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ERICKSEN v. VILLAGE OF WILLOW SPRINGS

January 31, 1995

EYVIND J. ERICKSEN III, Plaintiff,
v.
VILLAGE OF WILLOW SPRINGS, an Illinois municipal corporation, and LELAND BRANNAM, individually, and as Chief of Police for the Willow Springs Police Department, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ELAINE E. BUCKLO

 Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay the action. For the reasons stated herein, defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim is denied. Defendants' motion to stay the action pending disposition of an action in state court is granted.

 Facts

 Beginning in 1982, Eyvind J. Ericksen III ("Mr. Ericksen") was employed by the Willow Springs Police Department ("Department") as a patrol officer. On several occasions since April, 1986, Mr. Ericksen received verbal assurances from various police personnel, including Chief of Police Leland Brannam ("Mr. Brannam"), that he would not be terminated as long as he performed his duties in a satisfactory manner. *fn1" On May 14, 1992, the Board of Trustees for Willow Springs ("Board") voted to terminate Mr. Ericksen's employment with the Department without informing him of the reasons for termination or giving him a formal hearing.

 On May 25, 1993, Mr. Ericksen brought an action in the Circuit Court of Cook County against the Village of Willow Springs and Mr. Brannam (collectively, "the Village"). The two-count complaint alleges that Mr. Ericksen was improperly terminated in retaliation for filing a worker's compensation claim and that Mr. Brannam intentionally interfered with Mr. Ericksen's prospective economic advantage by recommending to the Board that he not be re-appointed. On February 28, 1994, Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Duncan-Brice dismissed Mr. Ericksen's complaint. On March 25, 1994, Mr. Ericksen moved to reconsider the dismissal. On October 5, 1994, the Court denied Mr. Ericksen's motion to reconsider.

 Analysis

 1. Property Interest

 The Village first moves to dismiss the complaint on the ground that Mr. Ericksen has failed to allege a protectible property interest in his continued employment at the Department. Specific benefits such as continued public employment are, under appropriate circumstances, property interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Malcak v. Westchester Park District, 754 F.2d 239, 242 (7th Cir. 1985) (citing Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576-79, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972)). A protectible property interest may arise from a statute, a rule of law, or through a "mutually explicit understanding" that includes a promise of continued employment. Leis v. Flynt, 439 U.S. 438, 442, 58 L. Ed. 2d 717, 99 S. Ct. 698 (1979) (citation omitted); Colburn v. Trustees of Indiana University, 973 F.2d 581, 589 (7th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The existence of a substantive property interest in public employment is ordinarily a question of state law. Fittshur v. Village of Menomonee Falls, 31 F.3d 1401, 1405 (7th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted); Gorman v. Robinson, 977 F.2d 350, 356 (7th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

 The law is clear in Illinois that public employees have no presumptive property interest in their positions. Domiano v. Village of River Grove, 904 F.2d 1142, 1147 (7th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). In the absence of an understanding to the contrary, an employment agreement is presumed to be an "at-will" arrangement which can be terminated at any time and for any reason by either the employer or employee. Corcoran v. Chicago Park District, 875 F.2d 609, 612 (7th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted).

 A. Assurances of Continued Employment

 In the present case, Mr. Ericksen alleges that he received repeated assurances from various police personnel and a Trustee for the Village of Willow Springs that he would not be terminated as long as he performed his duties in a satisfactory manner. Complaint, P 12. He argues that these assurances form the basis of a mutually explicit understanding of continued employment protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Indeed, it has been recognized that

 
when a public employee legitimately relies on an employer's affirmative representation of continued employment, a mutually explicit understanding may be formed creating a protected property interest which cannot be deprived without procedural due process.

 Lynn v. Village of Willow Springs, 1987 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9392, No. 87 C 5451, 1987 WL 18561, at *2-3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 15, 1987) (citing Lyman v. Strasburg, ...


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