IN RE: UAL CORPORATION, et al., Debtors. JEFFREY GLEN BROWN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
UAL CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee
Argued: December 15, 2015.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13 cv 2385--Ronald A. Guzmá n, Judge.
In the Matter of: UAL CORPORATION, Debtor - Appellee: Michael B. Slade, Esq., Attorney, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Chicago, IL.
For Jeffrey Glen Brown, Appellant: Dean William O'Connor, Attorney, Phoenix, AZ.
For United States Trustee, Trustee: Kathryn M. Gleason, Attorney, Office of The United States Trustee, Chicago, IL.
Before BAUER, POSNER, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
Jeffrey Brown, a former flight attendant for United
Airlines, appeals from a district court decision upholding the bankruptcy
court's denial of his motion to reopen the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy,
which was closed in 2009. Brown wanted the bankruptcy case reopened so that he
could pursue pre-petition state-law claims of employment discrimination arising
from his discharge in 2001. The district court agreed with the bankruptcy judge
that Brown's years of inaction had amounted to an abandonment of those claims.
We affirm. The bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion by denying Brown's
motion to reopen.
Brown worked as a flight attendant for United from 1991 until he was fired in 2001. He suffered from depression and undiagnosed bipolar disorder, which worsened in 1995 and led to discipline for repeated absenteeism and unprofessionalism. By October 2000 his condition had deteriorated to the point that he required psychiatric hospitalization. Although his newly diagnosed bipolar disorder had stabilized with treatment, United still fired him based on his prior misconduct. Brown, through counsel, contested that discharge to the United Airlines Flight Attendants System Board of Adjustment, an arbitration panel comprised of two representatives from the union, two from United, and a neutral chair. In December 2003 the Board of Adjustment ruled that Brown's bipolar disorder mitigated the seriousness of his misconduct and directed that he be permitted to return to work provided, among other conditions, that his treating physician and a doctor for United could agree that he was medically fit. Brown never complied, though, with the Board of Adjustment's requirement that he submit to a medical examination, so United did not reinstate him. In March 2005, the Board of Adjustment unanimously affirmed United's decision.
Meanwhile, UAL Corporation and more than two dozen subsidiaries had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the Northern District of Illinois in December 2002. In May 2003, a week before the deadline for creditors to submit claims, Brown filed a proof of claim seeking almost $80,000 in back pay. Then in March 2004, the attorney representing Brown before the Board of Adjustment also sued United on behalf of Brown in a California state court. That lawsuit claimed violations of California laws prohibiting workplace discrimination on the basis of disability and sexual orientation, as well as retaliation and termination of employment in violation of California public policy. Brown alleged that these state-law violations began in 1995 and continued into 2004. He asked for $500,000 in lost wages and benefits, plus unspecified amounts for emotional distress and punitive damages. Although the airline deemed the filing of the state-court lawsuit to be a violation of the automatic
stay in the bankruptcy case, see 11 U.S.C. § 362, the company opted to remove the suit to the bankruptcy court for the Central District of California and asked not for dismissal but for transfer to the bankruptcy court in Illinois.
In response to the removal, Brown's lawyer asked the bankruptcy court for the Northern District of Illinois to modify the automatic stay so that Brown could litigate his state-law claims against United in the California state courts. The bankruptcy court denied that request in June 2004, reasoning that Brown's state lawsuit alleged pre-petition claims that had to be resolved through the bankruptcy case. The bankruptcy judge did modify the stay, however, so that the then-pending arbitration proceedings before the Board of Adjustment could continue to a conclusion. For the next 18 months after that ruling, Brown's lawyer did nothing more to pursue the case in California or Illinois, even though United's motion to transfer the lawsuit to Illinois was sitting dormant in the bankruptcy court in California. ...