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NABHANI v. COGLIANESE

November 29, 1982

GEORGETTE NABHANI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DANIEL COGLIANESE, JOSEPH IOSCO, JOSEPH BELLINE, WILLIAM JORDAN, VINCENT ZARLENGA, HARRY GELARDI, DOUGLAS LHOTKA, EDWARD BORK, THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL BOARD DISTRICT 89 AND THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL DISTRICT 89, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aspen, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Georgette Nabhani ("Nabhani") brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, § 1983, § 1985(3) and § 1986*fn1 alleging violations of her civil rights by the seven individuals who comprise the District 89 School Board, by the District 89 Supervisor of Buildings and Grounds and by the School District itself. Nabhani alleges that she was excluded from a gathering at which all members of the School Board were present and discussed school district business. She contends that exclusion from this gathering, which she characterized as a school board meeting, denied her constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of the laws, freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to petition the government. Defendants reply that the gathering was a political rally, that no discussion was held concerning school business, and that the parties charged, who were acting as private citizens, had a right to exclude the plaintiff. Presently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment.*fn2 The Court, having carefully considered all pleadings, affidavits, counter-affidavits and answers to interrogatories on file, concludes, for reasons stated below, that defendants have shown there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. We therefore grant their motion for summary judgment.

Standards For Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when the materials before the court "show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). It is the burden of the moving party to establish that this standard is met. Cedillo v. International Association of Bridge & Structural Iron Workers, Local Union No. 1, 603 F.2d 7, 10 (7th Cir. 1979). The non-moving party is entitled to all reasonable inferences that can be made in its favor from the evidence presented. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Moutoux v. Gulling Auto Electric, Inc., 295 F.2d 573, 576 (7th Cir. 1961). Once the moving party conclusively shows that genuine issues of material fact are absent, the nonmovant may not merely rely on its pleadings, but rather must affirmatively set forth specific facts showing that there are issues which must be decided at trial. First National Bank of Arizona v. Cities Service Co., 391 U.S. 253, 289-90, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 1592-93, 20 L.Ed.2d 569 (1968). If affidavits are submitted by either party, they must contain more than mere conclusions of law or restatements of allegations in the pleadings to be sufficient. Walling v. Fairmont Creamery Co., 139 F.2d 318 (8th Cir. 1943). As the Supreme Court has stated:

  [W]hile we recognize the importance of preserving
  litigant's rights to a trial on their claims, we
  are not prepared to extend those rights to the
  point of requiring that anyone who files . . .
  [a] complaint setting forth a valid cause of
  action be entitled to a full-dress trial
  notwithstanding the absence of any significant
  probative evidence tending to support the
  complaint.

First National Bank, supra 391 U.S. at 290, 88 S.Ct. at 1593. With these standards in mind, we must analyze the materials provided by Nabhani and the defendants.

Necessity For Establishing The Occurrence Of A Meeting

Both parties to this action agree that the threshold issue in the case is whether the gathering of October 26, 1981, was a school board "meeting"*fn3 or a political rally. The merits of plaintiff's entire claim depend on establishment of this fact. If Nabhani is to prevail on her § 1983 claim, she must show that the actions of defendants (1) violated rights guaranteed her through the fourteenth amendment, and (2) were committed "under color of state law." Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 1732, 56 L.Ed.2d 185 (1978). Both of these issues depend on a determination that the gathering was a "meeting" of the school board. If the gathering was merely a political rally of people desiring to advance their shared beliefs, then the Constitution permits the participants to "identify the people who comprise the association and to limit the association to those people only." Democratic Party of U.S. v. LaFollette, 450 U.S. 107, 122 and n. 22, 101 S.Ct. 1010, 1019, 67 L.Ed.2d 82 (1981); see also Flagg Bros., Inc., supra 436 U.S. at 158, 98 S.Ct. at 1734. Therefore, exclusion of Nabhani from a legitimately private political gathering would not violate any right guaranteed her by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and thus not support a § 1983 action. On the other hand, if this was a school board "meeting," the laws of Illinois mandate that it must be public, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 102, §§ 41-46 (1980), and Nabhani's exclusion may have violated her constitutional rights.

