Articles Posted in U.S. District Courts in Illinois

In suspending attorney Joel Brodsky from practicing in federal court in Chicago for a year, the Executive Committee held:

By clear and convincing evidence, based on the same misconduct found by Judge Kendall in the Tywman case, the Executive Committee finds that Joel Alan Brodsky violated the following American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct:

A. Rule 3.1: A lawyer shall not assert an issue unless there is a basis in law and fact that is not frivolous.

A television reenactment of a bombing, in which a man suffered severe injury and his friend lost his life, did not give rise to claims for false light invasion of privacy or defamation, according to an Illinois federal court. Butler v. Discovery Communications, LLC, No. 12 cv 6719, mem. op. (N.D. Ill., May 9, 2013). The court found that the reenactment’s portrayal of the plaintiff, while different from the plaintiff’s account of the incident, did not portray the plaintiff in an offensive or damaging fashion, nor did it harm the plaintiff’s reputation in a manner constituting defamation.

The defendant, Discovery Communications, broadcast an episode of its show “Wicked Attraction” on June 15 and July 7, 2012, about an incident involving the plaintiff, Alphonso Butler, that occurred on February 15, 2000. Butler was with his “best friend,” Marcus Toney, that night, when Toney received a package from his estranged wife. Id. at 1. According to Butler, Toney asked him to open the package, but then stepped between Butler and the package and opened it himself. The package contained a pipe bomb that exploded when Toney opened the box. The blast killed Toney and injured Butler. Toney’s wife and her boyfriend are in prison for his murder.

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An Illinois court dismissed a lawsuit against a bank alleging deceptive fees for debit card transactions, ruling that a prior settlement in a class action lawsuit, of which the plaintiff was a class member, barred the suit. Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank (“Schulte 2”), No. 09 C 6655, statement (N.D. Ill., Jun. 15, 2012). The plaintiff acknowledged being part of the class, and by accepting the terms of the settlement agreement, the court held, the plaintiff had released the bank from any further claims related to ATM fees.

The original lawsuit alleged that the defendant “resequenced” debit card transactions during a posting period in an order from highest to lowest, rather than in chronological order. Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank (“Schulte 1”), 805 F.Supp.2d 560, 565 (N.D. Ill. 2011). This meant that the balance of the customer’s account drew down faster, leading to more overdrafts and associated fees. A class action lawsuit commenced in November 2009, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois approved a class settlement agreement in July 2011.

The Schulte 1 settlement applied to customers of the defendant from October 21, 2004 to July 1, 2010. The court applied a five-part test established by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for determining if a class action settlement is fair:

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A consumer sought to certify two classes in a lawsuit against a credit reporting agency, after the agency allegedly refused to remove negative information from his credit report that was the result of identity theft. The lawsuit asserted various claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. The court certified one of the two classes in Osada v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., No. 11 C 2856, slip op. (N.D. Ill., Mar. 28, 2012), finding that it met the requirements contained in Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff learned in late 2008 that unknown parties had taken out two mortgage loans in his name in a total amount greater than $600,000. He contacted the defendant, Experian, regarding how the fraudulent loans would affect his credit report. He also filed a police report, but did not send a copy to Experian. When each mortgage eventually went into foreclosure, the courts handling those matters reportedly realized that identity theft was a factor. The plaintiff submitted an identity theft affidavit to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in late 2009 and wrote to Experian in early 2010 requesting removal of the mortgages from his credit report. He attached the FTC affidavit, the police report, and proof of residence to his request.

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An Illinois federal court granted a motion to dismiss in a putative shareholder derivative class action, having already denied the plaintiff’s application for a temporary restraining order (TRO). Noble v. AAR Corp., et al, No. 12 C 7973, memorandum and order (E.D. Ill., Apr. 3, 2013). The plaintiff asserted causes of action for various alleged breaches of fiduciary duty on behalf of the corporation, but the court found that the lawsuit was a direct action, primarily for the plaintiff’s benefit as a shareholder, rather than a derivative one.

The dispute related to a recommendation by the Board of Directors to the shareholders of AAR Corporation, a publicly-traded company, regarding an executive compensation plan. The Board made a unanimous proposal regarding the corporation’s “say on pay” plan, which allowed the shareholders to vote on executive pay as required by Section 951 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act), 15 U.S.C. § 78n-1. In a seventy-page proxy statement, the Board asked the shareholders to approve an advisory resolution regarding executive compensation at the corporation’s annual shareholder meeting, which was scheduled for October 10, 2012.

