United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Rock Island Division
DARROW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 9, filed by
Defendant Moline Housing Authority (“MHA”)
against the Complaint, ECF No. 1, filed by Plaintiff James
Berryman under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
(“Title VII”) of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§
2000e-e-17, as well as the Family Medical Leave Act
(“FMLA”) of 1993, 29 U.S.C. §§
2601-2654. Also pending is a motion by the MHA for a Summary
Ruling on the Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 13. For the
following reasons, the Complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Berryman is a resident of Davenport, Iowa who was employed by
the Moline Housing Authority in Moline, Illinois, until he
was terminated on or around October 25, 2012. On January 31,
2014, Berryman filed a complaint in Illinois' Fourteenth
Judicial Circuit, alleging racial discrimination under 42
U.S.C. § 1981, as well as violations of the FMLA. State
Court Compl., Mot. Dismiss Ex. B, ECF No. 10-2. In that
proceeding, Berryman, an African-American man, alleged that
he was replaced in his position by two less-qualified white
employees after using medical leave to undergo back surgery,
and that he was ultimately terminated by the MHA due to both
his race and physical restrictions. Id. at 4-6.
After noting that no response to the summary judgment motion
was filed on Berryman's behalf, the state court disposed
of the complaint by granting summary judgment in favor of the
MHA on May 16, 2016. State Court Record of Disposition, Mot.
Dismiss Ex. C, ECF No. 10-3.
August 23, 2016, Berryman filed the present complaint in
federal court, under a Title VII race discrimination theory,
as well as under the FMLA. Compl. 2. In his pro se complaint,
Berryman again argues that while he was out on medical leave,
his supervisor replaced him with two less qualified white
employees, and, upon his return, gave him more physically
demanding work, in a lower level position, which he could not
complete due to his injury: he alleges that the demotion and
his resultant inability to do the work led to his
termination. Id. at 3-6. Additionally, he alleges
that “[m]any racial remarks were made over the
years.” Id. at 4. On October 20, 2016, MHA
filed a motion to dismiss, ECF No. 9, arguing that the Court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute and that
the claim is barred by issue and claim preclusion. Though the
Court granted his motion for extension of time to file, and
invited him to file a new motion to request counsel, Berryman
did not file a response to the motion to dismiss, or any
other motion. On December 14, 2016, the MHA filed a Motion
for Summary Ruling on the Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 13.
argues that Berryman's claim in federal court violates
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, leaving the Court
without subject matter jurisdiction over the claim, and, in
any case, presents issues of claim and issue preclusion.
See Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 3-7.
Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss
will dismiss a complaint if it does not have subject matter
jurisdiction over the claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). The
jurisdiction of the federal courts is limited: “[t]hey
possess only that power authorized by Constitution and
statute . . . .” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.
of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The complaint must
contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for
the court's jurisdiction, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), and
must “give the defendant 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)) (quotation
marks omitted). The plaintiff bears the burden of
establishing subject matter jurisdiction. United
Phosphorus, Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946
(7th Cir. 2003), overruled on other grounds by Minn-Chem,
Inc. v. Agrium, Inc., 683 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2012).
a court will dismiss a complaint if it does not state a claim
upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The
pleader's claim must be facially plausible, meaning that
the factual allegations allow the court to draw a
“reasonable inference” that the purported
misconduct occurred. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 663 (2009). The complaint does not need to allege
“all, or any, of the facts logically entailed by the
claim and it certainly need not include evidence.”
Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir.
2008). A plaintiff may, however, plead himself out of court
“by pleading facts that establish an impenetrable
defense to its claims.” Id. at 1086. The
plaintiff must do more than “avoid foreclosing possible
bases for relief in [its] complaint; [it] must also show that
relief is actually plausible.” Id.
plaintiff represents himself pro se, the complaint is to be
“held to less stringent standards” than pleadings
by lawyers and must be liberally construed. Donald v.
Cook Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 95 F.3d 548, 555,
555 n.2 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting Duncan v.
Duckworth, 644 F.2d 653, 655 (7th Cir. 1981)). District
courts have the responsibility, short of “becom[ing]
advocate[s], ” to ensure that pro se plaintiffs have
“ample opportunity for amending the complaint”
and that their claims be adjudicated on the merits, rather
than dismissed on technicalities. Id. at 555.
the only federal court that may review a state court judgment
is the United States Supreme Court, lower federal courts lack
subject matter jurisdiction over claims when those actions
“seek review of state-court judgments.”
Dookeran v. County of Cook, Ill., 719 F.3d 570,
574-75 (7th Cir. 2013). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine,
as this body of law is known, strips subject matter
jurisdiction from a federal court only in “situations
in which the state court's decision is the source of the
harm the federal suit is designed to redress.”
Id. at 545 (quoting Simmons v. Gillespie,
712 F.3d 1041, 1043, No. 12-3381, 2013 WL 1110872, at *2 (7th
Cir. Mar. 19, 2013)). The doctrine is not applicable and a
claim is not jurisdictionally barred when “the injury
is independent of the state-court judgment, or if the federal
claim alleges ‘a prior injury that a state court failed
to remedy.'” Beth-El All Nations Church v. City
of Chicago, 486 F.3d 286, 292 (7th Cir. 2007). Just
because a plaintiff's federal suit challenges or calls
into question the legal conclusions made by a state court,
does not necessarily mean that he is challenging the state
court judgment itself. Long v. Shorebank Dev. Co.,
182 F.3d 548, 555 (7th Cir. 1999) (explaining “the fact
that the plaintiff's pursuit of his federal claims could
ultimately show that the state court judgment was erroneous
[does] not automatically render Rooker-Feldman
the fact that the present claim “involve[s] the same
basic transaction” as Berryman's previously
adjudicated state court claim, his repackaging of the
previously adjudicated § 1981 race discrimination claim
as a Title VII claim does not necessarily invoke
Rooker-Feldman. When the injury at the heart of the
claim was incurred before a party seeks relief in state
court, as it was here, no jurisdictional bar is warranted.
Rizzo v. Sheahan, 266 F.3d 705, 713-14 (7th Cir.
2001). However, transactional identity does ...