United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge
the Court is the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendations  regarding Defendant's motion for
sanctions , as well as Plaintiff's objections to the
Report and Recommendations . The Court adopts the
Magistrate Judge's findings of fact and some of her
recommendations regarding sanctions, and defers ruling on
other recommendations. Plaintiff's objections are
overruled in part and deferred in part. Defendant's
motion for sanctions  is granted in part, denied in part,
and deferred in part; specifically, the request for
attorneys' fees and costs is granted, the request to
dismiss the case or the CTA as a defendant is denied, and the
request to exclude a document from evidence is deferred. The
Court directs Defendants to submit by January 31, 2020,
requests for attorneys' fees consistent with the
Court's Opinion, along with appropriate supporting
materials. Plaintiff and his counsel may submit any
objections to the fees submitted by Defendants by February
14, 2020. The Court will then determine the appropriate
monetary sanction for the conduct at issue. Plaintiff's
counsel, Sweeney Scharkey & Blanchard LLC, shall be
responsible for 50% of this amount and Plaintiff shall be
responsible for the other 50%.
August 2015, George Cavelle resigned from his position as
Chief Transportation Operations Officer at the Chicago
Transit Authority (“CTA”). He subsequently
pursued a job at King County Metro Transit in Seattle,
Washington, but ultimately did not receive it. On July 24,
2017, he filed a complaint  against the CTA, its
president, and certain unknown CTA employees, alleging that
they had interfered with his attempt to a job at King County
Metro Transit. He also brought several defamation-based
claims, attempting to hold Defendants responsible for
allegedly harmful statements.
Court is now asked to consider Defendants' motion for
sanctions, which seeks to hold Plaintiff and his counsel
responsible for their allegedly harmful
statement-namely, an accusation of witness tampering. On
February 6, 2019, Plaintiff's counsel sent
Defendants' counsel an email accusing the CTA of
“blatant witness tampering” involving multiple
witnesses. See [71-1] at 4. Over the next month,
Defendants' counsel repeatedly sought basic information
about the accusation, such as the identity of the alleged
tamperer(s) and victim(s) of tampering. Plaintiff's
counsel did not respond to those requests. On February 28,
2019, Defendants filed a motion  asking the Magistrate
Judge, to whom the issue had been referred, to compel
Plaintiff to identify the tamperer(s) and victim(s) of
tampering. At a status hearing, Plaintiff's counsel
admitted- contrary to previous assertions-that only a single
witness had allegedly been tampered with, and he identified
the witness as George Mendenhall. When pressed for the name
of the alleged tamperer, Plaintiff's counsel confessed
that he did not know and had to call his client to get the
name. [77-1] at 94-95.
Magistrate Judge reminded Defendants' counsel of the
seriousness of witness tampering and warned Plaintiff's
counsel of the seriousness of accusing someone of witness
tampering. Defendants asked for an evidentiary hearing to
sort out the accusation. The Magistrate Judge decided to hold
a hearing and weigh the credibility of the live testimony
herself, and she ordered the parties not to contact Mr.
Mendenhall or the alleged tamperer (referred to as
“Individual A”) except to inform them of the need
to appear and testify. See [71-1] at 93-94.
weeks later, the Magistrate Judge held the evidentiary
hearing. According to Plaintiff's testimony at the
hearing, Mr. Mendenhall said that someone at CTA told him he
would not be paid for his time meeting with attorneys about
Plaintiff's case unless he testified “for
CTA” (apparently meaning that his testimony must be
favorable to the CTA). Id. at 160. Plaintiff
admitted on cross, however, that that Mr. Mendenhall did not
tell him that the CTA said Mr. Mendenhall would not be paid
for time spend testifying. Id. at 175.
Mendenhall also testified. He stated that he never told
anyone that he was being threatened about his testimony in
this case. Id. at 221-222, 226. His testimony also
suggested that his concerns about “retaliation”
and job security were related to his involvement in the case
generally and his wife and baby's health problems, not
because of anything specific that anyone at CTA did or said
to him. Id. at 239-240. Also, while Plaintiff
testified that Mr. Mendenhall said CTA counsel requested his
financial records and his wife's financial records
(id. at 165), Mendenhall specifically said that did
not happen. Id. at 233-34. Individual A was also
available, but neither Defendants' counsel nor
Plaintiff's counsel called him to testify. Id.
the hearing, Defendants moved for sanctions based on
Plaintiff and his counsel's unfounded accusation of
witness tampering. . Defendants sought to recover fees
and costs for the evidentiary hearing and briefing the motion
for sanctions. Defendants also asked for dismissal of the
case or, in the alternative, exclusion of a document, the
“Lookout Bulletin, ” that they expect Mr.
Mendenhall would testify about if called at trial.
Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation 
that recommends granting the motion for sanctions in part.
She found Mr. Mendenhall's testimony credible, but found
Mr. Cavelle's testimony not to be credible, because it
was “at times inconsistent and exaggerated, unsupported
by any documentary evidence, and contradicted by [Mr.]
Mendenhall.”  at 5. She concluded that Plaintiff
and his counsel's accusations of witness tampering, their
failure to correct or withdraw their allegations, and their
failure to provide basic information to Defendants for the
purpose of investigating the allegations, were sanctionable.
Id. at 9-11; 13-16. She determined that an
appropriate monetary sanction was an award of Defendants'
reasonable attorneys' fees and costs for the evidentiary
hearing and briefing on the motion for sanctions, split
evenly between Plaintiff and his counsel. She also determined
that dismissal of the entire case was not warranted, but
instead recommended excluding the Lookout Bulletin.
and his counsel filed objections  to the Report and
Recommendation, which are now before this Court.
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
a magistrate judge prepares a report and recommendation for a
district court, the governing statute provides that the
district court ‘shall make a de novo determination'
with respect to any contested matter.” Kanter v.
C.I.R., 590 F.3d 410, 416 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)). The Court of Appeals has observed:
De novo review requires the district judge to decide the case
based on an independent review of the evidence and arguments
without giving any presumptive weight to the magistrate
judge's conclusion. The district judge is free, and
encouraged, to consider all of the available information
about the case when making this independent decision. A
district judge may be persuaded by the reasoning of a
magistrate judge or a special master while still engaging in
an independent decision-making process.
Mendez v. Republic Bank, 725 F.3d 651, 661 (7th Cir.
2013) (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S.
667, 676 (1980)). The district judge makes the ultimate
decision to adopt, reject, or modify the magistrate
judge's recommendation. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss
Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2009); see also
Sanctions Under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and the ...