filing a motion to compel, Plaintiff received responses to the written interrogatories served on Gaye Ann Pusch and Christopher Meyers. See d/e 245, 246. Plaintiff also received a copy of the Agreement. See d/e 253 (wherein Plaintiff filed the Agreement under seal); d/e 276 (Plaintiff referencing that she received the Agreement March 30, 2012).

On July 31, 2013, Magistrate Judge Cudmore granted Plaintiff until October 31, 2013 to respond to the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. See d/e 355. Plaintiff did not file an additional response. On November 14, 2013, Defendants filed a Reply in Support of Their Motion for Summary Judgment and Other Relief (d/e 359).

IV. ANALYSIS Defendants assert they are entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims.

A. Defendants are Entitled to Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's FMLA Claims

Defendants assert they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's FMLA claims for three reasons: (1) the FMLA claims are barred by the doctrine of issue preclusion; (2) Nationwide was not Plaintiff's employer; and (3) Plaintiff's claims were filed outside the two year statute of limitations. Because the Court finds that the FMLA claims are barred by issue preclusion and because Nationwide was not Plaintiff's employer, the Court does not address the statute of limitations argument.

Issue preclusion, also referred to as collateral estoppel, prevents relitigation in a subsequent action of an issue that was actually litigated and decided in the initial action. Havoco of American, Ltd. v. Freeman, Atkins & Coleman, Ltd. , 58 F.3d 303, 307 (7th Cir. 1995). Whether a federal judgment precludes a subsequent suit is determined by federal common law. Taylor v. Sturgell , 553 U.S. 880, 891 (2008).

A defendant who invokes issue preclusion must show (1) the issue sought to be precluded is the same as that ...


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