The Fifth District Appellate Court concluded that a breach of contract claim against the City of East St. Louis and several city officials properly rejected the plaintiff's “endless recycling of litigation.”
Justice Richard P. Goldenhersh delivered the Supreme Court Rule 23 decision on March 17, affirming a decision out of Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf’s courtroom in St. Clair County Circuit Court.
Plaintiff Dr. Charles Means appealed Rudolf’s order dismissing his lawsuit for breach of contract against the City of East St. Louis, City of East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks Jr., city council members Emeka Jackson, Lotoya Greenwood, Roy Mosley Jr., Delbert Marion and city manage Deletra Hudson.
According to the lawsuit, the East St. Louis city council passed a resolution to hire Means as city manager on Sept. 9, 2005. Means entered into a written employment contract with Parks, which appointed Means as city manager until Sept. 8, 2007.
However, in April 2006, the city council voted to terminate the plaintiff’s employment contract.
Means filed his first lawsuit in April 2011 against the City of East St. Louis, alleging the city terminated his employment and breached his employment contract without cause. By August 2011, he voluntarily dismissed the complaint without prejudice.
He then filed a second complaint in May 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The City of East St. Louis moved to dismiss the case in June 2012. The district court agreed, dismissing the case based on the statute of limitations.
Means filed his third lawsuit on Jan. 4, 2013, in St. Clair County, claiming he was terminated without cause and in violation of the terms of the written contract between the parties.
Means claimed he lost more than $88,338.25 in income. In his complaint, he asked for the amount owed under the contract, an injunction against the city to prevent further damage to his reputation and a declaration that he was eligible to be rehired by the city.
The defendants sought dismissal, arguing that Means was barred from refiling his lawsuit.
In the plaintiff’s response, he argued that “though his earlier lawsuits involved the breach of the same contract and arose out of the same transaction, they were not the same cause of action because they involved different defendants,” the Rule 23 order states.
Rudolph dismissed the complaint against every defendant except Hudson on May 2, 2013. He later dismissed the claims against Hudson on Sept. 12, 2013.
Means filed a complaint for mandamus relief against Hudson in her official capacity as city manager on Oct. 28, 2013. That claim was also dismissed on Dec. 19, 2013.
Means appealed the May 2, 2013, dismissal order and the Dec. 19, 2013, dismissal order.
The appellate court agreed with Rudolph’s decision, holding that “a complaint is deemed to be a refiling of a previously filed complaint if it constitutes the same cause of action under principles of res judicata."
Goldenhersh explained that while certain extensions to prevent injustice exist, “endless recycling of litigation” is not authorized.
Because Means requested similar remedies in each lawsuit essentially against the same defendants, dismissal was proper, the appellate court held.
“Also, the circuit court properly dismissed plaintiff’s 2013 lawsuit as well as the mandamus complaint against defendant Hudson because the mandamus complaint was the exact same complaint as the previous lawsuits but was couched in terms typically used for mandamus relief,” Goldenhersh wrote.
The Fifth District affirmed Rudolph’s judgment.
Justices Thomas M. Welch and Melissa Chapman concurred.