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Ellis v. Local 4900 Communications Workers of America

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 3, 2019

JAMES ELLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
LOCAL 4900 COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Jon E. Deguilio Judge United States District Court

         On July 16, 2018, Plaintiff James Ellis filed this employment discrimination lawsuit against Defendants AT&T and Communications Workers of America, District 4, AFL-CIO, CLC (hereinafter “National Union”) [DE 1]. Almost three months later, National Union moved to dismiss the complaint asserting that Ellis failed to join a necessary party [DE 7]. In its motion, National Union explained that the allegations in Ellis' complaint (which formed the basis of his EEOC charge of discrimination) were lodged not against National Union; but rather, against its local affiliate, Communications Workers of America Local 4900 (hereinafter “Local 4900”). National Union represented that it was Local 4900 that was served with and defended the EEOC charge [DE 6 at 5, n.2]. Only ten days later, Ellis filed an amended complaint against Local 4900 and AT&T, which no longer named National Union as a defendant. As a result, National Union is automatically terminated from the action and the previously filed complaint is a nullity and of no further effect. See Duda v. Bd. of Educ. of Franklin Park Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1057 (7th Cir. 1998) (noting that once an amended pleading is filed, it supersedes the prior pleading which becomes functus officio) (citing Wellness Community-National v. Wellness House, 70 F.3d 46, 49 (7th Cir. 1995)); Barnett v. Daley, 32 F.3d 1196, 1198 (7th Cir. 1994); Buck v. New York Cent. R.R., 275 F.2d 292, 293 (7th Cir. 1960). Accordingly, National Union's motion to dismiss is DENIED AS MOOT [DE 5].

         The Court now turns to Local 4900's Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) [DE 22] which asserts that Ellis failed to properly name and bring his claim against it within the relevant statute of limitations. While a response brief might have been helpful, the undisputed facts of record demonstrate that dismissal is not appropriate for the reasons that follow.

         I. Standard of Review

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That statement must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, a plaintiff's claim need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether a plaintiff's claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         II. Facts

         Ellis (now 54 years old) began working for AT&T as a distribution operator in February 2014. At that time, he also became a member of the union. Because Ellis suffers from diabetes and Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome, he has taken frequent FMLA leave. In September 2017, he was one of nineteen employees scheduled to be laid off as part of a reduction in force. These nineteen employees were allowed to complete two tests for purposes of avoiding termination and being considered for placement elsewhere at AT&T. Ellis claims that “the union” administered the test (and the prep sessions) in a fashion that discriminated against him on the basis of age and disability. After failing both tests, Ellis was terminated on December 27, 2017.

         Based on these events, Ellis filed an EEOC charge of discrimination (charge no. 24M-2018-00055) alleging that Communications Workers of America discriminated against him on the basis of age and disability. After receiving the EEOC's notice of right to sue (on a date not specified by the parties), Ellis filed a lawsuit on July 16, 2018, alleging that National Union violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) [DE 1]. Ten days after National Union moved to be dismissed as an improper party and within the time prescribed to file an amended complaint as a matter of right, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1), Ellis amended his complaint on October 25, 2018 [DE 11]. While the substantive allegations remained the same, Ellis named Local 4900 as the proper defendant.

         Local 4900 moves for its dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) claiming that since Ellis had received his EEOC notice of right to sue prior to filing his original complaint, then by the time he sued Local 4900, more than 90 days had lapsed.

         III. Analysis

         To file a complaint under the ADA, a plaintiff must first file a written charge of discrimination with the EEOC and then file his lawsuit within 90 days after receiving the EEOC's right to sue letter. 42 U.S.C. § 12117(a) (incorporating § 2000e-5). Likewise, under the ADEA, a plaintiff has 90 days to file his lawsuit after the EEOC notifies him that it has completed its investigation into his claims. 29 U.S.C. § 626.

         Local 4900 contends that based on the original complaint's filing date of July 16, 2018 (wherein Ellis admitted to having received his right to sue letter), just over 90 days passed by the time it was named in the amended complaint on October 25, 2018. Therefore, Local 4900 asserts that Ellis' claims are untimely and that the amendment to the pleading cannot relate back to the original complaint's filing date because Ellis did not make a “mistake” concerning the proper party's identity.

         A pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when:

(B) the amendment asserts a claim or defense that arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out--or attempted to be set ...

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