The plaintiff filed suit against the corporation and individual Board members, alleging that the Proxy Statement failed to disclose various details about what the Board considered before making its proposal. Noble, memorandum at 5. He claimed that the individual defendants breached their fiduciary duties of good faith, care, and loyalty to the shareholders, and that the corporation aided and abetted these breaches. Id. at 5-6. The defendants removed the case to federal court on October 4, 2012. The following day, the plaintiff filed a motion for a TRO, asking the court to stop the shareholder vote. The court held a hearing on October 9 and denied the motion. On October 10, the shareholders approved the Board’s proposal, with seventy-seven percent of the shares voting in favor. Id. at 1-2.

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A California federal court awarded $203 million in damages to a class of plaintiffs in Gutierrez v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, 730 F.Supp.2d 1080 (N.D. Cal. 2010). The lawsuit alleged that the defendant bank overcharged the plaintiffs, who held deposit accounts at the bank, for overdraft fees, using a series of deceptive bookkeeping techniques. A similar bookkeeping trick was the subject of an Illinois lawsuit resulting in a settlement, Schulte v. Fifth Third Bank, 805 F.Supp.2d 560 (N.D. Ill. 2011).

According to the court’s ruling in the Gutierrez case, Wells Fargo charged individual depositors more than $1.4 billion in overdraft fees between 2005 and 2007, just in the state of California. Gutierrez, 730 F.Supp.2d at 1082. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of individual depositors, alleged that Wells Fargo used a bookkeeping trick known as “resequencing” to turn a single $35 overdraft charge into as many as ten overdraft charges. The bank would then hide this technique behind a “facade of phony disclosure.” Id. The court outlined how the bank would sequence transactions from the highest amount to the lowest amount, out of chronological order, often resulting in a negative balance in an account earlier than if it had sequenced the transactions in any other order. This maximized the amount of overdraft fees the bank could charge to the account. Id. at 1088.

The allegations in the Schulte case were similar to those in Gutierrez. Fifth Third Bank allegedly processed ATM and debit card transactions out of chronological order. During a posting period, the bank would process the largest transactions first, proceeding in high-to-low order. Schulte, 805 F.Supp.2d at 565. This allegedly almost guaranteed that, if a depositor overdrew their account during that posting period, the bank could collect more overdraft fees.

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A putative class action alleging violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. (FCRA), must be submitted to binding arbitration, according to the court in Collier v. Real Time Staffing Services, Inc., No. 11 C 6209, memorandum opinion and order (N.D. Ill., Apr. 11, 2012). The court found that a clause in the contract between the plaintiff and defendant required both parties to submit any disputes between them to arbitration. On the question of whether the class claims asserted by the plaintiff were subject to mandatory arbitration, the court left it for the arbitrators to decide.

The plaintiff, Darion Collier, submitted an electronic job application to the defendant, Real Time Staffing Services, which did business as SelectRemedy. According to the court’s order, the plaintiff signed an acknowledgment that said his employment with SelectRemedy would begin once he started an assignment for one of its clients, and that it would be on an “at-will” basis. The acknowledgment further said that SelectRemedy could at any time modify the terms and conditions of his employment. Order at 2. SelectRemedy did not hire the plaintiff after reviewing his application, allegedly based on information in his consumer credit report.

The plaintiff filed suit on September 7, 2011, alleging violations of the FCRA on behalf of himself and a proposed class. SelectRemedy filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that an arbitration agreement signed by the plaintiff with his application precluded the lawsuit. The agreement stated that the plaintiff agreed to submit any disputes to binding arbitration in accordance with the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq. (FAA). In opposing the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff argued that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable for lack of consideration, that SelectRemedy’s ability to change the terms of employment rendered the contract illusory, and that the arbitration agreement should not cover class claims.

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One of the most important issues at the outset of every class-action lawsuit is determining the size of the class itself. In some instances, making such a determination can be accomplished through preliminary investigations by the named plaintiff in the suit. However, the true size and scope of the class can only be confirmed by documentation obtained from the defendant company. Our Berwyn overtime class-action attorneys recently encountered a case involving a dispute over the potential members of the class, and wanted to share it with our readers.

In Smallwood v. Illinois Bell Telephone, Plaintiffs held multiple different positions, but were all classified as Outside Plant Engineers (OSPs) at Defendant’s facilities in Elgin and Des Plains, Illinois. Plaintiffs generally performed design and analysis of Defendants plant facilities and Defendant’s network and were classified as exempt employees until 2009, when Defendant reclassified all OSP engineers as non-exempt employees, which entitled them to overtime. After this reclassification, Plaintiffs filed suit for unpaid overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) because they had regularly worked in excess of forty hours per week during the entirety of their employment and had never been paid overtime previously. Plaintiffs then filed a motion requesting conditional collective action certification under §216(b) of the FLSA for all persons who were employed by Defendant as OSPs during the previous three years. Plaintiffs also requested approval of a 90-day opt-in period and a 7-day time period for Defendant to supply them with a list of putative claimants.

