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Smith v. Chief Judge of Circuit Court of Cook County

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

June 20, 2018

JASON SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CHIEF JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. JORGE ALONSO United States District Judge

         Before the Court are defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint [18], [29] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the Office of the Chief Judge's motion [18] is granted in part and denied in part. Defendants Alexander, Das, and Patterson's motion [29] is granted. Plaintiff is given an opportunity to amend his complaint by July 10, 2018 consistent with this opinion if he chooses to do so. Status hearing previously set for June 21, 2018 is stricken and reset to July 12, 2018 at 9:30 a.m.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jason Smith is a probation officer for the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County (“Office of Chief Judge”). He has worked as a probation officer since April 3, 2003.

         On or about November 9, 2016, Smith filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleging a claim of retaliation. Smith alleged that he engaged in various protected activities from 2012 through 2014 while serving as Vice President of the Local Union, including appearing as a witness in a discrimination case. Smith claimed that, on or about July 8, 2016, defendants retaliated against him by denying him a flex-time schedule-a schedule that was not denied to similarly situated employees who did not participate in protected activities. On October 19, 2017, Smith received a right-to-sue letter.

         On November 17, 2017, plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed suit against “Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, ”[1] Dennis Alexander, Avik Das, and William Patterson, alleging claims of discrimination and retaliation. He alleges that defendants denied him a flex-time schedule but approved a similar schedule for a white probation officer. He attaches a copy of his Charge of Discrimination and his right to sue letters.

         Plaintiff asserts the following claims against the Office of the Chief Judge: unlawful color, national origin, and race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and 42 U.S.C. §1981 (“§1981”); unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII; retaliation; and unlawful race, color, and national origin discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983 (“§1983”). The Office of the Chief Judge moves to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff's §§1981 and 1983 claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Additionally, the Office of the Chief Judge argues that plaintiff's claims of discrimination based on color, national origin, race, and sex under Title VII fail because plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies.

         As for defendants Alexander, Das, and Patterson, plaintiff asserts the following claims: unlawful color, national origin, and race discrimination in violation of Title VII and §1981; unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII; and retaliation. Defendants Alexander, Das, and Patterson move to dismiss the Title VII claims, arguing that individual liability does not exist under Title VII.

         STANDARD

         The purpose of a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint, not decide the merits of the case. Derfus v. City of Chi., 42 F.Supp.3d 888, 893 (7th Cir. 2014). To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a pleading that purports to state a claim for relief must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim satisfies this standard when its factual allegations “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010) (“[P]laintiff must give enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together.”). For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts “as true all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Platt v. Brown, 872 F.3d 848, 851 (7th Cir. 2017). “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, … and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Beal v. Beller, 847 F.3d 897, 902 (7th Cir. 2017).

         DISCUSSION

         Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         The Office of the Chief Judge argues that plaintiff's §§1981 and 1983 claims should be dismissed because the Office of the Chief Judge is not a person for purposes of plaintiff's §§1981 and 1983 claims and because the Eleventh Amendment shields the Office of the Chief Judge from liability.

         The Eleventh Amendment provides: “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. “If properly raised, the amendment bars actions in federal court against a state, state agencies, or state officials acting in their official capacities.” Ind. Prot. & AdvocacyServs. v. Ind. Family & Soc. Servs. Admin., 603 F.3d 365, 370 (7th Cir. 2010). A state agency cannot be sued under §§1981 and 1983 unless an exception to immunity applies. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989) (“neither a State nor its official acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under §1983”); see also Carter v. Ill. Dep't of Commerce and Cmty. Affairs, 600 F.Supp. 583 (N.D. Ill. 1984); Titus v. Ill. Dep't of Transp., 828 F.Supp.2d 957, 967 (N.D. Ill. 2011). “An official capacity suit is the same as a suit against the entity of which the officer is an agent.” DeGenova v. Sheriff of DuPage Cty., 209 F.3d 973, 975 n.1 (7th Cir. 2000). State officials named in their official capacities may not be sued for monetary damages in federal court. See Milazzo v. O'Connell, 925 F.Supp. 1331, 1336 n. 1 (N.D. Ill. 1996), ...


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