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Butler v. East Lake Management Group, Inc.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 24, 2014

JAMES BUTLER, Plaintiff,


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff James Butler has filed numerous pro se complaints against his former employer, Defendant East Lake Management Group, Inc., under federal and state law. The current version of the complaint alleges violations of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") (Count III) and retaliatory discharge (Count IV). Before the Court is Defendant East Lake Management Group, Inc.'s motion for summary judgment [87] on Counts III and IV of Plaintiff's fourth amended complaint.[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment [87] and will enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff James Butler worked as a janitor at Princeton Apartments, a Chicago Housing Authority property that was managed by Defendant East Lake Management Group, Inc., for more than six years. He was laid off in October 2009. On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff filed his original complaint against Defendant. After Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, the Court recruited counsel to assist Plaintiff. Not long after counsel filed a second amended complaint, Plaintiff dismissed his lawyer [see 38, 40] and sought leave to file a third amended complaint, which the Court granted. On November 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed his third amended complaint, which asserted five counts for relief. Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's third amended complaint, which the Court granted in part and denied in part [see 59]. The Court dismissed Count I (gender discrimination) with prejudice and Counts II (Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)) and IV (Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)) without prejudice. In its opinion, the Court set forth both the legal standard governing a motion to dismiss and what a plaintiff must plead to sufficiently allege both ADA and FLSA violations. Given Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court gave Plaintiff 21 days in which to file a motion for leave to file an amended complaint if he felt that he could cure any of the deficiencies identified by the Court in dismissing Counts II and IV.

Plaintiff filed a fourth amended complaint [66], asserting four counts: Count I (ADA), Count II (FLSA), Count III (Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)), and Count IV (Retaliatory Discharge). Defendant filed an answer and affirmative defenses in response to Counts III and IV and once again moved to dismiss Counts I and II for failure to state a claim. The Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss [69] and dismissed Counts I and II with prejudice. The case has proceeded to summary judgment on Counts III and IV.

In Count IV (Retaliatory Discharge), Plaintiff alleges that, on October 9, he gave his supervisor a doctor's note and told her that he needed surgery. On October 12, his supervisor came to his apartment and told Plaintiff to "fuck [his] worker's compensation" before handing Plaintiff a layoff notice. He alleges that the discharge was "under the pretext of layoff to deny [him] a chance to file a [worker's compensation] claim." In Count III (FMLA), Plaintiff alleges that he was eligible for FMLA leave and that Defendant was obliged to provide him with FMLA leave. He repeats his allegation about giving his supervisor the doctor's note and receiving a layoff notice. Plaintiff concludes that Defendant "interfered with my protected rights under FMLA with the pretext of layoffs to prevent me from taking family medical leave."

B. The Parties' Fact Statements

It is the function of the Court to review carefully statements of material facts and to eliminate from consideration any argument, conclusions, and assertions that are unsupported by the documented evidence of record offered in support of the statement. See, e.g., Sullivan v. Henry Smid Plumbing & Heating Co., Inc., 2006 WL 980740, *2 n.2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 10, 2006); Tibbetts v. RadioShack Corp., 2004 WL 2203418, at *16 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2004); Rosado v. Taylor, 324 F.Supp.2d 917, 920 n.1 (N.D. Ind. 2004). Because Butler dismissed recruited counsel and thus is pro se at this stage of the case, Defendant served him with a requisite notice under Local Rule 56.2, which explained the requirements of Local Rule 56.1 and warned Plaintiff that his failure to properly rebut the facts in Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement would result in those facts being deemed admitted. Although pro se plaintiffs are entitled to a generous reading of their submissions, compliance with procedural rules is required. See Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006) ("even pro se litigants must follow rules of civil procedure"). Thus, Butler's status as a pro se litigant does not excuse him from complying with Local Rule 56.1. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S.Ct. 1980, 124 L.Ed.2d 21 (1993) ("we have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel"); Coleman v. Goodwill Indus. of Se. Wis., Inc., 423 Fed.App'x 642, 643 (7th Cir. 2011) ("Though courts are solicitous of pro se litigants, they may nonetheless require strict compliance with local rules."); Wilson v. Kautex, Inc., 371 Fed.App'x 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2010) ("strictly enforcing Local Rule 56.1 was well within the district court's discretion, " even though the plaintiff was pro se ) (citations omitted).

