United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
TABITHA OWENS and CHAD WALTERS, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
GLH CAPITAL ENTERPRISE, INC., M.L.K. ENTERPRISES, LLC, BACKSTREET ENTERTAINMENT, LTD., CHARLES “JERRY” WESTLUND, JR., an individual, and DOES 1-10, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge
Motion to Dismiss Defendant Westlund's Counterclaims
(Doc. 36), filed by Plaintiffs Tabitha Owens and Chad
Walters, and a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 29) filed by Defendant
Charles “Jerry” Westlund are pending before the
Court. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the
Motion to Dismiss Westlund's Counterclaims and denies
Westlund's Motion to Dismiss.
And Procedural Background
action arises under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29
U.S.C. § 201, and the Illinois Minimum Wage Act, 820
ILCS § 105/1. Tabitha Owens (Owens) and Chad Walters
(Walters) (collectively “Employees”) are former
employees of Defendants GLH Capital Enterprise, Inc., M.L.K.
Enterprises, LLC, Back Street Entertainment, Ltd., Charles
“Jerry” Westlund, Jr., and Does 1-10
the FLSA employers are prohibited from requiring an employee
to work more than forty hours in a workweek unless the
employee receives compensation of at least one-and-a-half
times their regular rate. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).
Employees filed an Amended Complaint on December 19, 2016,
alleging Employers willfully violated the FLSA by failing to
pay overtime. (Doc. 25, pp. 1-2). Employers timely filed an
Answer, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaims. (Doc. 28).
At issue are Westlund's counterclaims for false light and
defamation. (Doc. 28, pp. 18-19). Both claims are based on
language in paragraph 24 of Employees' Amended Complaint
stating “Plaintiffs and other employees understand that
Hamilton is simply Westlund, Jr.'s ‘fall
guy.'” (Doc. 25, ¶ 24). Employees filed the
pending Motion to Dismiss Westlund's Counterclaims
arguing the statement in paragraph 24 of their Amended
Complaint is privileged and they are immune from suit for
false light and defamation. (Doc. 36, pp. 1-2).
also has filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), alleging Employees' Amended
Complaint fails to state facts to support any allegations
against defendant Westlund personally and he should be
dismissed as an individually named defendant. (Doc. 29,
Motion to Dismiss Counterclaims
Motion to Dismiss Defendant Westlund's Counterclaims
raises two arguments for dismissal: (1) Westlund's
Counterclaims are barred as a matter of law; and (2)
Westlund's Counterclaims fail to establish subject matter
jurisdiction for his permissive counterclaims. (Doc. 36, pp.
1-2). Because the Court finds Westlund's Counterclaims
are barred as a matter of law, Employees' second argument
is deemed moot.
Barred as a Matter of Law
is a long standing principal in Illinois that anything said
or written in a legal proceeding, including pleadings, is
protected by an absolute privilege against defamation
actions, as long as the words are relevant or pertinent to
the matters in controversy. Defend v. Lascelles, 500
N.E.2d 712, 714 (1986); see also Libco Corp. v.
Adams, 426 N.E.2d 1130, 1131 (1981) (“The absolute
privilege protects anything said or written in a legal
proceeding.”); Ritchey v. Maksin, 376 N.E.2d
991, 993 (Ill.App.Ct. 1978); Wahler v. Schroeder,
292 N.E.2d 521, 523 (Ill.App.Ct. 1972); Harrell v.
Summers, 178 N.E.2d 133, 134 (Ill.App.Ct. 1961);
Dean v. Kirkland, 23 N.E.2d 180, 187 (Ill.App.Ct.
1939). This rule flows from the principle that the judicial
system is best served when individuals are free to report
facts to a court without fear of civil liability.
Defend, 500 N.E.2d at 714.
absolute privilege has been held to apply in both defamation
and false light claims. McGrew v. Heinhold Commodities,
Inc., 497 N.E.2d 424, 432 (Ill.App.Ct. 1986)
(“Every jurisdiction that has considered the question
has concluded that this privilege also applies to
‘false light' suits.”) The question before
this Court, therefore, is whether the complained of statement
in Employees' Amended Complaint is relevant or pertinent
to the matters in controversy, and therefore privileged
against Westlund's defamation and false light claims.
Statements are considered relevant or pertinent if they have
any bearing upon the subject matter of the litigation.
Talley v. Alton Box Board Co., 185 N.E.2d 349, 352
(Ill.App.Ct. 1962). Courts are generally liberal in
construing this question, resolving all doubts in favor of
relevancy or pertinence. Harrell, 178 N.E.2d at 134.
Amended Complaint alleges Employers willfully failed to pay
overtime for work performed in excess of forty-hours in a
workweek. (Doc. 25, ¶¶ 68, 75, 79). Employees
further allege Garrett L. Hamilton (Hamilton) is employed by
Defendants as the manager and/or president of Employers'
named business entities. (Doc. 25, ¶ 24). In that role,
he is responsible for general business and financial
operations (Doc. 25, ¶ 24), which the Court infers to
include payroll. The complained of language-that Mr. Hamilton
is Westlund's “fall guy”-indicates that Mr.
Hamilton is working at the direction of Westlund, and thus
Mr. Westlund is responsible for either knowingly or
recklessly failing to pay overtime. Since that is the
gravamen of Employees' complaint, the statement has a
direct bearing on the subject matter of the litigation, and
the statement is privileged.
argues that he filed the defamation and false light claims
against Employees, not their attorneys (Doc. 38, ¶ 6),
presumably arguing the privilege against defamation applies
only to attorneys. Westlund provides no legal authority for
his argument and ignores mandatory authority on point.
Specifically, the Seventh Circuit has repeatedly held parties
are also immune to defamation for statements made during the
course of a legal proceeding.Novoselsky v. Brown, 822
F.3d 342, 353 (7th Cir. 2016); see also Zanders v.
Jones,680 F.Supp. 1236, 1238 (N.D. ...