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STEVENS v. TILLMAN

July 8, 1983

DOROTHY A. STEVENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DOROTHY WRIGHT TILLMAN, CLASCILE BROUGHTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Dorothy A. Stevens ("Stevens") brought this action for damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) against Dorothy Wright Tillman and nine other parents of Mollison Elementary School students ("parents"). Stevens charged defendants with conspiracy to violate her civil rights, defamation and tortious interference with contract. This action is presently before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). For the reasons set forth below, this motion is denied.

FACTS

Plaintiff Stevens is an elementary school principal who has been employed by the Chicago Board of Education since 1939. She is currently principal at Pierce Elementary School, but at the time of the events at issue she was principal at Mollison Elementary School. Plaintiff is white and the students at Mollison are primarily black. Defendants include ten members of the Mollison School Advisory Board, headed by Dorothy Wright Tillman.

Plaintiff charges that defendants conspired to remove her from her position as principal solely because of her race. This conspiracy, plaintiff contends, amounted to invidious discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Plaintiff claims that defendant parents harassed her and defamed her, organized a boycott of the school and staged a demonstration in her office.*fn1 As a result of defendants' conduct, plaintiff alleges that she suffered high blood pressure which forced her to take a medical leave of absence and ultimately to accept a reassignment from Mollison to Pierce Elementary School.

Stevens filed a four-count complaint for relief on June 26, 1981. Count I seeks damages for injuries suffered in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Count II seeks damages for libel and slander. Count III seeks damages for tortious interference of contract. Count IV seeks an injunction enjoining defendants from further harassment of Stevens.

Defendants argue that they organized to protest and attempt to change certain conditions at Mollison which were harming their children. These problems included: the lack of educational progress by their children; an improperly administered testing system which retarded the achievement levels of the children; and a school policy of locking the students out of the building during lunch hour. Defendants argue further that it was only in the course of their dealings with the plaintiff on these issues that they came to oppose her continued assignment as principal of Mollison.

MOTION TO DISMISS

The guidelines to be used in considering a motion to dismiss are clear. A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to the relief requested. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322, 92 S.Ct. 1079, 1081-1082, 31 L.Ed.2d 263 (1979); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has noted:

  Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, it is
  well established that, on a motion to dismiss, a
  complaint must be construed in the light most
  favorable to the plaintiff, the allegations
  thereof being taken as true; and if it appears
  reasonably conceivable that at trial the
  plaintiff can establish a set of facts entitling
  him to some relief, the complaint should not be
  dismissed. Mathers Fund, Inc. v. Colwell,
  564 F.2d 780, 783 (7th Cir. 1977).

A. § 1985(3) Claim

To allege a cognizable cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), the complaint must set forth five elements: (1) a conspiracy; (2) motivated by racial or other class-based invidious discriminatory animus; (3) for the purpose of depriving, directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; (4) that the conspirators committed some act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (5) that the plaintiff was either injured in his person or property or was deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States. Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102-3, 91 S.Ct. 1790, 1798-1799, 29 L.Ed.2d 338 (1971).

Defendants argue that Stevens' civil rights claim should be dismissed due to her failure to allege state action. While § 1985(3) does not expressly require that a defendant act under color of state law, defendants contend there still can be no claim for relief based on a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment if there has been no involvement by the state. Defendants argue further that Stevens' civil rights claim can only be premised upon the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which requires state action, and therefore it should be dismissed. There is no dispute regarding the absence of state action in the case at bar.

The question of what types of private conduct can be said to deprive individuals of "equal protection of the laws" or of "equal privileges and immunities" is unsettled.*fn2 The Supreme Court in Griffin, supra, opened the door to utilizing ยง 1985(3) for relief from private action conspiracies to violate the Constitution. The Griffin court held that the right to engage in interstate travel and the right to be free of racial discrimination are protected by the Constitution against interference by private action, as well as impairment by state action. It found that Congress was empowered by section two of the Thirteenth Amendment to create a federal cause of action to provide a ...


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