Defendants argued that Plaintiffs were not similarly situated because the Plaintiffs had separate and distinct job duties despite being generally referred to OSPs, and provided job descriptions as evidence of these differences. The Court found that Defendant’s arguments regarding the day-to-day work activities of the individual Plaintiffs were premature at this early stage of the case, and because the case was not “clearly beyond the first tier” of FLSA class certification. Therefore, applying a stricter standard of review was inappropriate. The Court then granted the motion for conditional certification, finding that Plaintiffs – through their individual declarations — had met the statutorily required modest factual showing that Plaintiffs were the subject to the Defendant’s common policy or plan to violate the FLSA by failing to pay OSPs overtime wages. Defendants also requested that the notice period be limited to 30 days, but the Court found that an opt-in period of 60 days was appropriate, and gave Defendants two weeks to supply the putative member list, so that collective action notices could be mailed in a timely manner.

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Most companies encourage their employees to innovate and come up with ways to improve the processes, products, and service of the business. Such improvements may be patentable inventions, and it is important for business owners to establish who owns that intellectual property and protect any IP that accrues to the company. In the absence of an explicit employment agreement, the ownership of such inventions can come into dispute, and our Joliet business attorneys discovered one such case in the Central District of Illinois federal court.

Shoup v. Shoup Manufacturing is a dispute between a company and its former president over the ownership of several patents. Ken Shoup, Plaintiff, was the president of Defendant Shoup Manufacturing for over twenty years, and during his time as president he conceived of several inventions that were patented on behalf of Defendant. Defendant used those patents and sold products based upon them. However, Plaintiff did not have an express or written employment contract that required assignment of the inventions to Defendant. Eventually, Plaintiff terminated his relationship with Defendant, began a similar business to compete with Defendant, and filed suit alleging patent infringement for Defendant’s continued use of his inventions. Plaintiff sought an injunction to prevent that continued use and monetary damages under 35 USC §271.

Defendant responded to Plaintiffs lawsuit by denying that Plaintiff owned the patents in question, and alleged that Plaintiff was obligated to assign the patents to Defendant, and that it had a valid license to the inventions. Defendant also filed a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff developed the patents using company resources while he was an employee and officer of Defendant, and that Defendant was the rightful owner of the patents. Defendant sought a compulsory written assignment of the patents and an accounting of Plaintiff’s unauthorized exploitation of them. Plaintiff then filed a motion for Judgment on the Pleadings to dismiss Defendant’s counterclaims.

Plaintiff argued that the Court had no jurisdiction over the claims because ownership of the patent was determined by Illinois State law. The Court agreed that it did not have original jurisdiction over the dispute, but because the counterclaims for ownership of the patents arose out of a common nucleus of operative facts regarding Plaintiff’s original patent infringement suit (which was a federal claim), supplemental jurisdiction was proper. The Court therefore denied Plaintiffs motion, finding Defendant had satisfied the requirements for supplemental jurisdiction under 28 USC §1367(a), and allowed the counterclaim to proceed.

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Class-action lawsuits are common in unpaid overtime cases because the misclassification of employees or miscalculation of overtime usually happens on a large scale because major companies have such sizable work forces. Because such lawsuits can prove to be quite costly, defendant employers will do whatever they can to dispose of those claims in any way possible. Lubin Austermuehle knows the ‘tricks of the trade’ that defendants use, and our Skokie overtime attorneys found a federal case the illustrates one of the tools that wage claim defendants utilize.

Wright v. Family Dollar Inc. is a putative class-action filed by former associates who worked for Defendant Family Dollar and were allegedly not paid regular and overtime wages that they earned in the course of their employment. The named plaintiff, a store manager, alleged that Defendant “withheld compensation from associates by giving its store managers unfeasibly low payroll budgets” that forced those managers to require associates to work without being paid. The case, which alleged violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, was initially filed in the Cook County Circuit Court, but was removed to the federal court by Defendant.

Defendant then filed a motion to strike class allegations pursuant to FRCP23(c)(1)(A) and (d)(1)(D), claiming that Plaintiffs could not establish typicality and adequacy of representation. The Court granted Defendant’s motion, holding that the named plaintiff, as a manager, participated in the wrongful conduct at issue and her counsel therefore had a conflict of interest with the class members who were associates. The Court also held that the typicality requirement was not met because there were defenses unique to the named plaintiff and other managers in the putative class that did not apply to associate class members.

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