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Ortega v. Chicago Board of Education

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

January 3, 2018

LINDA ORTEGA, Plaintiff,


          Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge.

         On November 21, 2017, the Court entered a memorandum opinion and order regarding the equitable relief to which Plaintiff Linda Ortega is entitled. See R. 192 (Ortega v. Chi. Bd. of Educ., __ F.Supp.3d __, 2017 WL 5593350 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 21, 2017)) (hereinafter “the Equitable Relief Order”). Currently before the Court is a motion filed on December 20, 2017 by Defendant Chicago Board of Education (“the Board”) for “Final Judgment Under Rule 54(b)” and “To Stay Judgment Under Rule 62.” R. 207. For the reasons that follow, the Board's motion is denied, but the Final Judgment entered by the Court on November 21, 2017, R. 194, will be amended to reflect the Court's ruling herein.


         Included in the equitable relief the Court awarded Ortega was an award of lost pension benefits in the amount of $216, 716. In addition to making this award, the Court stated that it would retain jurisdiction for three months beyond the May 1, 2021 anticipated vesting date for Ortega's pension from her current employment with the state government. Should future events lead to Ortega's state pension not vesting by that date, the Court stated that Ortega could then file a motion with the Court seeking an additional lost pension benefit award to make up for the state pension benefits she ultimately would not be receiving due to the fact that her state pension failed to vest. Although the Court did not state the amount of that additional pension benefits award in the Equitable Relief Order, its intention as to that amount should be clear from the opinion. To the extent that it is not, then the Court now clarifies that the additional amount to which Ortega would be entitled should her state pension not vest is $299, 184, representing the difference between the amount of lost pension benefits to which Ortega's actuarial witness testified ($515, 900) and the amount the Court already awarded in its Equitable Relief Order ($216, 716). See Equitable Relief Order, R. 192 at 85-88 (2017 WL 5593350, at *35).

         The Board filed a notice of appeal from the Final Judgment Order on December 13, 2017. See R. 199. On December 14, 2017, the Seventh Circuit entered an order stating that “[a] preliminary review of the short record indicates that the order and judgment appealed from may not be final and appealable within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1291.” Ortega v. Chi. Bd. of Educ., Appeal No. 17-3542, Doc. 2. After quoting from that portion of the Court's Final Judgment in which the Court stated that it was retaining jurisdiction until sixty days past Ortega's anticipated state pension vesting date, the Seventh Circuit observed that the Board's appeal “may be premature because the amount of damages has not been fully and finally determined.” Id. The Seventh Circuit therefore ordered that the Board “file, on or before December 29, 2017, a brief memorandum stating why this appeal should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, ” while indicating that “[a] motion for voluntary dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 42(b) will satisfy this requirement.” Id. The Board chose the latter option and filed a Motion to Voluntarily Dismiss Appeal. On December 18, 2017, the Seventh Circuit granted that motion, id., Doc. 5-1, and remanded the case to this Court, id., Doc. 5-2 and R. 205, 206.

         The Board then filed the current motion. That motion seeks two forms of relief. The first is an order amending the Final Judgment to include a finding for purposes of Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that “there is no just reason for delay.” R. 207 at 1-2. The second is an order pursuant to Rule 62(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure staying the Final Judgment without requiring the posting of bond.


         A. Rule 54(b) Certification

         The Seventh Circuit questioned the appealability of this Court's Final Judgment based on the Court's retention of jurisdiction over the pension benefits award. Although the Board does not specifically say in its motion, presumably the Board is asking the Court to make a finding that there is no just reason to delay an appeal on the damages claims addressed in the Equitable Relief Order other than the lost pension benefit award on the theory that the lost pension benefit award lacks the required finality to be appealed.

         Rule 54(b) applies to a judgment on multiple claims or involving multiple parties, and provides that

[w]hen an action presents more than one claim for relief- whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim-or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay. Otherwise, any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities.

