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FLENNER v. SHEAHAN

March 25, 1996

ALBERT FLENNER & WILLIAM GLOVER, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL SHEAHAN, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NORGLE

 CHARLES R. NORGLE, SR., District Judge:

 Before the court is Defendant Michael Sheahan's ("Sheahan") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

 Plaintiffs Albert Flenner ("Flenner") and William Glover ("Glover") (collectively "Plaintiffs") were dismissed from their positions as correctional officers with the Cook County Department of Corrections after a hearing before the Merit Board. They claim that, by initiating dismissal proceedings, Sheahan violated 28 U.S.C. § 1983, depriving them of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freely associate with the Republican Party of Cook County. Plaintiffs allege that, prior to applying for their positions, they actively supported the candidacy of James O'Grady ("O'Grady"), a Republican, for the position of Cook County Sheriff. O'Grady was the Cook County Sheriff at the time Plaintiffs applied. Plaintiffs state that their respective precinct captains sponsored them for their correctional officer positions. Flenner was hired as a correctional officer on August 10, 1989; Glover was hired as a correctional officer on January 2, 1990. The Complaint also includes the assertion that, as correctional officers, Plaintiffs did not hold policy-making positions.

 Both Plaintiffs stated on their applications that they had a high school diploma or its equivalent. In the Complaint, Glover admits that he lied on the application in that he had not received a high school diploma, nor had he received a GED, at that time. Flenner, however, alleges that he graduated from Washburn Trade School in 1954, despite a Merit Board finding to the contrary. Both admit that misrepresentations on applications to the Merit Board are grounds for dismissal. Plaintiffs cite 55 ILCS 5/3-7012, which outlines procedures for dismissing both correctional officers and deputy sheriffs; that statute states, in part, "Except as . . . otherwise provided . . ., no deputy sheriff . . . or county corrections officer . . . shall be removed . . . except for cause."

 Sheahan, a Democrat, was elected Sheriff of Cook County in the 1990 general election. After taking office, he initiated dismissal proceedings against Plaintiffs by filing complaints against them with the Merit Board, alleging that they falsified the education portions of their applications. After hearings before the Merit Board, Flenner was dismissed on February 22, 1993, and Glover was dismissed on February 23, 1993.

 Plaintiffs allege that Sheahan singled them out because of their political affiliations. Sheahan did not file complaints against other correctional officers who were hired during Sheahan's, rather than O'Grady's, administration, even though the other officers also falsified the education portions of their applications. The instant Complaint alleges that Sheahan violated Plaintiff's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to associate with other members of the Republican Party of Cook County. Plaintiffs bring this claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983. Sheahan argues that, even if all of Plaintiffs' allegations are true, he is entitled to a judgment on the pleadings under the doctrine of qualified immunity.

 II. Discussion

 The court will render judgment on the pleadings only if it appears beyond a doubt that a plaintiff can prove no set of facts to support its claim for relief. Church v. General Motors Corp., 74 F.3d 795 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing GATX Leasing Corp. v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 64 F.3d 1112, 1114 (7th Cir. 1995); Thomason v. Nachtrieb, 888 F.2d 1202, 1204 (7th Cir. 1989)). In the instant case, when faced with the doctrine of qualified immunity, Plaintiffs cannot prove a set of facts supporting their claim.

 By invoking the defense of qualified immunity, government officials may avoid § 1983 liability for the performance of discretionary functions where their conduct has not violated a "clearly established" constitutional right "of which a reasonable person would have known." Gregorich v. Lund, 54 F.3d 410, 413 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396, 102 S. Ct. 2727 (1982)). Accordingly, qualified immunity analysis requires courts to determine (1) whether a plaintiff has alleged a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that plaintiff has shown that applicable constitutional standards were clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct. Gregorich, 54 F.3d at 413.

 "Qualified immunity is a defense 'contingent on the state of the law.'" Smith v. Fruin, 28 F.3d 646, 650 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting Harlow, 475 U.S. at 818)). Government officials are not required to "predict the law's evolution"; "if it [was] not clearly established that [the official's] conduct violated the law at the time the [official] acted, then [the official is] entitled to qualified immunity." Smith, 28 F.3d at 650 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

 For purposes of this motion, Sheahan does not contest that he violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights by filing complaints against them because of their political affiliations. He does contest, however, that Plaintiffs could show that applicable constitutional standards were clearly established at the time of his misconduct, in 1993. Sheahan argues that qualified immunity shields him from § 1983 liability because, in 1993, (1) the law permitted patronage dismissals of correctional officers, or (2) the law was unclear on the issue of whether patronage dismissal violated constitutional rights.

 The Complaint states that Plaintiffs were notified that Sheahan had issued the complaints against them on January 21, 1993. Shortly before that date, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided Dimmig v. Wahl, 983 F.2d 86 (7th Cir. 1993). The Dimmig court, relying on Upton v. Thompson, 930 F.2d 1209 (7th Cir. 1991), determined that patronage dismissal of deputy sheriffs was appropriate. 983 F.2d at 87. As seen in 55 ILCS 5/3-7012, Illinois law dictates that deputy sheriffs and correctional officers are entitled to similar rights upon dismissal. Therefore, Sheahan argues, reading Dimmig and ...


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