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Hindia v. Sheriff of Cook County

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

September 30, 2019

ISAM HINDIA, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF OF COOK COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Edmond E. Chang, United States District Judge.

         Isam Hindia worked as a Deputy Sheriff for the Cook County Sheriff's Office for almost three years. But after Hindia suffered an anxiety attack in 2016, the Sheriff's Office deemed him unfit for duty and put him on non-pay status. Eventually, during a Union grievance process, Hindia signed a settlement agreement agreeing to take a position as a civilian administrative assistant in the Cook County Records Department. He later sued the Sheriff's Office (referred to as the “Sheriff” for convenience's sake) under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12117, and the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791, 794, alleging that the Sheriff failed to reasonably accommodate his disability and discriminated against him based on his disability. R. 1, Compl.[1] Now, the Sheriff moves to dismiss the claims, arguing that Hindia released his claims under the settlement agreement. R. 14, Mot. Dismiss.

         I. Background

         As a explained in further detail below, the Court construes the Sheriff's motion as one for early summary judgment. The Court therefore views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); see also Alexander v. City of Chicago, 994 F.2d 333, 336 (7th Cir.1993).

         In March 2016, Hindia suffered an anxiety attack from acute stress while on duty as a Deputy Sheriff. R. 17-1, Hindia Decl. ¶ 1. He was later taken to the hospital. Id. ¶ 2. After being released, the Sheriff directed Hindia to meet with a doctor for a medical and mental-health evaluation. Id. Based on this evaluation, Hindia was deemed unfit for duty and placed on non-pay status. R. 28, Exh. C, Kramer Decl. ¶ 3. Hindia then worked with his union (the Teamsters) and the Sheriff's Human Resources Department (HR) to effectuate a transfer to a civilian position within the Sheriff's Office. Id. ¶ 3-4. A Union attorney, Nicole Chaney, negotiated and drafted the settlement agreement covering Hindia's transfer. Id. ¶ 7. Chaney worked with Peter Kramer, Special Counsel of Labor affairs for the Sheriff, to put the agreement together. Id. ¶ 9. As part of the transfer process, Hindia completed a Skills Assessment test with HR in November 2016. Id. ¶ 4.

         In the meantime, Hindia remained on non-pay status. By January 2017 his financial situation became dire: his bank account balance was almost at zero, he struggled to keep up with his bills and living expenses, and he was maxed out on his credit cards. Hindia Decl. ¶ 3. Eventually, Hindia's wife divorced him because he could no longer provide for her. Id. ¶ 4.

         Then, in February 2017, Hindia was called to a meeting with HR. Hindia Decl. ¶ 5. At the meeting were Nicole Chaney, the Union attorney; Mark Robinson, a representative from the Sheriff's Office; and an attorney for the Sheriff's Office (Hindia does not remember the attorney's name). Id. When Hindia arrived at the meeting, he was provided with a copy of the settlement agreement that Chaney had drafted and negotiated with Kramer; this was the first time that Hindia had seen a written draft of the agreement. Id. ¶¶ 6, 10. During the meeting, Hindia was not given the chance to make any changes to the agreement, nor were the terms negotiated in his presence. Id. ¶ 7. He was also not made aware of any negotiations that occurred outside of his presence. Id.

         The settlement agreement provides that, if Hindia agreed to resign from his current position, then he would be transferred from his inactive position as a sworn officer to a full-time civilian administrative assistant in the Sheriff's Records Department. R. 14-1, Settlement Agreement at 1. The agreement says that the parties to the settlement are Hindia, the Union, and the Sheriff's Office, including its Department of Corrections and its Department of Records. Id.[2] The settlement agreement also describes what claims are being released:

This transfer shall be in full settlement of any existing claims/disputes that Hindia and/or Teamsters possess with respect to Isam Hindia's fitness-for-duty and/or Isam Hindia's probationary status as a sworn correctional officer at the CCDOC and any such pending claims are hereby extinguished. By signing this Agreement, Hindia hereby accepts the aforementioned position as a civilian and acknowledges and agrees that this settlement resolves any and all such disputes and claims which have been or could have been asserted by him, or on his behalf, prior to the execution date of this settlement, including any and all disputes and claims pertaining to Hindia's Fitness-For-Duty Assessment and IME as a sworn correctional officer in and around 2016 and Hindia further hereby waives any claim he may/may not have had to backpay as a result of his absence from work due to said Fitness-For-Duty.

Id.

         Hindia was told by one of the meeting's attendees that, under this agreement, he would not be waiving any right to file a legal action in court at a later date. Hindia Decl. ¶ 8. Hindia thus understood the release language to mean that he was waiving his rights only to file a union grievance, and that any pending union grievance would be dismissed. Id. No. one at the meeting told Hindia that he was waiving his right to file a court case under the ADA, nor any other type of discrimination lawsuit. Id. ¶ 9. Hindia was also told that his employment would be terminated if he did not agree to the settlement. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. So Hindia signed the agreement that very day, which he attributes at least in part to stress from his financial situation, and because he believed he did not have a choice but to sign the agreement right then and there. Id.

         Hindia eventually filed this lawsuit against the Sheriff, bringing claims under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The Sheriff argues that Hindia released his claims pursuant to the settlement agreement. Mot. Dismiss. at 2. In response, Hindia argues that the agreement does not release his rights to file a federal employment case, and even if the agreement purports to do that, Hindia signed the agreement unknowingly and involuntarily. R. 17, Pl.'s Resp. Br.

         II. Legal Standard

         In moving to dismiss, the Sheriff invokes Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which requires dismissal of cases for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. But the Sheriff's argument is not really that Hindia's case does not fit within this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Instead, the Sheriff is actually arguing that Hindia has settled and released the claims, see Mot. Dismiss at 2 (“This Court should therefore enter judgment in favor of Defendant as to Plaintiff's Complaint because it is barred by a prior settlement agreement and release.”), which is not a subject matter jurisdiction problem. A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), not Rule 12(b)(1), provides the proper vehicle for challenging a complaint based on an affirmative defense, like release of a claim. See United States v. Rogers Cartage Co., 794 F.3d 854, 860 (7th Cir. 2015). That said, when a Rule 12(c) motion relies on material outside the pleadings-like the ...


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