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Coleman v. Robert W. Depke Juvenile Justice Center

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 20, 2014

SHANNON L. COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT W. DEPKE JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Shannon Coleman filed this complaint against the Robert W. Depke Juvenile Justice Center, alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendant's motion to dismiss [5].

I. Background[1]

According to the complaint, Plaintiff is an African American employed by Defendant for almost twelve years. Compl., Ex. A. After Plaintiff committed certain "conduct, " Defendant allegedly fired him on the basis of his race, failing to discipline non-African Americans who committed "similar conduct." Compl. ¶ at 7. On December 24, 2013, the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue with respect to Plaintiff's charge. Plaintiff subsequently filed this complaint.[2]

II. Legal Standard On Motion To Dismiss

The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is not to decide the merits of the case; a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint. Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). As previously noted, reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court takes as true all factual allegations in Plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Killingsworth, 507 F.3d at 618. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the claim first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the claim must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level, " assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (ellipsis in original). The Court reads the complaint and assesses its plausibility as a whole. See Atkins v. City of Chi., 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011); cf. Scott v. City of Chi., 195 F.3d 950, 952 (7th Cir. 1999) ("Whether a complaint provides notice, however, is determined by looking at the complaint as a whole.").

III. Analysis

The Court dismisses the complaint because it fails to give "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Plaintiff alleges very few facts. Specifically, he alleges that he was terminated on the basis of his race following certain unexplained "conduct" that non-African Americans also committed without consequence. Compl. at ¶ 7. His response brief states that "Plaintiff has stated sufficient facts in his Complaint to notify Defendant, and this Court, of the conduct he was terminated for, " but the complaint provides no such facts. Resp. at 2. To put Defendant on fair notice of the grounds of his claim such that it may investigate and defend against it, Plaintiff must provide additional factual allegations regarding the "conduct" preceding his termination. Defendant employed Plaintiff for almost twelve years, a period during which Plaintiff undoubtedly engaged in a great deal of conduct. Compl., Ex. A. This lengthy period of employment combined with the absence of any factual allegations regarding the circumstances surrounding his termination leaves Defendant without fair notice. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. For all Defendant knows, Plaintiff's "conduct" could refer to one incident that occurred immediately before his termination or repeated activity stretching across years. Plaintiff's complaint suggests that the substance of this "conduct" will be important to his claim, yet he declines to explain what it was. Plaintiff already possesses information and can easily plead it; he need not conduct discovery to learn of his own actions. Accordingly, the Court dismisses the complaint.

Plaintiff argues that a plaintiff need not plead facts corresponding to each element of a prima facie case of discrimination under McDonnell Douglas, which creates an evidentiary standard rather than a pleading requirement. Resp. at 4-5 (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506 (2002)). Defendants and the Court agree. The problem is not that Plaintiff fails to plead facts corresponding to each McDonnell Douglas element. It is that he fails to allege almost any facts at all. In contrast to Plaintiff's bare bones complaint, Swierkiewicz's complaint "detailed the events leading to his termination, provided relevant dates, and included the ages and nationalities of at least some of the relevant persons involved with his termination." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (quoting Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 514). These factual allegations made his allegations plausible under Twombly, whereas Plaintiff's allegations are not. Id.

Plaintiff also argues that his complaint is plausible under Swanson v. Citibank, N.A. 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010), in which the Seventh Circuit stated,

[a] plaintiff who believes that she has been passed over for a promotion because of her sex will be able to plead that she was employed by Company X, that a promotion was offered, that she applied and was qualified for it, and that the job went to someone else. That is an entirely plausible scenario * * *

614 F.3d at 404-05. Plaintiff reads this language literally to mean that a plaintiff need not "plead the specific qualifications that made him/her qualified, or that the person who received the promotion over him/her was less qualified, or even had the similar qualifications to him/her * * * [or] that the comparator was similarly situated to him/her or that he/she was performing their current job satisfactorily." Resp. at 6. Plaintiff argues that his claim is similarly detailed and therefore plausible.

The Court declines to adopt Plaintiff's literal reading of Swanson 's dicta. In this passage, the Seventh Circuit explains generally that under Twombly, the simpler the case, the fewer the factual allegations necessary to make a claim plausible: "in many straightforward cases, it will not be any more difficult today for a plaintiff to meet that burden than it was before the Court's recent decisions, " whereas in a "more complex case involving financial derivatives, or tax fraud that the parties tried hard to conceal, or antitrust violations, will require more detail, both to give the opposing party notice of what the case is all about and to show how, in the plaintiff's mind at least, the dots should be connected." Swanson, 614 F.3d at 405. To illustrate how a "straightforward case" pleading few facts could be plausible, the Seventh Circuit offered the hypothetical cited by Plaintiff. The Court does not read the Seventh Circuit's one-sentence summary of an abstract hypothetical to mean that a plaintiff may absolutely state a Title VII claim in one sentence; something more than boilerplate is necessary because "abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements, do nothing to distinguish the particular case that is before the court from every other hypothetically possible case in that field of law." Id. at 405 (internal quotation omitted). More importantly, the Court does not interpret this abstract example of a plausible claim to mean that this particular Plaintiff may state a Title VII claim by alleging only that he was fired after committing "conduct" while others outside his protected class were not. This is particularly true because he undoubtedly engaged in a great deal of "conduct" over his twelve years of employment with Defendant, because he suggests that the particular conduct at issue will be important to his claim, and because he possesses the missing facts about his own conduct.

Finally, if Swanson bears on this issue at all, its actual holding tips in Defendant's favor. Swanson involved Fair Housing Act and fraud claims, and it is "rarely proper to draw analogies between complaints alleging different sorts of claims; the type of facts that must be alleged depend upon the legal contours of the claim." Concentra, 496 F.3d at 782. To the extent that the Fair Housing Act claim is analogous to this Title VII claim, however, Swanson is still distinguishable in that Swanson's complaint was factually more robust than Plaintiff's. Swanson alleged that the defendants racially discriminated against her when they rejected her application for a home equity loan. In support of her legal allegations, her complaint factually alleged the nature of the bank's loan program, the identities of the bank representative and manager who Swanson spoke with, ...


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