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Ciechon v. City of Chicago

decided: November 20, 1980.

EVA CIECHON, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF EMPLOYEES OF THE CHICAGO FIRE DEPARTMENT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 79-C-1777 -- Joseph Sam Perry, Judge.

Before Swygert and Sprecher, Circuit Judges, and Dumbauld, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Swygert

This is an appeal from the granting of a preliminary injunction on behalf of three intervening plaintiffs, lieutenants of the Chicago Fire Department, enjoining the City and its agents from suspending intervenors and "persons similarly situated in their employment as career-service employees of the Chicago Fire Department" prior to a full hearing before the City of Chicago Personnel Board.

The issues presented are: (1) did the district court properly conclude that all prerequisites for a preliminary injunction were established by intervenors, and (2) does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment require a full hearing prior to suspension of public employees for violation of a city ordinance that requires city employees to reside in the city. We reverse the district court's order granting a preliminary injunction.

I

Section 25-30 of the Municipal Code of the City of Chicago provides that "officers and employees in the ... service of the city shall be actual residents of the city" and any officer or employee "who shall fail to comply with the provisions of this section shall be discharged from the service of the city in the manner provided by law."*fn1

In the spring of 1978, Fire Commissioner Richard Albrecht established the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) to investigate complaints that Fire Department employees were not city residents. Department policy from May 1978 to September 1, 1978 regarding residency was that when a complaint was received that an employee was not a resident, the employee was advised of the complaint and encouraged to comply in the future.*fn2 On August 15, 1979, Commissioner Albrecht notified all Department members that "effective September 1, 1979, any member found in violation of the residency requirement ... will be suspended by the Commissioner for thirty (30) days and charges will be filed with the Personnel Board ... seeking said member's discharge."

In mid-September 1979, each intervenor was called into the office of Captain James Ryan, Director of the Internal Affairs Division.*fn3 None of them received prior notice of the purpose of the meeting.*fn4 Ryan informed each intervenor that complaints had been received regarding his residency, that the IAD had conducted an investigation, and that the Commissioner would review the evidence and decide whether to suspend and file charges against him.*fn5 Ryan stated at these meetings that if they were suspended and charges were filed against them, they would be entitled to a full hearing where they could have an attorney and present evidence.

On October 24, 1979, each intervenor was notified in writing that he was suspended for thirty days effective November 1, 1979, and that a hearing before the Personnel Board had been set for a date before November 30, 1979.*fn6 The intervenors were also served with notice containing a statement of the specific charges.

Intervenors, representing a class of similarly situated Fire Department employees, asked the district court to enjoin the City and its agents from imposing suspensions prior to a full hearing. The district court found, inter alia, that intervenors had a property interest in their employment; they had shown a probability of success on the merits in proving a due process violation; the suspensions were "indefinite in length";*fn7 due process required a full hearing prior to suspension; and defendants would not be injured if the suspensions were enjoined.

II

We note at the outset that appellate review of a preliminary injunction is limited in scope. Sangmeister v. Woodard, 565 F.2d 460, 464-65 (7th Cir.1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 939, 98 S. Ct. 1516, 55 L. Ed. 2d 535 (1978). An appellate court will set aside an order granting an injunction "only where it can be said that the discretion vested in the district court with respect to these matters has been improvidently exercised." Scherr v. Volpe, 466 F.2d 1027, 1030 (7th Cir.1972); accord, Local Div. 519, Amalgamated Transit Union v. LaCrosse Municipal Transit Utility, 585 F.2d 1340, 1350 (7th Cir.1978).

In the case before us, the district court conducted an adversary hearing during which witnesses were examined, affidavits were submitted, and arguments were presented by both sides. Based on this record, the district court concluded that intervenors established all the elements required for a preliminary injunction, and thus granted the injunction.

A preliminary injunction will not issue unless the movant establishes: (1) a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable injury and absence of an adequate remedy at law; (3) that the threatened harm to the plaintiff outweighs the harm the injunction may cause the defendant; and (4) that the granting of the injunction will not disserve the public interest. Local Div. 519, Amalgamated Transit Union v. LaCrosse Municipal Transit Utility, supra, 585 F.2d at 1351; Fox Valley Harvestore v. A. O. Smith Harvestore Products, Inc., 545 F.2d 1096, 1097 (7th Cir.1976); Illinois Migrant Council v. Pilliod, 540 F.2d 1062, 1069 (7th Cir.1976).

"A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy which is not available unless the plaintiffs carry their burden of persuasion as to all of the prerequisites." Fox Valley Harvestore, supra, 545 F.2d at 1097. Therefore, "absent a showing of irreparable injury the district court was obliged to deny the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction." Oburn v. Shapp, 521 F.2d 142, 151 (3d Cir.1975) (citing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ex rel. Creamer v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, 469 F.2d 1387, 1388 (3d Cir.1972)). What constitutes irreparable injury in a case depends upon the particular facts of that case. Oburn v. Shapp, supra, 521 F.2d at 151. Here the district court found that loss of wages, employee benefits, and opportunities for promotion during the suspension period constituted irreparable injury. We disagree.

