Just so we're clear, the Seventh Circuit is a stickler for details. If you file a lawsuit, and then you file an amended complaint, you have to repeat all of your original claims in your amended complaint. Otherwise, you waive the claims.
Clearly, we wouldn't be discussing this unless someone learned this lesson the hard way, so let's get to discussing his case.
John Anderson, a United States Postal Service (USPS) worker, suffers from asthma. While he is virtually symptom-free outside of the workplace, his asthma regularly flares up at his job as a part-time mail processor. Between 2002 and 2009, Anderson filed numerous Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints, an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) complaint, and union grievances relating to his condition, requesting reasonable accommodations. He was absent from work for extended periods of time throughout that period.
Anderson eventually sued USPS for both disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation, in addition to other claims.
In his initial pro se complaint, Anderson asserted unlawful discrimination based on race, sex, age, and disability, as well as harassment, retaliation, and failure to accommodate a disability. Later, Anderson (then represented by counsel) filed his first amended complaint, alleging one count of unlawful retaliation discrimination under the ADA and one count of negligence. Anderson then filed a second amended complaint alleging a single count of unlawful retaliation discrimination for failure to accommodate a disability under the Rehabilitation Act.
Anderson's problem is that he -- or more accurately, his attorney -- omitted the disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation claims from his amended complaints, failing to reassert them until his response to USPS's summary judgment motion.
The district court granted summary judgment in favor of USPS, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
Here, the court reasoned that Anderson's second amended complaint was the governing document in the case, Anderson could no longer rely on the allegations of disability discrimination and failure to accommodate contained in his pro se complaint.
Because Anderson omitted the previously-asserted disability discrimination and reasonable accommodation claims from his second amended complaint, he waived the claims.
We don't know what went on behind the scenes with Anderson and his lawyer regarding strategy decisions, but we're guessing that Anderson will be none-too-pleased with this ruling. And when clients get miffed, they often turn to malpractice claims.
The point? Head off such complaints from the start. If you take over a case after an initial complaint has been filed, make sure that you either (1) include all of the original claims in subsequent amended complaints or (2) maintain thorough records reflecting your clients decision to abandon earlier claims.
- Anderson v. Donahoe (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Not Appealing After Waiving Appeal Means You're Ineffective? (FindLaw's Sixth Circuit Blog)
- Age Discrimination: Beating the Odds of Indirect Evidence (FindLaw's Seventh Circuit Blog)