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Cummings v. Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority

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

January 17, 2018

NOEL A. CUMMINGS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GREATER CLEVELAND REGIONAL TRANSIT AUTHORITY, et al., DEFENDANTS.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HONORABLE SARA LIOI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 6 [“Mot.”]) filed by Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (“GCRTA”), Michael C. York, Joseph Calabrese and Scott Ferraro (collectively, “defendants”). Plaintiff Noel A. Cummings (“Cummings”) filed a brief in opposition (Doc. No. 7 [“Opp'n”]), and defendants filed a reply (Doc. No. 9 [“Reply”]). For the reasons discussed herein, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 7, 2017, Cummings filed a complaint in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, which defendants removed to this Court on July 5, 2017. (Doc. No. 1-2 [“Compl.”].) Two days after removal, defendants sought to have the case transferred to Judge Gwin as being related to the termed case of Cummings v. Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, et al., Case No. 1:14-cv-1729 (“Cummings 1”). (See Doc. No. 5.[1])

         On August 2, 2017, defendants moved to dismiss the case under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defendants assert that Cummings 1 was settled among the parties and that the instant case raises employment-related claims that either were included within the contours of Cummings 1 or should have been. Defendants claim that plaintiff is attempting to circumvent the settlement agreement in Cummings 1 by raising claims herein that were explicitly released by the settlement agreement.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although this pleading standard does not require great detail, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (citing authorities). In other words, “Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a ‘showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief.” Id. at 556, n.3 (criticizing the Twombly dissent's assertion that the pleading standard of Rule 8 “does not require, or even invite, the pleading of facts”).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Rule 8 does not “unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Id. at 678-79. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679. “The court need not, however, accept unwarranted factual inferences.” Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         In Cummings 1, plaintiff raised claims of gender discrimination, race discrimination, retaliation, violations of equal protection, and First Amendment retaliation, all arising out of her employment with GCRTA. On February 2, 2015, while Cummings 1 was pending, plaintiff's employment with GCRTA was terminated for matters allegedly unrelated to the lawsuit. Although plaintiff would have had the opportunity to amend the Cummings 1 complaint, she chose not to do so. Instead, on February 4, 2015, plaintiff appeared before Judge Gwin at a status conference, during which the parties reached a settlement. Although the docket in Cummings 1 reflects that the parties encountered some difficulties memorializing and carrying out their agreement, [2] that case is now fully resolved, the Sixth Circuit having affirmed all of Judge Gwin's orders relating to the settlement. (See Doc. No. 76, Mandate.)

         Notably, the settlement agreement in Cummings 1 provided, in relevant part as follows:

Release. Cummings, for herself, her heirs, representatives, assigns and agents, fully settles, releases and forever discharges GCRTA, its predecessors, successors, present and former officers, trustees, agents and employees from any and all claims, grievances, demands, liabilities, costs, damages, actions and causes of action, whether presently known or unknown, arising out of or related in any way to her employment with the GCRTA, including without limitation [this] Action, and any and all claims under the laws of contract or tort, including without limitation, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, as amended (29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.), including the Older Workers Benefits Protection Act of 1990; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.), including the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1970 and 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1981 et seq.); the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.); and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and any other federal, state or local statutory or common laws relating to employment discrimination or employment.

(Cummings 1, Doc. No. 55-2, ¶ 13.)

         On June 7, 2017, Cummings filed in state court the instant lawsuit related to her former employment with GCRTA. Defendants timely removed the action. In the instant complaint, Cummings alleges that she was “wrongfully terminated by Defendant GCRTA[, ]” after having been “wrongfully placed on a crisis suspension by [her] supervisor Richard Newell (‘Newell'), Director of Service Quality Management, for allegedly refusing training and refusing to sign a mandatory Employee Assistance Program (‘EAP') referral.” (Compl. ¶¶ 15, 16.) She further alleges that, “subsequent to her termination from Defendant GCRTA in February of 2015, Newell was accused of initiating a physical confrontation with a fellow employee that constituted workplace violence under GCRTA disciplinary policies and procedures.” (Id. ¶ 19.) Although this was “clear grounds for automatic and immediate discharge pursuant to the GCRTA personnel policies[, ]” (Id.), Newell “was not approved for discharge by GCRTA management, . . . but placed on a Decision Making Leave (‘DML'), which is essentially a last chance agreement under GCRTA policies and procedures.” (Id. ¶ 22.) After Newell “subsequently violated the DML[, ]” (Id. ¶ 23), he was once again “shown additional and significant leniency as a manager and spared termination by Defendants.” (Id.) Finally, Cummings alleges that “[a]ll of the alleged infractions [by Newell] were significantly more egregious and severe than the infraction alleged against Plaintiff when she was wrongfully discharged by GCRTA.” (Id. ¶ 30.)[3]

         Defendants argue in their motion to dismiss that all of the claims in plaintiff's current lawsuit are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Under federal law, res judicata applies if (1) there was a decision on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction in the first action; (2) the second action involves the same parties or their privies; (3) the second action raises an issue actually litigated or that should have been litigated in the first action; and (4) there is identity of claims. Walker ...


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