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Adams v. City of Indianapolis

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 4, 2014

Kendale L. Adams, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
City of Indianapolis, Defendant-Appellee. Kendale L. Adams, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
City of Indianapolis, Defendant-Appellee.

Submitted January 24, 2014 [*]

Argued October 1, 2012

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. Nos. 1:09-cv-00175-seb-dml, 1:12-cv-01806-seb-dml — Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

Before Posner, Williams, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

Sykes, Circuit Judge.

These related cases raise dozens of claims of illegal discrimination in the promotion process used by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Indianapolis Fire Department. The complaints are sprawling and the procedural history is a bit convoluted; we have simplified the presentation of the issues. A large group of black police officers and firefighters sued the City of Indianapolis alleging that the examination process it uses to rank candidates for promotion in the police and fire departments has a disparate impact on black candidates and is intentionally discriminatory. They filed back-to-back lawsuits targeting promotion decisions made in successive promotion cycles dating from 2002, but most of the challenged decisions were based on scores generated from testing protocols administered by the police department in 2008 and the fire department in 2007.

The plaintiffs in the first case are 36 black police officers and firefighters who were passed over for promotions between 2007 and 2009 in favor of candidates who achieved higher composite scores in the 2007 and 2008 testing sessions. The plaintiffs amended their complaint once, and the City then moved for partial judgment on the pleadings. The district court granted the motion and dismissed many of the claims as either time-barred or substantively flawed. In particular, the court dismissed the disparate-impact claims because the amended complaint alleged that the City's promotion process was intentionally biased rather than facially neutral.

The plaintiffs sought leave to amend their complaint again and tendered a proposed second amended complaint, but the district court denied the request on grounds of untimeliness and futility. The disparate-treatment claims then proceeded to summary judgment, and the court entered judgment for the City because the plaintiffs had not produced any evidence that using the test results to make promotions was a pretext for discrimination. The plaintiffs appealed.

In the meantime, some of the plaintiffs—a group of 20 police officers—filed a second lawsuit alleging that they were passed over for promotions again in 2010 and 2011. The district court dismissed the new claims as barred by res judicata because the more recent promotion decisions were made from the same eligibility list generated by the testing process that was at issue in the first case. The plaintiffs appealed this decision as well.

We have consolidated the appeals for decision and now affirm in both cases. The plaintiffs have focused most of their appellate argument on claims of procedural error. They contend that the district court erroneously applied summary-judgment standards at the pleadings stage and wrongly denied their second motion to amend the complaint. We find no procedural error. We also conclude that judgment for the City was proper in both cases.

First, although the district court mistakenly assumed that allegations of intentional discrimination necessarily defeat a disparate-impact claim, here the disparate-impact claims fail in any event because they are stated as legal conclusions, without any factual content to support an inference that the City's examination procedures caused a disparate impact on black applicants for promotion in the police or fire departments. Second, the disparate-treatment claims lacked any evidentiary support and were properly resolved in the City's favor on summary judgment. Finally, the claims in the second lawsuit are precluded. Although the new complaint concerns a different set of promotion decisions, it attacks the same eligibility list that was at issue in the first case. The plaintiffs' challenge to that testing process was fully and finally resolved against them in the first suit, so their second suit against the City is barred.

I. Background

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the Indianapolis Fire Department share similar promotion procedures. Both departments administer a promotion examination process every few years. The police department did so in 2004, 2006, and 2008; the fire department in 2004 and 2007. For each cycle a "Development Committee" created and implemented the examination process, which consisted of a written test, an oral exercise, and an assessment of the candidate's "personnel profile." The "oral" exercise had three subparts: an oral interview, an oral assessment in which applicants responded to hypothetical scenarios, and a written exercise requiring the applicants to draft reports and correspondence. The fire department's promotion processes also included a practical exercise.

The Development Committees distributed information booklets to all interested candidates outlining the promotion criteria and instructing them how to participate. After the testing was completed, each candidate's scores on the component parts of the process were combined to create a composite score. The candidates were then ranked on a promotion eligibility list in order of their scores. Subsequent promotion decisions were made from the list. Generally speaking, the department chiefs promoted the highest-ranked candidates in order of their scores, although promotions ultimately were at the chiefs' discretion subject only to approval by "Merit Boards." In one case a black officer was promoted to sergeant ahead of ...


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