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Caruso v. De Luca

April 11, 1996




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 94 C 2733--James B. Zagel, Judge.

Before CUDAHY, FLAUM and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.



Nancy Caruso, formerly the Deputy Clerk of the City of Oakbrook, Illinois, brought this action against the Clerk and the City when the Clerk decided not to reappoint her to another term. Ms. Caruso claims that she was not reappointed because she opposed the Clerk in an election. The district court granted summary judgment for the Clerk and the City. Ms. Caruso now appeals. For the reasons set forth in the following opinion, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


Nancy Caruso began working for the Oakbrook Terrace Clerk's office in a part-time clerical position in September 1986. In November 1986, she was appointed to the position of Deputy Clerk by the former City Clerk, Roberta Greninger. In April 1989, Elaine De Luca became the City Clerk. Ms. De Luca reappointed Ms. Caruso to the Deputy Clerk's position and continued to reappoint her annually over the next three years.

The Oakbrook Terrace Clerk's office is responsible for providing several services to the public: It issues business licenses, performs payroll and accounts payable duties, issues vehicle stickers to residents and answers residents' questions and phone calls. The Clerk's position was a parttime one, about ten to fifteen hours each week. The Deputy Clerk's position, in contrast, was a full-time job. By ordinance, the Deputy Clerk had the authority to act as Clerk in the Clerk's absence. In addition to the Clerk and Deputy Clerk, the office had two or three other part-time workers.

Prior to the election held in the fall of 1992, the City aldermen discussed the possibility of changing the Clerk's position to a full-time one and reducing the Deputy Clerk's position to a part-time job. Ms. Caruso learned of this possibility from Ms. De Luca during the fall of 1992. She decided that she would run for the position of City Clerk in the 1992 election; her sole motivation for running was her desire to ensure that she had a full-time job. The decision to run for the office required that she oppose Ms. De Luca in the election.

The record does not reveal that either Ms. Caruso or Ms. De Luca ran for the office with the sponsorship of a political party; at oral argument, counsel for Ms. Caruso represented to us that each ran as an individual--not as a Democrat, a Republican or otherwise. In the fall 1992 election, Ms. De Luca defeated Ms. Caruso and thus continued in the City Clerk's position. Two days after the election, Ms. De Luca informed Ms. Caruso that she would not be reappointed to the position of Deputy Clerk when her term expired in April 1993. A new Deputy Clerk was appointed to take Ms. Caruso's place, and the appointment was ratified by the Oakbrook Terrace City Council.

According to Ms. De Luca's deposition, she decided not to reappoint Ms. Caruso as Deputy Clerk because she believed she "couldn't trust her if she ran against me." R.26, Ex. D at 55-56. Ms. De Luca understood Ms. Caruso's election challenge to convey the message that Ms. De Luca wasn't "doing a good job" as City Clerk. Id. at 56. Ms. De Luca's distrust was apparently based, at least in part, on events that occurred during the election. In one instance, Ms. Caruso circulated campaign literature in the form of a "report card" on the candidates. One of the issues listed on the report card was whether the Clerk's office should be opened one evening during the week or on a Saturday, in order to accommodate those who could not go to the office during its regular business hours. Under Ms. De Luca's name, Ms. Caruso wrote "rejected in 1991," indicating that Ms. De Luca had refused to open the office after-hours. Id. at 85. As Ms. De Luca recalled the 1991 decision, however, the decision had been arrived at collectively, after discussions with all of the office staff, including Ms. Caruso. *fn1

In another election incident, Ms. De Luca put up a sign across the street from a polling place. She later learned, from her husband, that a sign for Ms. Caruso had been placed directly in front of her sign, blocking it from view, "even though there was room half a block either side for signs." Id. at 88. Ms. De Luca stated that she "just felt that wasn't nice." Id.

Ms. De Luca's deposition indicates that the election incidents were linked to another reason for her failure to reappoint Ms. Caruso--the restructuring of the Clerk's office. Following the 1992 election, the City Clerk became a full-time position. Ms. De Luca anticipated that this change would have a significant impact on the interpersonal dynamics of the office. Her deposition testimony reveals that she was concerned with Ms. Caruso's presence in the office; Ms. Caruso, because of her many years of experience in the office, may have been resistant to the changes that Ms. De Luca wanted to implement. *fn2

Ms. Caruso sets forth two counts in her complaint: first, that by firing her, Ms. De Luca and the City violated her First Amendment rights to free expression and free association; second, that the firing violated her procedural due ...

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