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Schenke v. Bush

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

August 16, 2019

JAMES K. SCHENKE, Plaintiff,
JIM BUSH, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss. (DE # 8.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         James Schenke, a plaintiff proceeding without an attorney, filed this lawsuit against a number of defendants associated with Purdue University, his former employer. (DE # 1.) Schenke sued: Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue; Trent Klingerman, Vice President of Human Resources; Julie Rosa, Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs; Shelley Triol, Assistant Vice President; Steve Schultz, General Counsel for Purdue; and Keene Red Elk, Captain of the Purdue University Police.

         Schenke alleges that the defendants unlawfully restricted his speech and retaliated against him when he exercised his right to free speech. He claims that he was wrongfully denied a promotion, and was disciplined and ultimately terminated, for speaking out publically in opposition to the City of West Lafayette's attempts to annex property and for publically opposing the opening of the U.S. 231 bypass.

         Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss. (DE # 8.) Schenke did not respond to the motion and the time to do so has passed. This matter is now ripe for resolution.


         Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A judge reviewing a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) must construe the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. United States ex rel. Berkowitz v. Automation Aids, Inc., 896 F.3d 834, 839 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Under the liberal notice-pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “While the federal pleading standard is quite forgiving, . . . the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ray v. City of Chicago, 629 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 2011); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

         To meet this standard, a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond providing “labels and conclusions” and “be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. As the Seventh Circuit explained, a complaint must give “enough details about the subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds together.” Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400, 404 (7th Cir. 2010). Even if the truth of the facts alleged appears doubtful, and recovery remote or unlikely, the court cannot dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if, when the facts pleaded are taken as true, a plaintiff has “nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570.


         Defendants argue that Schenke's claims are barred by claim preclusion because at the time he filed this case he was in the process of litigating the same claims, against many of the same defendants, in Schenke v. Daniels, No. 4:15-CV-75 (“Daniels”). (DE # 9 at 8.) In Daniels, Schenke named many of the same defendants he has sued in this case: Julie Griffith, Mitch Daniels, Trent Klingerman, Julie Rosa, Brian Zink, and Shelley Triol (“Purdue defendants”). He alleged that these defendants violated his First Amendment rights by restraining his speech and retaliating against him for speaking out against the City of West Lafayette's proposed annexation and the opening of the U.S. 231 bypass. Daniels, No. 4:15-CV-75, DE ## 1, 64. Schenke claimed that the Purdue defendants violated his rights under the First Amendment by abridging his right to free speech and by retaliating against him when he exercised his right to speak. Id. The Court dismissed defendant Rosa after Schenke admitted that he did not have an actionable claim against her. Id. at DE # 88, 2017 WL 4366000 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 29, 2017). The Court later granted summary judgment to the remaining Purdue defendants. Id. at DE # 113, 2019 WL 1245160 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 15, 2019).

         “The preclusive effect of a judgment is defined by claim preclusion and issue preclusion, which are collectively referred to as ‘res judicata.'” Taylor v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008). The purpose of the doctrine of res judicata is to promote predictability in the judicial process, to preserve judicial resources, and to protect litigants from the expense and disruption of repeated litigation. Bell v. Taylor, 827 F.3d 699, 708 (7th Cir. 2016). Courts look to federal common law to determine the preclusive effect of a federal-court judgment. Taylor, 553 U.S. at 891.

         “Under the doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment forecloses ‘successive litigation of the very same claim, whether or not relitigation of the claim raises the same issues as the earlier suit.'” Id. at 892 (internal citation omitted). Claim preclusion “bars a claim that was litigated or could have been litigated in a previous action when three requirements are met: (1) an identity of the causes of action; (2) an identity of the parties or their privies; and (3) a final judgment on the merits.” Kilburn-Winnie v. Town of Fortville, 891 F.3d 330, 333 (7th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “The test for an identity of the causes of action is whether the claims arise out of the same set of operative facts or the same transaction.” Id. Where the nature of the claims, the ...

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