United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JORGE L. ALONSO United States District Judge.
Abdul Mohammed, brings this lawsuit against his former
employer, Sidecar Technologies, Inc. ("Sidecar"),
and two of its officers,  making numerous claims in a sprawling
twenty-one count complaint. Defendant Sidecar moves to dismiss.
For the following reasons, the motion is granted.
was a ride-share company, apparently akin to Uber and Lyft
(for whom plaintiff also worked, according to his pending
lawsuits in Mohammed v. Uber Technologies, Inc.,
case no. 16 C 2537, and Mohammed v. Lyft, Inc., case
no. 16 C 2470) that ceased operations on December 31, 2015.
Plaintiff began working as a driver for Sidecar in late
September or early October 2014, expecting to be paid $35 per
hour. He was discharged on or about December 29, 2014, and he
alleges that he was not paid the full amount of wages he had
earned during his period of employment.
he was discharged, plaintiff promptly filed a charge of
discrimination with the EEOC, claiming religious
discrimination under Title VII, and he received a
right-to-sue letter on January 6, 2015. On February 24, 2016,
plaintiff filed this lawsuit, in which he has apparently
abandoned his Title VII religious discrimination
claim and raised various new state and federal
claims. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for failure
to state a claim.
motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint states
a claim on which relief may be granted." Richards v.
Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012). 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 Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007) (ellipsis omitted).
federal notice-pleading standards, a plaintiffs
"[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level." Id.
Stated 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 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
"In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the
plausibility standard, [courts must] accept the well-pleaded
facts in the complaint as true, but [they] 'need[ ] not
accept as true legal conclusions, or threadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements.'" Alam v. Miller Brewing
Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009)).
I: INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE (18 U.S.C. § 1584)
alleges that Sidecar recruited and employed him without
providing fair and reasonable compensation. When plaintiff
complained, Sidecar compelled him to stay in its employment
by promising to pay back wages, but it never did. Plaintiff
claims that this treatment amounted to involuntary servitude
in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1584.
Supreme Court has defined "involuntary servitude, "
as the term is used in § 1584, as "a condition of
servitude in which the victim is forced to work for the
defendant by the use or threat of physical restraint or
physical injury, or by the use or threat of coercion through
law or the legal process." United States v.
Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931, 952 (1988). Reviewing its cases
decided under the Thirteenth Amendment (which, the Court
held, Congress intentionally echoed in § 1584) and the
legislative history of § 1584, the Court explained that
the "reach [of § 1584] should be limited to cases
involving the compulsion of services by the use or threatened
use of physical or legal coercion." Id. at 948.
complaint, plaintiff alleges only that he was
"psychologically" coerced to remain at Sidecar by
the promise of back wages. In Kozminski, the Supreme
Court specifically rejected the argument that such conduct
violates § 1584, explaining that it could not accept an
interpretation of the statute under which an employer would
be subject to criminal penalties "whenever an employee
asserts that his will to quit has been subdued by a threat
which seriously affects his future welfare but as to which he
still has a choice, however painful." 487 U.S. at 950
(citing United States v. Shackney, 333 F.2d 475, 487
(2d Cir. 1964) (Friendly, J.)).
response brief, plaintiff mentions that he was called a
"terrorist, " subjected to rude and aggressive
language, and threatened with physical injury if he continued
to demand his back pay or if he stopped working for Sidecar,
but these facts are not alleged in plaintiffs complaint, the
gravamen of which is that he was simply not paid the wages he
was owed. These new facts do not merely add detail to the
claim raised in his complaint; they attempt to transform it
essentially into a different claim altogether, and it is
"axiomatic . . . that a plaintiff may not amend his
complaint in his response brief." Pirelli Armstrong
Tire Corp. Retiree Med. Benefits Tr. v. Walgreen Co.,
631 F.3d 436, 448 (7th Cir. 2011); see also Milazzo v.
O'Connell, 925 F.Supp. 1331, 1340 (N.D. HI. 1996)
(response brief may allege new facts consistent with the
complaint, but it may not allege new claims).
these new facts include very sparse, essentially conclusory
allegations of physical or legal coercion; as such, even if
true, they do not support a reasonable inference that
Sidecar's actions genuinely compelled plaintiff to
continue to work there in a condition of servitude, with no
"choice" in the matter, not even a
"painful" one. See Kozminski, 487 U.S. at
950. Plaintiff fails to state a claim in Count I.
II: FORCED LABOR (18 U.S.C. § 1589)
alleges that Sidecar committed the offense of forced labor
under 18 U.S.C. § 1589, which provides as follows:
(a) Whoever knowingly provides or obtains the labor or
services of a person by any one of, or by any combination of,
the following means-
(1) by means of force, threats of force, physical restraint,
or threats of physical restraint to that person or another
(2) by means of serious harm or threats of serious harm to
that person or another person;
(3) by means of the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal
(4) by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to
cause the person to believe that, if that person did not
perform such labor or services, that person or another person
would suffer serious harm or physical restraint, shall be
18 U.S.C. § 1589. In his complaint, plaintiff alleges
that Sidecar forced plaintiff to work by making false
promises of back wages. He makes no allegation that Sidecar
used or threatened force, physical restraint, serious harm,
or abuse of law or legal process.
as with his involuntary servitude claim, plaintiff adds
additional facts in his response brief, alleging that he was
called a terrorist and threatened with false criminal
charges. Again, it is improper to attempt to amend the
complaint in a response brief, but in any case, these
additional allegations do not aid plaintiff in stating a
claim. Plaintiff appears to be attempting to allege that
Sidecar threatened him with abuse of legal process unless he
continued to work for Sidecar, but "[a] statement is a
threat if a reasonable person would believe that the intended
audience would receive it as a threat, regardless of whether
the statement was intended to be carried out."
United States v. Calimlim, 538 F.3d 706, 713 (7th
Cir. 2008). Plaintiff, who has shown himself in his written
submissions and appearances before this Court to be an
intelligent, articulate person, could not have believed that
Sidecar, a private employer, had the power to cause criminal
or immigration proceedings to be initiated against plaintiff
by making false charges of terrorism, nor has he plausibly
alleged that Sidecar made statements to him that a reasonable
person in his position would have "interpreted ... as a
serious expression of an intention" to frame him as a
terrorist. See United States v. Fuller, 387 F.3d
643, 646 (7th Cir. 2004) cited in Calimlim, 538 F.3d
at 713. Plaintiff fails to state a claim in Count II.
III: PEONAGE (18 U.S.C. § 1581)
alleges that Sidecar committed the offense of peonage under
18 U.S.C. § 1581. Peonage is "a status or condition
of compulsory service, based upon the indebtedness of the
peon to the master. The basal fact is indebtedness."
United States v. Reynolds,235 U.S. 133, 144 (1914).
Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that Sidecar forced
plaintiff to purchase a car in order to begin employment ...