Jeffrey Irvine Cummings
Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
On January 31, 2023, President Joe Biden nominated Judge Jeffrey Irvine Cummings to be a United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois, filling a seat opened by operation of law after Judge Robert Dow was appointed by Justice John Roberts as counselor to the chief justice. Judge Cummings, previously serving as a magistrate for the Northern District of Illinois, spent the majority of his career prior as a civil rights litigator. He was confirmed on September 12, 2023.
Judge Jeffrey Irvine Cummings was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1962. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University with honors in 1984 and earned his J.D. cum laude from Northwestern University School of Law in 1987.
After law school, Judge Cummings clerked for Judge Ann Claire Williams on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After his clerkship, Judge Cummings spent 29 years practicing law at Miner, Barnhill & Garland (“MBG”), eventually serving as co-managing partner. While at MBG, his practice focused on civil litigation in employment discrimination and civil rights, healthcare law, and labor related work, representing plaintiffs, governments, unions, whistleblowers, non-profit and for-profit corporations. At MBG, Judge Cummings secured $630,000 settlement for a class of Black workers who sued Area Erectors Inc. over allegations of firing employees based on race. Judge Cummings also represented plaintiffs in civil rights violations outside the employment context. For example, in Political Action Conference v. Daley, he represented plaintiffs in a suit alleging that Chicago’s aldermanic districts discriminated against the voting rights of Hispanic residents.
Judge Cummings was appointed by a merit selection committee to serve as a U.S. magistrate judge for the Northern District of Illinois in February 2019. As a magistrate judge, he has heard a variety of criminal and civil cases. He has presided over one criminal jury trial and two civil jury trials. He is responsible for overseeing initial appearances, arraignments, and detention hearings in criminal cases, as well as authorizing search and arrest warrants. Judge Cummings presides over all phases of civil cases that are referred to him for resolution of motions, discovery supervision, and settlement conferences.
The following cases are representative of Judge Cummings’ time on the bench:
In Van v. Ford Motor Co., 33 current and former female Ford employees brought a class action against the company for alleged sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. After the plaintiffs’ motion to certify their class was denied in August 2019, the parties began settlement proceedings before Judge Cummings. After conferring with the parties, Judge Cummings determined that settlement conferences would have to be conducted on a plaintiff-to-plaintiff basis in order to maintain confidentiality and because the plaintiffs often had additional, varied claims (such as race discrimination, retaliation, and/or wrongful discharge). Judge Cummings has since conducted individual settlement conferences for 30 of the plaintiffs, 25 of whom have settled on confidential terms, six chose not to settle and continued with their lawsuits, and two who voluntarily dismissed their claims.
In Breuder v. Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 502, after the President of the College of DuPage was fired, he sued the College and the Board of Trustees for due process violations, breach of contract, defamation, and civil conspiracy. The plaintiff claimed that, by suspending and terminating him without a proper hearing, the defendants deprived him of his property interests in violation of his due process rights. Additionally, the plaintiff claimed that defendants made defamatory and stigmatizing remarks about him and breached his employment contract. Some of the defendants filed counterclaims against the plaintiff, alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and conversion. After the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to not dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the district court referred the case to Judge Cummings for discovery supervision. Judge Cummings issued twelve opinions and orders concerning the scope of discovery and the manner in which it should take place. The case has since been settled.
In Sonrai Systems LLC v. Romano, the plaintiff sued a former employee and his new employer, alleging that the defendants unlawfully launched a product with technology first developed by the plaintiff. The plaintiff claims that the defendants violated the Lanham Act and the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Practices Act and engaged in tortious interference with a contract and prospective economic advance, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious inducement of breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. The case was referred to Judge Cummings for discovery supervision and he has since issued seven opinions concerning the scope of fact and expert discovery and the manner in which discovery should proceed. Expert discovery in the case is ongoing.
In Inventus Power v. Shenzhen Ace Battery, the plaintiff and its subsidiary sued the defendant, a Chinese corporation, for misappropriating trade secrets in violation of state and federal law. Judge Cummings oversaw the discovery phase of the litigation, presiding over multiple lengthy discovery hearings to determine the proper scope of jurisdiction since the case involved international parties. Judge Cummings issued reports and a recommendation. The parties settled the case in January 2023.
In Whitney v. Khan, the plaintiff, a formerly incarcerated individual at Cook County jail, alleged that he repeatedly requested treatment for dental problems and was denied treatment in violation of his Eighth and Fourth Amendment rights. The plaintiff successfully moved to certify a class of similarly situated current and former inmates. The class action and the six related individual cases were referred to Judge Cummings to conduct settlement proceedings. The parties ultimately agreed to settle the class action, as well as five of the six individual plaintiff cases. The aggregate settlement fund was in excess of $3 million and the class action settlement was approved. Four of the related cases settled for $15,000 each and the fifth case settled for $25,000.
In Valdez v. Lowry, the plaintiff sued several Village of Brookfield police officers, alleging excessive force and that they falsely arrested him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Judge Cummings oversaw the trial in the case. Judge Cummings resolved more than 38 motions concerning a variety of evidentiary issues prior to the start of trial. He then presided over a three-day jury trial. The jury returned a substantial verdict in favor of the plaintiff, prompting the individual defendant officers to move for a new trial. The parties subsequently settled the case.
Johnke v. Quiroz et al. and other related cases, arose out of a multi-vehicle accident that occurred in Will County, Illinois. A truck driver crashed into several passenger vehicles that were stopped in traffic on Interstate 55. Five people died and three were seriously injured in the crash. The driver pled guilty to reckless homicide. The decedents’ estates and the surviving plaintiffs sued the driver, the three companies that driver was delivering loads of steel and the company that leased the trailer truck to the driver. Judge Cummings conducted settlement conferences with the parties. The plaintiffs settled their claims with the steel company defendants, the trailer company and the driver for a confidential seven-figure sum. Judge Cummings also issued a report and recommendation to resolve an attorney fee dispute between the plaintiffs and their former attorneys.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Judge Cummings is deeply involved in the Chicago legal community. Since 2019, Judge Cummings has sat on the Board of Directors for the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Additionally, from 1994-2018, Judge Cummings has been on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. From 1990-2000, he taught a course at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, “Introduction to Legal Learning” on an annual basis for incoming law students. While working at MBG, Judge Cummings served as an Administrative Hearing Officer for the City of Chicago’s Commission on Human Relations from 1994-2019. He also served as a Hearing Officer for the Chicago Police Board from 2016-2019. Additionally, he was chosen to neutrally oversee the administration of settlements and consent decrees in two large scale federal employment discrimination class actions. As a magistrate judge, he regularly speaks with law students and conducts educational seminars for the public sponsored by non-profit organizations, schools and bar associations.
Judge Cummings’ commitment to public service has not gone unnoticed. He received the Professor Joyce Anne Hughes Legacy Award from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Back Law Students Association in 2022. In 2021, he was awarded Northwestern’s Dawn Clark Netsch Public Service Award. He received the Cook County Bar Association’s Judicial Service Award in 2020 and was included in “The National Black Lawyers: Top 100” from 2015-2019.