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Kilburn-Winnie v. Town of Fortville

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 30, 2018

Bobbi Kilburn-Winnie, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Town of Fortville, et al., Defendants-Appellees. and Michelle Allen-Gregory, Appellant,

          Argued April 11, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:15-cv-01784-RLY-MPB - Richard L. Young, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Sykes, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge.

         Bobbi Kilburn-Winnie and Michelle Allen-Gregory (collectively, "Appellants") filed suit against the To wn of Fortville, Indiana, Fortville Waterworks, and Fortville Utilities (collectively, "Fortville"), alleging that their Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights were violated when Fortville disconnected their water service. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Fortville, holding that res judicata barred Appellants' claim because the parties had settled a prior class action that involved the same claim. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In July 2014, Allen-Gregory filed a putative class action alleging that Fortville violated the class members' Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process when it terminated their water service without affording them a hearing. See Allen-Gregory v. Town of Fortville, No. 1:14-cv-01148-RLY- DML (S.D. Ind.) ("Fortville I"). Two months later, the class filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent Fortville from disconnecting any customer's water without a hearing. In response, Fortville revised its notice and disconnection procedures, instituting a hearing process effective November 2014. In December 2014, however, the class plaintiffs filed another motion for preliminary injunction, alleging that the new procedures still did not comport with due process.

         On January 23, 2015, while that motion was pending, the parties agreed to the terms of settlement at a settlement conference, which was later reduced to a formal written agreement. On September 10, 2015, the district court entered an order granting final approval of the settlement agreement and dismissing the case with prejudice. Though the case was fully resolved at that point, the district court entered another order twelve days later dismissing as moot both motions for preliminary injunction.

         The settlement agreement stated that its purpose was to "fully, finally, and forever resolve, discharge and settle all claims released herein on behalf of the named plaintiffs and the entire class." It defined the class and class members as "[a]ll customers of the Town of Fortville, Fortville Utilities and/or Fortville Water Department from July 9, 2012 through October 31, 2014 who had their water service terminated and who paid a reconnection fee to reestablish their water service." The agreement included an expansive and global release of all claims, stating, as relevant to this case:

Named Plaintiffs and the Class will release any and all claims against [Fortville] and any related entities which claims relate to the actions alleged to have violated the due process provision of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, including pre-litigation, litigation, and post-litigation activities. The claims released by Named Plaintiffs and the Class will include all claims that were or could have been raised in [Fortville I].

         Allen-Gregory received settlement proceeds as a member of the class, as well as an additional award for acting as the named plaintiff and class representative. Kilburn-Winnie was a member of the class based upon water disconnections that occurred in February and June of 2014, and she received settlement proceeds pursuant to the agreement.

         In November 2015, Kilburn-Winnie filed the instant case alleging that Fortville disconnected her water service again as a result of her failure to pay her water bill on time in March and April of 2015. The complaint was later amended to add Allen-Gregory as a named plaintiff and include allegations that she had her service disconnected in December 2015 because she failed to pay her bill on time. The amended complaint claimed that the hearing procedures Fortville implemented in November 2014 were so complicated and burdensome that they violated Appellants' Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights.

         Fortville moved to dismiss the complaint, citing the release of claims in the settlement agreement in Fortville I. The district court converted the motion into one for summary judgment and proceeded to analyze whether the terms of the release acted as a waiver of Appellants' due process rights. It held that Allen-Gregory had waived her rights, but Kilburn-Winnie had not because waiver of a constitutional right requires a knowing and voluntary relinquishment, and she did not personally sign the agreement.

         Ten months later, however, the court revisited that ruling sua sponte and granted summary judgment to Fortville as to both Appellants, but on different grounds. It found that the claim in the present complaint was identical to the claim raised by the second motion for preliminary injunction in Fortville I. Therefore, because the claim was completely resolved by way of the ...

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