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Corcoran v. Chicago Park District

decided: May 23, 1989.

THOMAS CORCORAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND JESSE MADISON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 88 C 0234, William T. Hart, Judge.

Posner, Ripple, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

Author: Ripple

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge

In this appeal, Thomas Corcoran contests the district court's grant of the defendants' motion to dismiss his complaint for failure to state a claim. Mr. Corcoran submits that the defendants terminated his employment with the Chicago Park District in violation of the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment and in breach of an implied employment contract. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

A. Background

In September 1978, Thomas Corcoran began working for the Chicago Park District and, in May 1982, he was named Assistant Treasurer. In May 1986, two new appointees were placed on the Park District's Board of Commissioners. Evidently, the new appointees and an existing Board member formed a new majority. The new Board selected defendant Jesse Madison as Executive Vice-President. Mr. Madison assumed authority over areas which had been previously under the direction of District General Superintendent Edmund L. Kelly. Mr. Kelly subsequently resigned his position.

Because of concern that the new Board might discharge a number of Park District employees, several bills were introduced in the Illinois legislature in June 1986. The proposed legislation, if enacted, would have foreclosed the dismissal of present employees except for good cause. To discourage the passage of this legislation, Walter A. Netsch (one of the new Board appointees and then-President of the Board of Commissioners) sent a letter to members of the State Senate. The letter urged the legislators to vote against the bills.*fn1 In the letter, Mr. Netsch denied rumors that the Park District intended to "engage in wholesale firing," and added that, "[employees] will be retained and hired solely on the basis of their performance."

On July 1, 1986, Mr. Netsch sent all Park District employees a copy of his letter to the senators, along with the following note:

I thought you would be interested in seeing a copy of the letter I have recently written on behalf of a majority of the Park District Commissioners (attached). It accurately expressed our hopes and intentions for the District which I know you share. Best wishes for the Fourth of July holiday.

Mr. Corcoran received this communication. He continued to work for the Park District until September 14, 1987, when Mr. Madison asked him to resign. Mr. Corcoran refused. Mr. Madison then sent him a letter informing him that his employment with the Park District was terminated. In the letter, Mr. Madison explained that "a new administration has a right to choose its own management team."

B. The Complaint

Mr. Corcoran brought this action in the district court on January 12, 1988. His complaint presented three claims. In the first count, he alleged that the Netsch correspondence established a contractual right to continued employment that also constituted a property interest protected by the due process clause. He alleged that his discharge without a hearing violated his right to due process under the fourteenth amendment.

In the second count, Mr. Corcoran alleged that his dismissal violated his first amendment right to exercise his political beliefs and to form political associations. Mr. Corcoran pointed out that he had been a registered Democrat and a member of the 47th Ward Democratic Organization. However, in the 1987 Democratic primary, Mr. Corcoran had run for City Treasurer against the incumbent, a "regular Democratic candidate." Moreover, he had supported Solidarity Party candidate Edward Vrdolyak in the 1987 mayoral election. Mr. Corcoran alleged that, because his discharge occurred ...


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