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STRAMA v. CITY OF CHICAGO

August 7, 1985

MARY ANN J. STRAMA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, AN ILLINOIS MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, JAMES MAURER, AND PAUL LEWIS, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In this suit, Mary Ann J. Strama ("Plaintiff") alleges that the City of Chicago (the "City"), James Maurer ("Maurer"), the Executive Director of the Office of Municipal Investigation (the "OMI"), and Paul Lewis ("Lewis"), Assistant to Maurer (collectively, "Defendants"), violated her rights by firing her for sexual and political reasons. Plaintiff sues under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of her rights under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, and the Shakman decree. Presently before us is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint or sections thereof. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Facts

For purposes of the motion to dismiss we take as true the limited allegations in Plaintiff's amended complaint. Plaintiff was employed as an investigator in the OMI, a municipal corporation, for an unspecified period of time until she was discharged on September 16, 1983. The decision to terminate her employment was made by Maurer and Lewis, who set or approved policy and custom regarding employment in the OMI. Other discharged OMI investigators were recalled, but Plaintiff was not. Plaintiff had properly performed the duties of her office. Her refusal to interact sexually with Maurer, Lewis and others in the OMI and politics were substantial motivating factors in Defendants' decisions to terminate her employment and not to recall her. Plaintiff suffered financial loss and emotional distress as a result of her termination and failure to be reinstated, and seeks $70,000 in compensatory damages, additional punitive damages against Maurer and Lewis, and attorney's fees.

Discussion

1. Timeliness

Defendants maintain that this suit is barred by laches, citing Kadon v. Bd. of Fire and Police Commissioners, 45 Ill. App.2d 425, 430, 195 N.E.2d 751, 754 (1st Dist. 1964), and several other cases in which Illinois courts have required certain actions challenging employment terminations to be brought within six months of the date of termination. This suit was filed approximately eleven months after Plaintiff's discharge.

Defendants properly look to state law to determine the timeliness of this § 1983 action. See Wilson v. Garcia, ___ U.S. ___, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985). The state rules governing laches, however, generally apply only where equitable relief is sought. See Mother Earth, Ltd. v. Strawberry Camel, Ltd., 72 Ill. App.3d 37, 28 Ill.Dec. 226, 239, 390 N.E.2d 393, 406 (1st Dist. 1979); Kadon, 45 Ill.App.2d at 430, 195 N.E.2d at 754 (reinstatement and back pay). Here, Plaintiff seeks damages only. Defendants request that we specially apply the laches doctrine to suits involving government employment so as not to disturb government services more than necessary. We see no reason to treat suits at law involving governmental employment decisions differently than § 1983 suits at law involving any other form of governmental action. Furthermore, delay is more likely to be prejudicial where suits seek reinstatement and back pay, which become more difficult to accord over time, than damages resulting from termination, which are relatively fixed. Accordingly, we apply the state statute of limitations for personal injury actions, see Garcia, ___ U.S. at ___, 105 S.Ct. at 1947, which in Illinois is two years, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 110, § 13-202 (1983). Under this rule, Plaintiff's suit is timely.

2. Municipal Liability

This case presents the question of a municipality's liability for the acts of its decisionmakers. Plaintiff has alleged that Maurer and Lewis were municipal decisionmakers. At issue are whether Plaintiff has successfully pled that their alleged acts reflected their policy or custom, and if not, whether an isolated act by individuals with the power to create city policy or custom is caused by the city for § 1983 purposes.

Plaintiff has not sufficiently pled that Maurer and Lewis acted pursuant to a policy or custom. While the complaint states that Maurer and Lewis set policy for OMI, "[n]othing in the complaint suggests that the incident was other than an isolated one unrelated to municipal policy. . . ." Strauss v. City of Chicago, 760 F.2d 765, 767 (7th Cir. 1985). A policy need be applied only once to give rise to § 1983 liability, see Tuttle, ___ U.S. at, ___, 105 S.Ct. at 2435 (plurality opinion), at 2439-41 (Brennan, J., concurring), but here Plaintiff has provided no allegations, such as of intended future discrimination against other women employed by OMI, to suggest the existence of a policy.

This raises the second issue, namely, whether the Monell policy or custom requirement applies when the city has delegated policy-making authority to the person who performs the unlawful act. The Monell standard is based on the § 1983 requirement that the city have caused the deprivation of a constitutional or other right in order to be held liable. Respondeat superior liability for low level employees' acts which are not taken pursuant to a policy or custom would nullify the causation requirement. Acts taken pursuant to an official policy or custom, on the other hand, are directly, not merely vicariously, attributable to the city. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-694, 98 S.Ct. at 2036-2038. In Monell itself, for example, the Court found that the city could be liable where the plaintiff class members claimed they were fired pursuant to a pre-existing, but newly invoked, official discriminatory policy. Id. at 660-661, 694-695, 98 S.Ct. at 2020-2021, 2037-2038. Where as here no official policy exists, the question is whether the city caused the alleged deprivations by delegating authority over the OMI's employment decisions to Maurer and Lewis, which authority they exercised unlawfully.

A number of courts addressing this issue have found that a city can be found liable under Monell on the basis of an unconstitutional employment decision of one of its officials if the city has delegated final authority over such employment decisions to that official. See, e.g., Williams v. Butler, 746 F.2d 431, 434-439 (8th Cir. 1984), and decisions of Second, Third, Fourth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits cited therein. At least one district court within the Seventh Circuit declined to follow these authorities, however, because of the ...


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