To sustain her § 1983 action, plaintiff must show that defendants were acting "under color of state law." Nabhani could do this by demonstrating that the defendants were acting in their roles as public officials and carrying out a policy, custom or usage of the school district, a state entity. Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492 (1961).*fn4 Again, it becomes essential to establish that this was a school board meeting. Private acts of public officials cannot be attacked under § 1983. The fourteenth amendment "`erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful.'" Adickes v. Kress Co., 398 U.S. 144, 169, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1614, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970), quoting Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 13, 68 S.Ct. 836, 842, 92 L.Ed. 1161 (1948). See also Polk County v. Dobson, 454 U.S. 312, 102 S.Ct. 445, 70 L.Ed.2d 509 (1981); Perkins v. Rich, 204 F. Supp. 98 (D.C.Del. 1962); Cook v. Krueger, No. 79 C 4460, slip. op. at 3 (N.D.Ill. 1980). If Nabhani can establish that the event was a "meeting," however, then the defendants could be seen as acting in their official capacity; it would only remain for Nabhani to show that defendants' actions were in furtherance of a policy, custom or usage of the school district.*fn5

The existence of a meeting is thus the lynchpin of this case; to win their motion for summary judgment, defendants must supply evidence that forecloses the possibility of a genuine issue of material fact in this regard. Adickes, supra at 159-60, 90 S.Ct. at 1609; First National Bank, supra 391 U.S. at 289, 88 S.Ct. 1592-93. If defendants are able to make this prima facie showing, plaintiff must respond by affidavit or otherwise with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), or an affidavit showing that there are justifiable reasons why opposing affidavits cannot be filed presently. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f). The Court finds that the movants have met their burden, but that the plaintiff has failed to meet hers.

The Evidence Before The Court

Defendants filed seven affidavits with their motion for summary judgment. Two of the affiants were parties and five were non-parties. All affirmed they were present at the gathering and that no school business was discussed or acted on.*fn6 Upon receipt of the affidavits, Nabhani moved for, and was granted, a Rule 56(f) continuance on the grounds that all the essential facts were within the knowledge of the defendants and that she needed more time to submit interrogatories and depose witnesses.*fn7

Nabhani was permitted additional time to submit interrogatories and take depositions. In defendants' answers to Nabhani's interrogatories, they made a variety of statements regarding the specific matters discussed at the gathering in question.*fn8 In addition, each defendant's answer to interrogatories stated specifically that those topics which Nabhani's complaint alleges were discussed were not mentioned by the speakers.*fn9 It is the discussion of these topics upon which plaintiff rests her conclusion that a "meeting" of the school board occurred.

Since the defendants, Illinois officials and an Illinois local entity, only act under color of state law if the gathering meets Illinois' state statutory and case law definition of a "meeting," we must next consider what that definition encompassed. Under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the state declares as public policy that the actions and deliberations of public bodies should be conducted openly. Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 102, § 41 (1980). The public may only be excluded from discussions of a few topics specified in the statute at section 42.*fn10 The definition of a "meeting" under the Act rests on the presence of a majority of a quorum, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 102, § 41.02, and "discussion" Id. or "deliberation" of public business. Attorney General Opinion No. S-729 at 144 (April 2, 1974). A "meeting" under the Act, has been variously described as a gathering "designed to discuss or reach an accord with regard to public business," People ex rel. Defanis v. Barr, 83 Ill.2d 191, 210, 46 Ill. Dec. 678, 688, 414 N.E.2d 731, 740 (1980), or as "`collective discussion . . . and exchange of facts preliminary to the ultimate decision.'" Op.Ill.Att'y.Gen. No. S-726 at 125 (March 22, 1974), citing Sacramento Newspaper ...


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