         The Seventh Circuit has said that “trial judges do not have carte blanche to certify partial dispositions for immediate appeal under Rule 54(b), ” and “[t]he rule itself makes clear that a district judge may enter an appealable judgment only if it disposes of a ‘claim for relief' that is ‘separate' from the claims not disposed of.” Jack Walters & Sons Corp. v. Morton Bldg., Inc., 737 F.2d 698, 701 (7th Cir. 1984). Although the Supreme Court has not “attempt[ed] any definitive resolution of the meaning of what constitutes a claim for relief within the meaning of the Rules, ” it has said that “a complaint asserting only one legal right, even if seeking multiple remedies for the alleged violation of that right, states a single claim for relief.” Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wetzel, 424 U.S. 737, 744 n.4 (1976) (emphasis added); see also Local P-171, Amalgamated Meat Cutters & Butcher Workmen of N. Am. v. Thompson Farms Co., 642 F.2d 1065, 1069 (7th Cir. 1981) (Rule 54(b) requires that the district court action “encompass multiple parties or multiple claims for relief, rather than a single claim resting on multiple theories or a single claim with alternative requests for relief”) (emphasis added). Thus, the Court does not have authority under Rule 54(b) to certify for appeal its Final Judgment as to all but the lost pension benefits award. As stated in Wright & Miller, 10 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 2657, “when [a] plaintiff is suing to vindicate one legal right and alleges several elements of damage or seeks multiple remedies, only one claim is presented and subdivision (b) [of Rule 54] does not apply.” See, e.g., Reyher v. Champion Int'l Corp., 975 F.2d 483, 487 (8th Cir. 1992) (multiple remedies in ADEA cases do not transform a single claim of intentional age discrimination into multiple claims); Ariz. State Carpenters Pension Tr. Fund v. Miller, 938 F.2d 1038, 1040 (9th Cir. 1991) (when liability rests on the same transaction or series of transactions, a count for punitive damages, although of a different order than compensatory damages, does not constitute a separate claim for Rule 54(b) purposes); Sussex Drug Prods. v. Kanasco, Ltd., 920 F.2d 1150, 1154 (3d Cir. 1990) (“An order that eliminates two of several elements of damages flowing from a single claim does not qualify for Rule 54(b) certification.”); Stearns v. NCR Corp., 195 F.R.D. 652, 654 (D. Minn. 2000) (the court's determination that the employer was liable to the employees for breach of contract was not distinct from the employees' claim for injunctive relief and restitution, and thus the court could not enter final judgment on the issue of liability before resolving the other issues).

         The Board states that it has filed its motion for Rule 54(b) certification because it “wishes to appeal the ‘Final Judgment' without waiting several years for finality with respect to pension benefits.” R. 207 at 2 (¶ 4). The Board, however, has assumed that the Court's Final Judgment is not immediately appealable based simply on the fact that the Seventh Circuit questioned whether it was and directed the Board either to address the issue by filing a short brief explaining why an immediate appeal from the Final Judgment was proper or to voluntarily dismiss the appeal. The Board voluntarily dismissed the appeal rather than defend the immediate appealability of the Court's Final Judgment. Presumably, the Board is of the opinion that it cannot present any arguments to the Seventh Circuit defending the appealability of the Final Judgment without a Rule 54(b) certification. If that is the Board's position, then it is wrong. The Final Judgment is in fact an immediately appealable order, notwithstanding the Court's retention of jurisdiction until the state pension fund vesting issue is resolved by future, as yet-unknowable events.

         The reason the Final Judgment is an appealable order is set forth in Parks v. Pavkovic, 753 F.2d 1397 (7th Cir. 1985), where the Seventh Circuit concluded that an “order directing the state to reimburse (in an as yet undetermined amount) the parents of the class members” was properly before that court, not because of a Rule 54(b) certification (id. at 1402 (the court's conclusion regarding appealability “owes nothing to Rule 54(b)”)), but instead because “nothing remains pending in the district court except calculating the actual amount owed each class member.” Id. The calculation, the court said, was “not the resolution of a separate claim but merely ...

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