In Sampson v. Murray, 415 U.S. 61, 94 S. Ct. 937, 39 L. Ed. 2d 166 (1974), a probationary government employee was notified that she was to be discharged for insubordination. She alleged that applicable Civil Service regulations relating to procedures for dismissal had not been followed, so she sought a temporary injunction against her dismissal pending her administrative appeal. The plaintiff argued that the loss of income pending the outcome of her appeal amounted to irreparable injury. The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that "it seems clear that the temporary loss of income, ultimately to be recovered, does not usually constitute irreparable injury." Id. at 90, 94 S. Ct. at 952. The Court then quoted from Virginia Petroleum Jobbers Ass'n v. FPC, 104 U.S. App. D.C. 106, 259 F.2d 921, 925 (D.C.Cir.1958):

"Mere injuries, however substantial, in terms of money, time and energy necessarily expended in the absence of a stay, are not enough. The possibility that adequate compensatory or other corrective relief will be available at a later date, in the ordinary course of litigation, weighs heavily against a claim of irreparable harm."

415 U.S. at 90, 94 S. Ct. at 952, 39 L. Ed. 2d 166. Accord, Oburn v. Shapp, supra, 521 F.2d at 151.

In the instant case, intervenors faced a loss of income and employee benefits during the thirty-day suspension. This loss is not irreparable; if intervenors are vindicated at their hearings, they will receive backpay and be restored to their respective ranks.

III

The parties stipulated that intervenors "are permanent career service employees of the City of Chicago who cannot be disciplined, suspended, or discharged without just cause and that therefore they have a property interest in their job which ... cannot be taken without due process of law." The question, then, is what type of procedural protections are required in this case.*fn8

In Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S. Ct. 893, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18 (1976), the recipient of Social Security disability payments challenged the state agency's termination of his benefits without a prior evidentiary hearing. In upholding the constitutionality of that procedure, the Supreme Court enunciated three factors to be considered in determining what due process requires in a particular case:

first, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest ....

Id. at 334-35, 96 S. Ct. at 902-903.

A. Private Interest

In the instant case, as in Mathews, intervenors' "sole interest is in the uninterrupted receipt of this source of income pending final administrative decision," because if they ultimately prevail, they will receive backpay and be restored to rank. See id. at 340, 96 S. Ct. at 905. Although this private interest is not insubstantial, it does not compel the conclusion that a presuspension hearing is necessary to satisfy due process requirements.

In Mathews, the Court recognized that the termination of disability benefits may cause substantial hardship to the recipient. Id. at 342, 96 S. Ct. at 906. Nevertheless, the Court concluded that the private interest implicated in that case was not sufficient to warrant "depart(ure) from the ordinary principle, established by our decisions, that something less than an evidentiary hearing is sufficient prior to adverse administrative action." Id. at 343, 96 S. Ct. at 907.*fn9

B. Risk of Erroneous Deprivation

The second factor to be weighed in determining what procedural protections are required by due process is the risk of error in the presuspension procedures. In Mathews, the Court characterized the decision of medical eligibility as "sharply focused and easily documented," 424 U.S. at 343, 96 S. Ct. at 907, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18, and noted that in many cases credibility of witnesses would not be a critical factor.

The determination of whether or not a firefighter lived in the city could be characterized in a similar manner; either a person resides within city limits or he does not. Much of the evidence involved is documentary: for example, tax records, utility bills, voting registration, and automobile registration. Such evidence, gathered in the IAD investigation, is examined by the Director of the IAD, the Fire Commissioner, and the Corporation Counsel before the decision to suspend is made. "At the interim suspension stage, (this procedure), although ... not beyond error, would appear sufficiently reliable to satisfy constitutional requirements." Barry v. Barchi, 443 U.S. 55, 65, 99 S. Ct. 2642, 2649, 61 L. Ed. 2d 365 (1979) (emphasis added).*fn10

The risk of erroneous deprivation is also significantly reduced by the procedures provided in the postsuspension hearing. That hearing is a trial-like procedure, in which the firefighter may be represented by counsel, present witnesses and other evidence, and cross-examine the City's witnesses. If the suspension is found to have been erroneous, the employee is entitled to backpay and restoration of rank.

C. Government's Interest

The City Council of Chicago has determined that it is in the public interest that officers and employees of the City reside within the City limits.*fn11 Similar residency requirements have been upheld as constitutional. See, e. g., McCarthy v. Philadelphia Civil Service Commission, 424 U.S. 645, 646-47, 96 S. Ct. 1154, 1155, 47 L. Ed. 2d 366 (1976) (per curiam ); Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers Local 400 v. Aaron, 417 F. Supp. 94, 96-97 (W.D.Pa.1976); Conway v. City of Kenosha, 409 F. Supp. 344 (E.D.Wis.1975). The City plainly has an important interest in disciplining employees who violate city ordinances or personnel regulations. See Hoban v. Rochford, 73 Ill.App.3d 671, 29 Ill.Dec. 531, 536-37, 392 N.E.2d 88, 93-94 (1979).

A balancing of the factors listed in Mathews leads us to conclude that a presuspension hearing is not required here. The City has an important interest in enforcing its ordinances; the initial decision to suspend is based on internal investigation results and documentary evidence which is reviewed at three levels before suspension is imposed, and the postsuspension procedure provides for a full evidentiary hearing; the effect on the private interest (intervenors' entitlement to their salaries and employee benefits) is minimized by the recovery of backpay and full restoration to rank that intervenors ...


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