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March 30, 1984


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


Despite the prescient warnings of some of its members,*fn1 the Forty-second Congress scarcely could have realized when it enacted section 1 of the Ku Klux Klan Act of April 20, 1871, 17 Stat. 13, (now codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983), that the law it passed to curtail the outrages perpetrated by the Klan in the Reconstruction-era South actually would be used a century later to transform the federal courts into the favorite forum of litigious individuals intent on prosecuting such trivial causes, for example, as those of a high school student whose grade average was reduced from 95.478 to 95.413,*fn2 or a pet owner whose dog was locked in the pound for several hours by the local dogcatcher.*fn3 Such corruption of this important civil rights statute has become all too common in recent years as plaintiffs and their lawyers have striven to transform every manner of petty grievance against local officials into a federal case.*fn4

The statute has been further debased of late as hordes of public employees, from schoolteachers to police chiefs, have realized that it can be manipulated to provide an expedient means of challenging every conceivable type of adverse personnel action. In contrast to employees in the private sector, public employees can haul their employers into federal court with comparative ease under section 1983 since even the most mundane personnel decision can satisfy the state action requirement of the statute. Faced with the intimidating prospect of costly federal litigation, including what one respected commentator has called "the swamp of discovery,"*fn5 and the specter of paying for the plaintiff's lawyer under section 1988 should they lose the case, public employers are often persuaded to capitulate. It seems clear that the postbellum Congress that enacted the statute in response to President Grant's call for legislation to combat the lawless conditions then existing in the South never intended to create a law by which the employees of every hamlet and village in the nation could bring a federal lawsuit over routine personnel decisions. Nevertheless, Congress cast the statute in general language of broad applicability which the courts are not free to rewrite, and as Judge Posner recently observed, suits of this nature "have become an important part of the business of the federal courts." Brown v. Brienen, 722 F.2d 360, 362 (7th Cir. 1983).

This is such a case. The former acting chief of police of a small village outside Chicago thinks his constitutional rights were violated when the village manager placed a letter of reprimand in his personnel file. Accordingly, he has filed this federal lawsuit, claiming (surely with tongue in cheek) that he has sustained a million dollars in damages. Two of the plaintiff's claims managed to survive the defendants' motion to dismiss, and now that discovery has been completed those claims are back before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.


After his appointment as acting chief, Linhart was interviewed by the board's search committee as an applicant for the permanent position. Arthur Blackwell, a former member of the police department who had retired on a disability pension, was also among the candidates interviewed. When the selection process was finally over, the board's search committee recommended to the village president that Blackwell be given the job as permanent chief. The board's committee provided the president with the name of another man as its second choice. Linhart was not recommended.

On October 18, 1982, the six trustees of the village board unanimously passed a resolution calling on the village president to follow their search committee's recommendation and appoint Blackwell as police chief. The village president, however, had other ideas. While the board's search committee had been conducting a wide-ranging hunt for a permanent chief, advertising for applicants and employing a state agency to screen more than 40 candidates from outside the department, the village president had assembled a clique of three personal "advisors" — including one of Linhart's lawyers in the instant case — to help him select his own man for the job. The village president did not reveal the existence of this hand-picked group to either the public or the board, and the group met in private at the president's home.

Linhart, who according to one trustee was the president's choice for chief of police even before Lupo's departure, was one of only three men interviewed by the president's secret committee. During that interview Linhart was shown a confidential memorandum that village manager Edward Glatfelter had prepared at the request of a member of the board's search committee. This memorandum detailed several incidents of unsatisfactory performance by Linhart as acting chief of police. The village president had obtained this confidential document when the board met in executive session to discuss its recommendation of Blackwell as permanent chief.

Following this interview at which it was made clear to Linhart that Glatfelter thought him unqualified to be permanent chief, Linhart was contacted at his home on the night of October 30, 1982 by Bernard Mulder, a local businessman who was active in Clarendon Hills politics and who had formerly employed Linhart on a part-time basis. At the behest of Mulder, who Linhart knew had a long-standing dissatisfaction with Glatfelter as village manager, Linhart agreed to approach Blackwell and inquire whether Blackwell felt he could serve as village manager rather than chief of police. Immediately after this conversation with Mulder, Linhart telephoned Blackwell and arranged to meet him at the police station that night. When Blackwell arrived at the station at about 10 p.m., Linhart showed him into the chief's office. In accordance with his instructions from Mulder, Linhart then said to Blackwell, "Art, I have been asked to ask you if you could do the job of Village manager." Blackwell responded that he had not applied for the village manager's job but thought himself qualified to fill the position. Blackwell then departed.

Before the board meeting that night, Walter Reilly, a trustee who had served on the board's search committee, received a call at his home from Colin Williams, one of Bernard Mulder's friends. Williams inquired whether Reilly agreed with him that it would be good for the village to install Blackwell, the board's unanimous choice for police chief, as village manager instead and to make Linhart the permanent chief of police. Reilly responded that Blackwell had not applied to be village manager and that the job was not open anyway.

At the board meeting the village president delivered his statement rejecting the board's recommendation of Blackwell and nominating Linhart as chief of police. By majority vote, the trustees refused to confirm this nomination, and with the president and trustees at an impasse the village remained without a permanent chief. The best the president could do was to name Linhart to continue as acting chief.

Shortly thereafter, Reilly told Blackwell of the call he had received from Colin Williams just before the board meeting. When Blackwell heard that Williams had discussed the desirability of appointing him to replace Glatfelter as village manager, Blackwell became upset and related to Reilly that both the village president and Linhart had approached him regarding the same subject. Upon hearing this, Reilly concluded that such a drive to oust Glatfelter and recruit Blackwell as his successor "was a matter of importance to the village [and] was certainly a matter of importance to Mr. Glatfelter in relationship to his management of village activities." Reilly thus advised Blackwell to inform Glatfelter of these events.

When Glatfelter learned from Blackwell that Linhart, who as acting head of the police department was his direct subordinate, had served as a go-between in the initial overture to Blackwell, he questioned Linhart about it during one of their regular daily meetings. Linhart confirmed the accuracy of Blackwell's account of the October 30 meeting at the police station. But when Glatfelter asked Linhart who had put him up to making this approach to Blackwell, Linhart refused to say. As Linhart later testified at his deposition, he felt that Glatfelter ...

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