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Lashbrook v. Oerkfitz

August 30, 1995

ROBERT A. LASHBROOK AND KATHERINE D. LASHBROOK, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

D. JAMES OERKFITZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF CRYSTAL LAKE PARK DISTRICT, DAVID PHELPS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF CRYSTAL LAKE PARK DISTRICT, CANDISANNE REEDY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS COMMISSIONER OF CRYSTAL LAKE PARK DISTRICT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 93 C 20224--Philip G. Reinhard, Judge.

Before CUMMINGS, CUDAHY, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 16, 1995

DECIDED AUGUST 30, 1995

Robert A. Lashbrook ("Lashbrook") was fired from his job as Director of the Crystal Lake Park District (the "Park District"), and he and his wife, Katherine D. Lashbrook (also a Park District employee), were unceremoniously removed from Park District owned housing that they occupied as a perquisite of Lashbrook's job. Because no federal or state law rights were impinged by these events, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the Lashbrooks' claims.

I. BACKGROUND

We review de novo a dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Chaney v. Suburban Bus Div. of Regional Transp. Auth., 52 F.3d 623, 626 (7th Cir. 1995). We accept as true the factual allegations of the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiffs. Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118, 100 S.Ct. 975, 979, 108 L.Ed.2d 100 (1990); Chaney, 52 F.3d at 626-27. We will affirm dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) only where it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claims which would entitle them to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-02, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); Chaney, 52 F.3d at 627. We describe the facts as they are alleged in the Complaint.

Lashbrook began working as the Director of the Park District in 1985, pursuant to a two-year contract. After the expiration of that contract, Lashbrook continued working without a contract for approximately two years. On October 1, 1989, Lashbrook entered into another two-year contract (hereinafter the "Contract") with the Park District, which was subsequently renewed. The Park District terminated Lashbrook on July 15, 1993, two and one half months before the expiration of the Contract's term. The Contract provides, among other things, that the Park District "may not terminate the employment of the DIRECTOR under this Employment Contract except for cause or upon mutual agreement of the parties." R. 26, Ex. B at 4. "Cause" is defined in the Contract as the Director's conviction for a felony or other crime involving moral turpitude, or the Director's failure to perform his duties and responsibilities.

The Contract provides that, if the Director is terminated for cause, he has the right to seven days' notice and a hearing before the Park District Commissioners. If the Director is terminated other than for cause, the Contract entitles the Director to full payment of compensation through the end of the term of the Contract or six months, whichever is shorter. The Director may also terminate the Contract without cause on sixty days notice.

Amendments to the Contract must be made in writing, and must be signed by both parties. The Contract also provides for automatic renewal:

Upon appropriation of sufficient funds to meet the obligation of the DISTRICT to the DIRECTOR hereunder, this Employment Contract shall be deemed to be renewed according to its terms for that fiscal year through the end of the stated term. Thereafter, this Employment Contract shall be automatically renewed from year to year on the same terms as existing in the last year of the stated term, unless either party notifies the other party, at least sixty (60) days prior to the end of the stated term, that this Employment Contract will not be automatically renewed. R. 26, Ex. B. at 6-7.

In 1989, while Lashbrook was under contract, the Park District promulgated a personnel policy manual (the "PPM"), which was given to both Lashbrook and his wife, Katherine, as employees of the Park District. The opening paragraphs of the PPM explain that the PPM is intended to be used as a guide for the employees and management of the Park District, and "should not be construed by any individual as being an employment contract." R. 26, Ex. C at 1. The PPM also provides that

[t]he policies set forth in this manual are subject to revisions and periodic changes. Final interpretation of these policies is vested solely in the Board of Commissioners of the Crystal Lake Park District. R. 26, Ex. C at 1.

The PPM recites that the Park District maintains housing in which full-time employees may reside. The PPM establishes a procedure for interested employees to apply for the housing. The Lashbrooks resided in Park District Housing beginning in the Spring of 1991. After Lashbrook's termination, Katherine applied to the Park District pursuant to the PPM, requesting that the Lashbrooks be allowed to continue residing in Park District housing. After she applied, and before the Park District responded, Lashbrook offered in a letter to settle his potential claims against the Park District, and enclosed a draft complaint. Shortly thereafter, the Park District notified the Lashbrooks that they intended to terminate the Lashbrooks' month-to-month tenancy at the end of Lashbrook's Contract term. A few days later, the Park District passed a resolution to convert the residential property that the Lashbrooks had been occupying to recreational purposes or to sell it. The Park District then informed Katherine that her claim for housing was rejected because the property was going to be converted. At the time of this rejection, Katherine was the most eligible Park District employee to apply for housing.

The PPM also provides that "Department Heads, with the approval of the Director, may dismiss any employee for just cause." R. 26, Ex. C at 21. In a related provision, the PPM states that "[t]he tenure of every employee shall be contingent upon acceptable conduct and satisfactory performance of duties." Id. The PPM provides ...


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