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Jain v. Butler Illinois School District 53

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

March 22, 2018

S. JAIN, for herself and on behalf of her son, MINOR “A, ” Plaintiffs,


          Ronald A. Guzmán United States District Judge

         For the reasons explained below, the District Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Fifth Amended Complaint is granted in part and denied in part, and the Attorney Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's Fifth Amended Complaint is granted.


         Plaintiff S. Jain brought this case against Butler School District 53 (the “District”); the District's Board of Education and its members at the relevant time, Lou Paskalides, Rajiv Advani, Liz Chun, Todd Rusteberg, Hitesh Patel, Alan Hanzlik, and Alan Kumar (collectively, the “Board”); District Superintendent Heidi Wennstrom; Kelly Voliva, the former Principal of the District's Brook Forest Elementary School (“Brook Forest”); and Brook Forest Assistant Principal Lisa Owen (collectively, the “District Defendants”). Plaintiff has also sued Libby Massey and Caroline Roselli, who are attorneys who performed relevant work for the District (collectively, the “Attorney Defendants”).

         The Court previously issued an opinion in this case dismissing the Fourth Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 134.) Currently before the Court is the Fifth Amended Complaint. In a nutshell, plaintiff asserts for herself and on behalf of her minor son “A” several claims that arise from the District's investigation and conduct stemming from a report that Jain and other District parents had engaged in unethical and deceptive practices in order to provide A and other students with unfair advantages in academic competitions (the National Geographic Bee (the “GeoBee”) and the WordMasters Challenge (“WordMasters”)). At the relevant time, A was nine years old and a fifth-grade student at Brook Forest. Plaintiffs' claims are based on (1) an instance in which A was pulled out of his classroom after competing in the GeoBee and questioned by Wennstrom, Voliva, and Owen, who allegedly “coerced a false confession” from A that he had cheated on the GeoBee by receiving and reviewing the questions and answers in advance, (ECF No. 170, 5th Am. Compl. ¶ 87); (2) emails that Wennstrom sent in February 2016 and June 2016 to District parents and employees about certain (unnamed) families' “academic dishonesty” and the District's investigation and findings; (3) the Board's retention of the Attorney Defendants' law firm, Robbins Schwartz, to investigate Jain's subsequent grievance, and the Attorney Defendants' conduct during the investigation; and (4) the sanctions imposed as a result of the investigation, namely, A's prohibition from participating in future academic competitions while a student in the District, and the fact that Jain was “not permitted to serve in any capacity as a parent volunteer” for school-related contests, (id. ¶ 121). The Court will set out the detailed allegations as necessary in its discussion of each claim.

         The Fifth Amended Complaint contains the following claims: a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, against Wennstrom, Voliva, and Owen (Count I); a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for violation of Fourteenth Amendment due process, against Wennstrom, Voliva, and Owen (Count II); unlawful seizure in violation of the Illinois Constitution, against Wennstrom, Voliva, and Owen (Count III); willful and wanton conduct, against all defendants (Count IV); intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress, against all defendants (Counts V and VI); defamation per se, against Wennstrom (Count VII); and violation of Illinois's anti-bullying statute, 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7, against Wennstrom, Voliva, Owen, and the District (Count VIII). Counts I, II, III, and VIII are brought on behalf of A alone, and the remaining claims are brought by both plaintiffs.

         The District Defendants move to dismiss the Fifth Amended Complaint, and the Attorney Defendants have separately moved to dismiss the claims against them. The motions are brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


         When evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts as true all well-pleaded facts therein, and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Beyrer, 722 F.3d 939, 946 (7th Cir. 2013). The complaint 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) (ellipsis omitted). It “does not need detailed factual allegations” but must contain “enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 555, 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


         A. The Board of Education

         The District Defendants first argue that the Board of Education, as the District's “elected governing body, ” is “not a proper party in this lawsuit” because plaintiffs have also sued the District itself. They cite no authority that supports this proposition, so it is rejected.

         B. Res Judicata

         The District Defendants assert that plaintiffs' federal claims are barred by res judicata because they could have been brought in a state-court administrative-review action that plaintiffs filed in June 2016, which was later dismissed with prejudice. In that action, plaintiffs sought reversal of the District's decision to bar A from participating in future academic contests, as well as the removal of references to the incident from A's school record. (ECF No. 186-1, Compl. for Admin. Review.)

         One of the elements of res judicata that defendants must demonstrate is that there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior case. See Parungao v. Cmty. Health Sys., Inc., 858 F.3d 452, 457 (7th Cir. 2017) (applying Illinois law).[1] The District Defendants fail to make this showing. Plaintiffs attach to their response a copy of the transcript of the hearing at which the state court explained that it was dismissing the administrative action “as moot” because, since the filing of the action, defendants had provided all the relief that was sought. (ECF No. 192-1.) Therefore, while the trial court deemed the dismissal as one “with prejudice, ” it was decided on mootness grounds. Although the District Defendants attach to their supporting memorandum copies of their motions to dismiss the administrative-review action, which urged dismissal on the ground of mootness, they omit that fact from their discussion and ignore it in their reply. They simply reiterate that the state court's order reflected a dismissal “with prejudice.” But under Illinois law, a mootness finding is not a judgment on the merits, and it does not support the application of res judicata in a subsequent case. Gassman v. Clerk of the Circuit Court, 71 N.E.3d 783, 792 (Ill.App.Ct. 2017) (citing Johnson v. Du Page Airport Auth., 644 N.E.2d 802, 808-09 (Ill.App.Ct. 1994) (stating that the dismissal of a moot case “with prejudice” was error, thus rendering erroneous the dismissal of a subsequent case based upon the res judicata effect of the prior case); La Salle Nat'l Bank v. City of Chi., 121 N.E.2d 486, 490 (Ill. 1954)).

         C. Unlawful Seizure - Fourth Amendment & Illinois ...

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