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Stanek v. Saint Charles Community Unit School District No. 303

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

December 1, 2017

MATTHEW STANEK, SANDRA STANEK, and BOGDAN STANEK Plaintiffs,
v.
SAINT CHARLES COMMUNITY UNIT SCHOOL DIST NO. 303, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JORGE L. ALONSO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Matthew, Sandra, and Bogdon Stanek have brought this action against St. Charles Community School District #303 and several teachers and school administrators. Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint and Class Allegations [dkt 121], and Defendants Julie Steston and Rory Pine's Motion to Dismiss [dkt 149]. For the reasons that follow, the motions are granted. Defendants Steston and Pine are dismissed with prejudice and the Third Amended Complaint is stricken. Plaintiffs are given until January 5, 2018 to file an amended complaint consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Although still at the pleadings stage, this case has a long history which has already been the subject of multiple court decisions, and is repeated here only in pertinent part. Plaintiff Mathew Stanek is autistic. He attended St. Charles High School from 2009-2013, during which time he received special education services. According to Plaintiffs, Matthew excelled when he received adequate supportive services. During his junior year of high school however, Defendants failed to provide adequate services, discriminated against Matthew based on his disability, and retaliated against Plaintiffs for their advocacy on his behalf. Plaintiffs allege that Matthew and his parents and co-plaintiffs Sandra and Bogdon Stanek suffered as a result.

         On April 1, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a state court complaint against the St. Charles Community Unit School District and 12 individual defendants which was thereafter removed to federal court. [Dkt 1.] In August 2013, the Court found Plaintiffs' complaint “impossible to decipher, ” as it was written largely in narrative form, referred to many federal and state laws, and did not make clear which Plaintiffs were asserting which claims against which Defendants. [Dkt 21.] Plaintiffs were given leave to amend their complaint in accordance with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8, 10, and 11, and were advised of the availability of free legal assistance through the District Court's Pro Se Assistance Program. [Id.]

         Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint in September 2013. [Dkt 25.] It was 20 single-spaced pages, and contained six counts. [Id.] After defendants' motion to dismiss was granted in its entirety, Plaintiffs successfully appealed to the Seventh Circuit, who in 2015 affirmed in part and reversed in part. [Dkt 70.] Specifically, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Matthew Stanek's retaliation claim under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, all of Plaintiffs' official capacity claims against the individual defendants except for Superintendent Donald Scholmann, the individual capacity claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, and any further claims not addressed specifically in the decision. [Id.] In all other respects, the dismissal was vacated and the case was returned to the district court. [Id.] Defendants then answered the complaint, and Settlement Assistance Counsel was appointed. [Dkt 77, 89.] After an unsuccessful settlement conference with the Magistrate Judge, Plaintiffs were directed to file an amended complaint consistent with the Seventh Circuit's decision. [Dkt 95, 96.] Plaintiffs' second amended complaint more than quadrupled in size, to 88 pages, and contained five counts. [Dkt 97.] Defendants moved to strike the complaint as inconsistent with the Seventh Circuit's ruling, and violative of Rule 8's requirement of a “short and plain” statement of the claims. [Dkt 98.] The Court gave Plaintiffs leave to file a third amended complaint (“TAC”), which they did in May 2016. [Dkt 101.] The TAC swelled to 203 pages, containing seven counts over 631 paragraphs.

         The TAC alleges violations of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (“IDEA”), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the First Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Illinois School Student Records Act, 105 ILCS 10/1 et seq. It attempts to add four new defendants, the Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”), State Superintendent Tony Smith, Rory Pine, who is alleged to have been Matthew's substitute teacher during the 2011-12 school year, and Julie Stetson, who is alleged to have been Matthew's special education case manager for a portion of that same year. [Id.] It also attempts to add class claims on behalf of all students with disabilities, present and future, in District # 303. [Id.] ISBE and Smith moved to dismiss the TAC against them, which was granted in part and denied in part. [Dkt 161.] The Illinois Student Records Act claim was dismissed with prejudice as to both defendants, and as to Smith, the IDEA claim was dismissed with prejudice and the constitutional claims were dismissed without prejudice. [Id.]

         Pending before the Court is Defendants Stetson and Pine's motion to dismiss on personal jurisdiction and timeliness grounds. [Dkt 149.] Also before the Court is Defendants' motion to strike the class allegations on the ground that Plaintiffs cannot not satisfy the threshold requirements of a class action, and to strike the TAC in its entirety because it does not contain a short and plain statement of the claims as required by Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [Dkt 121.]

