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Graham v. Board of Education of City of Chicago

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

July 2, 2019



          Virginia M. Kendall United States District Judge.

         Tamika Graham sued the Board of Education of the City of Chicago mainly because it tried (and continues to try) to collect insurance premiums that Graham failed to pay while suspended from June 2017 to February 2018. (Dkt. 1.) The Court previously dismissed Graham's complaint because it failed to state a claim. (Dkt. 41.) Graham then amended her complaint asserting her original claims-in addition to several new ones-against the Board and two new defendants: Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC) and Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1. (Dkt. 51.) Graham later voluntarily dismissed Count XII alleged against the Board and the Union under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(i). (Dkt. 55.)

         The Board again moved to dismiss arguing Graham failed to cure the deficiencies the Court identified in her original complaint. (Dkt. 64.) It also contended, as did HCSC in its own motion to dismiss (Dkt. 66), that Graham never lost health insurance coverage, so the defendants never needed to notify her that she could elect to continue her benefits under federal law. Because Graham failed to cure the deficiencies in her original complaint, and her new claims are facially implausible, the Court grants the Board's motion to dismiss (Dkt. 64) with prejudice and HCSC's motion without prejudice (Dkt. 66). Graham may replead against HCSC, if she is able to, by 7/15/2019.


         The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the relevant facts as recounted in the first opinion dismissing Graham's claims in her original complaint. See Graham v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, No. 18 C 4761, 2019 WL 215098, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 16, 2019). Graham repleaded the same first eight counts against the Board that she alleged in her original complaint, adding little to no new facts. The Court will briefly cover each count from the original complaint.

         Before recapping, though, a preliminary issue merits discussion. The purpose of an amended complaint is to cure the deficiencies in the original complaint. See Lee v. Ne. Illinois Reg'l Commuter R.R. Corp., 912 F.3d 1049, 1052-53 (7th Cir. 2019). It is not to repeat the same allegations that the Court has already decided do not allow it to draw the reasonable inference that the Board is liable for the misconduct alleged. See Chestnut v. Finck, 722 Fed.Appx. 115, 118 (3d Cir. 2018). In repleading, it is simply not enough to state conclusions that parrot the Court's legal analysis and are “devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); see Manning v. Bos. Med. Ctr. Corp., 725 F.3d 34, 43 (1st Cir. 2013). Keeping that in mind, the Court turns to its consideration of the amended complaint.


         First, Graham pleads minimal new factual content alleging that the Board's benefit plan is not a governmental plan, thus subjecting it to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Seeking to cure this defect, Graham adds the conclusory statement that the Board's benefits plans “are funded and maintained in part by private companies that own and operate charter schools in Chicago.” (Dkt. 51 ¶ 16.) Graham goes on to plead how charter school employees were eligible to participate in-and in some cases did participate in-the Board's benefit programs. Id. ¶¶ 13-14.

         As the Court ruled previously, the statute's text does not hinge on participation; it hinges on whether the government establishes or maintains the plan. See 29 U.S.C. § 1002(32); Koval v. Washington Cty. Redevelopment Auth., 574 F.3d 238, 242 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). Beyond that, “‘a plan need only be established or maintained by a governmental entity in order to constitute a governmental plan.'” Graham v. Hartford Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 589 F.3d 1345, 1353 (10th Cir. 2009) (internal citation omitted) (emphasis in original). Here, Graham effectively concedes that the Board established the plan while partially maintaining it alongside private partners. (Dkt. 51 ¶ 16.)

         Even accepting that as true, it does not much matter that private charter school companies partially maintain-through funding or otherwise-the plan. The Board need only have established the plan for the governmental exemption to apply. See Hightower v. Texas Hosp. Ass'n, 65 F.3d 443, 451 (5th Cir. 1995); see also Roy v. Teachers Ins. & Annuity Ass'n, 878 F.2d 47, 49-50 (2d Cir. 1989) (illustrating Rose v. Long Island Railroad Pension Plan, 828 F.2d 910 (2d Cir.1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 936 (1988)); Silvera v. Mut. Life Ins. Co. of New York, 884 F.2d 423, 427 (9th Cir. 1989); Feinstein v. Lewis, 477 F.Supp. 1256, 1260 (S.D.N.Y. 1979), aff'd, 622 F.2d 573 (2d Cir. 1980). Moreover, the Board allegedly pays the employer portion of insurance premiums under the plan, which means it further establishes it even though another entity supposedly administers it. See Fromm v. Principal Health Care of Iowa, Inc., 244 F.3d 652, 653 (8th Cir. 2001). Therefore, the plan is not subject to ERISA, and Graham failed to state claims upon which the Court can grant her relief in Counts I and II.


         Second, Graham fails to assert new facts that make her First Amendment claim plausible. Graham again pleads that she petitioned “for a hearing to challenge the circumstances surrounding her suspension . . .” (Dkt. 51 ¶ 63.) Then Graham concludes that she did this “in part . . . to reform the Chicago Public Schools system . . . [and] to advance a political or social idea of interest to the community . . .” Id. ¶¶ 63-64. The amended complaint remains devoid of any factual content indicating that Graham's testimony at the hearing was in her capacity as a private citizen and not a personally aggrieved employee. See McArdle v. Peoria Sch. Dist. No. 150, 705 F.3d 751, 754 (7th Cir. 2013).

         Graham also pleads no facts that show how her suspension was a matter of public concern rising to the level of a political or social idea. See Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 483 (7th Cir. 2016). Indeed, it is unclear what policy Graham allegedly sought to challenge: the so-called suspension policy or the public speech policy. Confusion aside, individual personnel disputes are just not publicly relevant. Graham participated as a witness in the hearing on her appeal of the Board's termination recommendation. Graham failed to allege how her speech motivates the Board's ...

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