Many of Plaintiff's responses fail to properly rebut the facts in Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement. Plaintiff's LR 56.1 response admits some facts as set forth by Defendant, and therefore those facts are deemed admitted for purposes of the summary judgment motion. However, for a number of fact statements, Plaintiff objections to the fact, but does so in a confusing manner and without citing to any relevant evidence to actually refute Defendant's factual submission. Such denials are not sufficient to defeat summary judgment; rather, a nonmovant must support each denial with relevant materials or affidavits that support their denial. See, e.g., Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 527-29 (7th Cir. 2000) (affirming summary judgment when district judge struck plaintiff's entire LR 12 (now LR 56.1) statement); McGuire v. UPS, 152 F.3d 673, 675 (7th Cir. 1998) ("An answer that does not deny the allegations in the numbered paragraphs with citations to supporting evidence in the record constitutes an admission.") (internal citations omitted); Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 584 (N.D. Ill. 2000) ("[A] general denial is insufficient to rebut a movant's factual allegations; the nonmovant must cite specific evidentiary materials justifying the denial."). Although Plaintiff's responses contained citations to various exhibits, much of the evidence cited was not relevant to or failed to rebut Defendant's assertions.

Having carefully combed through Plaintiff's fact statements, exhibits, and response brief, one thing is clear: Plaintiff wishes to distance himself from several admissions that he made during his deposition. Plaintiff makes several self-serving arguments in his response to Defendant's fact statements and in his memorandum, including: his "deposition is not accurate;" it is "filled with half lie's and half truth's;" he "tried to get the errata sheet from defendant or reporter and got the run around;" and finally that his deposition was an opportunity for defendant to "twist and turn facts" and to "trick-fool-mislead this Court." Unfortunately for Plaintiff, the admissions on record cannot simply be disregarded at summary judgment.

On April 24, 2013, pursuant to FRCP 30, Plaintiff gave his deposition before a certified shorthand reporter pursuant to notice. Plaintiff's deposition transcript was certified by the reporter. Plaintiff waived signature at the completion of the deposition as noted in the transcript. The Court's review of the transcript indicates that Plaintiff was not asked particularly hard or tricky questions. Rather, all questions pertained to the matters at issue in Plaintiff's case, where Plaintiff was duly sworn to testify the whole truth concerning the matters raised. The statements in Plaintiff's deposition constitute binding admissions under oath, and those admissions are inescapable. Thus, to the extent that statements in his response or memorandum directly contradict deposition testimony, the Court will not consider the later statements in ruling on the summary judgment motion. See Buckner v. Sam's Club, Inc., 75 F.3d 290, 292 (7th Cir. 1996) ("As a general rule, the law of this circuit does not permit a party to create an issue of fact by submitting an affidavit whose conclusions contradict prior deposition or other sworn testimony"); see also Patterson v. Chicago Ass'n for Retarded Citizens, 150 F.3d 719, 720 (7th Cir.1998). In short, the Court cannot accept self-serving arguments as a basis for denying a summary judgment motion, particularly where Plaintiff makes these statements and asks the Court to draw inferences without factual support from the record.

In sum, any statements or responses by either party that contain legal conclusions or argument, are evasive, contain hearsay or are not based on personal knowledge, are irrelevant, or are not supported by evidence in the record will not be considered by the Court in ruling on Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Any paragraph or fact that is not supported by record evidence will be disregarded. And to the extent that arguments or facts raised by ...

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