         Stetson & Pine's Motion to Dismiss

         Plaintiffs obtained a default against Defendants Stetson and Pine on December 12, 2016. [Dkt 133.] On December 16, 2016, Stetson and Pine moved to vacate the default, which was granted on February 28, 2017. [Dkt 161.] While the motion was pending, Stetson and Pine also filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of Plaintiffs' failure to serve process in accordance with Rule 4 and on the expiration of the statute of limitations. [Dkt 149.]

         For the reasons set out in the Court's February 28, 2017 memorandum opinion vacating the default (which issued during the briefing on this motion), the Court determined that service on Stetson and Pine was not proper. [See dkt 161.] Plaintiffs' arguments notwithstanding, the defendants did not waive their challenge to defective service by first seeking to vacate the default; indeed they argued it at length in their motion to vacate and the Court relied on it in granting the motion. [Dkt 137, 161.] To waive a personal jurisdiction defense, a defendant must give a plaintiff a reasonable expectation that it will defend the suit on the merits, or it must cause the court to go to some effort that would be wasted if personal jurisdiction is later found lacking. See Mobile Anesthesiologists, Chi., LLC v. Anesthesia Assocs. of Houston Metroplex, P.A., 623 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2010). That is not the case here, where it has been clear from their first appearance that Stetson and Pine challenged the court's personal jurisdiction over them. Filing their counsel's appearance and their motion to vacate the default based on lack of jurisdiction neither gave Plaintiffs an expectation they would defend the suit on the merits nor required court resources that would be wasted upon a finding that jurisdiction is lacking.

         In resisting this conclusion, Plaintiffs mistakenly rely on O'Brien v. R.J. O'Brien & Assocs., Inc., 998 F.2d 1394 (7th Cir. 1993), in which the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's finding of waiver against a defendant who first appeared to oppose entry of a default, and then filed a motion to dismiss. In O'Brien, however, the defendant failed to raise the jurisdictional defense in its motion to vacate, and it was upon this omission that the court found waiver. See Id. at 1398-99. Far from omitting their objection here, Stetson and Pine premised their successful motion to vacate on their objection to the lack of service on them. [See dkt 137.]

         Because Stetson and Pine were not properly served and have not waived their objection, the court may not exercise personal jurisdiction over them. See U.S. v. Ligas, 549 F.3d 497, 500 (7th Cir. 2008). “When a plaintiff fails to serve process within the period of time prescribed by the federal rules, Rule 4(m) requires the district court to dismiss the complaint without prejudice.” Id. at 501. A dismissal with prejudice is appropriate, however, where the statute of limitations has expired on the plaintiff's claims. See Cardenas v. City of Chi., 646 F.3d 1001, 1007-08 (7th Cir. 2011). The court thus turns to whether the dismissal should be with prejudice.

         There is no dispute that the statute of limitations expired on Plaintiffs' claims before the filing of the TAC and well before Stetson and Pine appeared, but Plaintiffs assert their claims relate back to the timely filing of their first complaint. [Dkt 150 at 5-7; dkt 155 at 12.][1]According to Stetson and Pine, relation back does not apply because Plaintiffs did not make a mistake in failing to timely name them, and because neither were mentioned in any timely filed complaint, and neither received the complaint and summons within the time prescribed by the Rules. They also emphasize the prejudice to their ability to defend on the merits by being brought into this action years after the underlying events, especially given the case's long procedural history. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, insist that relation back saves their claims, arguing that their failure to name Stetson and Pine resulted from Plaintiffs' mistaken belief that School District # 303 was responsible for their actions given that both held temporary roles, and because Stetson and Pine knew or should have known that they would have been named in the original complaint but for Plaintiffs' mistake. Service within the time prescribed is not required in order to apply relation back, Plaintiffs add, but rather, only that defendants received notice of the action. Because Stetson and Pine knew of the lawsuit, either from the news media, or from the fact that District #303 was timely sued and is represented by the same counsel as they are now too, Plaintiffs say, their claims against them relate back to their timely filed original complaint.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) conditions relation back on three fundamental prerequisites: (1) the amended complaint must arise out of the same conduct, transaction, or occurrence described in the original pleading; (2) within the period for serving summons and complaint the party to be brought in by amendment must have received notice of the lawsuit such that the party would not be prejudiced in defending on the merits; and (3) the party to be bought in must have or should have known that the action would have been brought against it but for a mistake concerning the proper party's identity. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1). In considering whether relation back is appropriate, the district court must only ask two questions: “first, whether the defendant who is sought to be added by the amendment knew or should have known that the plaintiff, had it not been for a mistake, would have sued him instead or in addition to suing the named ...


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