Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 80 C 5959 -- John A. Nordberg, Judge.
Cudahy and Coffey, Circuit Judges and Robert Van Pelt, Senior District Judge.*fn*
The plaintiff, Robert W. Hadley, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 seeking damages against Du Page County, Illinois and various individual members of the Du Page County Board. He alleged a violation of his constitutional due process rights based on the County Board's failure to provide a hearing either before or after his dismissal as the Du Page County Superintendent of Public Works. The main issue to be addressed in this appeal is whether the district court erred in granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment. We affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to the defendants.
Hadley obtained employment with Du Page County in 1964, and was promoted to the position of Superintendent of Public Works in 1970. He served in that capacity until his termination on December 20, 1978. Several months prior to his dismissal, Hadley fired Robert Mundorf, an employee of the Sewer Department. Although the official reason given for Mundorf's dismissal was his use of the office telephone for personal matters, Mundorf claimed that the true reason for his discharge was the discovery of his preparation of a report on certain irregularities within the Public Works Department. Upon his termination, Mundorf presented allegations of mismanagement in the Department of Public Works to the Public Works Committee of the Du Page County Board. These allegations were turned over to the Du Page County state's attorney who thereupon commenced an investigation into the alleged mismanagement of the Public Works Department. The investigation generated widespread local newspaper coverage and some of the articles made reference to Hadley.
On December 20, 1978, Du Page County Board Chairman Jack T. Knuepfer announced Hadley's dismissal as Superintendent of Public Works. Board Chairman Knuepfer clearly indicated that the reason for Hadley's termination was his inability to efficiently manage the Public Works Department and not any pending criminal indictments or health problems.*fn1 Six days later, on December 26, the County Board ratified Knuepfer's termination decision. Hadley was not given, and apparently did not request, a hearing on his dismissal before the County Board. However, Hadley did submit a letter to the Board seeking reinstatement to his previous position. The Board never replied to that letter.
After his dismissal, Hadley attempted to obtain employment in the Du Page County area, but was unsuccessful. He ultimately accepted a position with the Public Works Department in Orange County, Florida at a lower salary.
On November 6, 1980, Hadley filed this action seeking damages in the amount of one million dollars. He alleged that the Du Page County Board violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by failing to provide him with a hearing either before or after his termination. He asserts that this constitutional violation deprived him of a "property interest" in his continued employment as the Superintendent of the Du Page County Public Works Department and also a "liberty interest" in maintaining his reputation in the community.
The defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court determined that there was no material issue of fact and concluded that the motion for summary judgment was ripe for disposition. In deciding that motion, the district court held that the plaintiff's pleadings and affidavits failed to establish either a "property interest" in his continued employment or a violation of a "liberty interest" in his reputation in the community. The court held that Hadley had no right to a hearing under the Fourteenth Amendment and granted summary judgment to the defendants. The plaintiff now appeals.
Before reaching the main questions to be examined in this opinion, one lesser issue must be dealt with. The plaintiff in his reply brief asserts that his dismissal by the defendant Knuepfer was an illegal act because it was carried out without prior consent of the County Board. Based on that assertion, Hadley implies that this somehow warrants relief from this court. The plaintiff is correct in asserting that a county board chairman in Illinois has no power to act individually absent statutory or board authorization. See County of Stephenson v. Bradley and Bradley, Inc., 2 Ill. App. 3d 421, 275 N.E.2d 675, 678 (1971). This legal principle, however, does not justify granting the plaintiff's requested relief. Since the County Board subsequently ratified and approved Knuepfer's action on December 26, 1978, and thereby made the termination legally binding, the fact that Knuepfer initially acted without prior Board consent is irrelevant.
The main issues to be determined in this appeal are: (1) whether, in the present context, there was a material issue of fact as to the existence of a property interest in continued employment which gave rise to a due process right to notice and hearing under the Fourteenth Amendment before that employment could be terminated; and (2) whether there was a material issue of fact as to the existence of a liberty interest which gave rise to a due process right to notice and hearing under the Fourteenth Amendment.
With regard to the granting of summary judgment, our circuit has stated that:
"Summary judgment should be entered only when the pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and admissions filed in the case demonstrate that, except as to the amount of damages, 'there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.' F.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
"The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of clearly establishing the non-existence of any genuine issue of fact that is material to a judgment in his favor. The issue of material fact required to be present need not be resolved conclusively in favor of the party asserting its existence, but the movant need only show that sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute does not require a jury or judge at trial to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth. All inferences to be drawn from the facts contained in the affidavits, exhibits, and depositions are to be drawn in favor of the nonmovant . . . . Upon review of a summary judgment we are obliged to review the entire record in the light most favorable to the opponent of the movant."
Cedillo v. Int'l Ass'n of Bridge, Etc., 603 F.2d 7, 9, 10-11 (7th Cir. 1979) (citations omitted). With these standards in mind we can now review the facts to determine whether the plaintiff raised a material issue of fact as to the existence of either a property interest, or a liberty interest.
The Supreme Court stated in Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972), that:
"The requirements of procedural due process apply only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of liberty and property. When protected interests are implicated, the right to some kind of prior hearing is paramount. But the range of interests protected by procedural due process is not infinite."
408 U.S. at 569-70 (footnote omitted). The key, therefore, is the "nature" of the interest at stake.
"To have a property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it.
"Property interests, of course, are not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law -- rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits."
Hadley asserts that he had a legitimate expectation of job security rising to the level of a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He does not claim that this property interest arose out of any contract or statute. This, however, is not fatal to his claim since the Supreme Court, in Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593, 33 L. Ed. 2d 570, 92 S. Ct. 2694 ...