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BURKE v. CHICAGO SCHOOL REFORM BOARD OF TRUSTEES

April 30, 2001

MARY BETH BURKE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHICAGO SCHOOL REFORM BOARD OF TRUSTEES, PAUL VALLAS, BARBARA MOORE, PATRICIA MONROE-TAYLOR AND LORIS BROWN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Mary Beth Burke brings this action for damages and for equitable and injunctive relief against Defendant Chicago School Reform Board of Trustees ("the Board"), which operates the school where Burke worked, as well as Board employees Paul Vallas, Barbara Moore, Patricia Monroe-Taylor, and Loris Brown, individually and in their official capacities. Burke's suit includes federal claims alleging: deprivations of her free speech rights protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); violations of her due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); race discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1981 (Count III); and violations of Title VII (Count IV). Burke also makes a state law claim for retaliation in violation of Illinois law, 105 ILCS 5/34-2.4c as well as retaliatory discharge (Count V).

The Board has moved to dismiss Counts I, II, III, and V, as well as the claims against the individual Board employees brought against them in their official capacities, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Board also moves to strike all allegations from the record arising from incidents occurring before May 24, 1998, and to strike Paragraph 17 of Burke's Second Amended Complaint ("the complaint"). For the reasons set forth below, the Board's motions, (R. 26-1 and 26-2), are denied in part and granted in part.

RELEVANT FACTS

The following facts are drawn from the allegations of the complaint, which we take as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss. Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 322 (7th Cir. 1996). Burke had been employed as a teacher by the Board at the Julia Ward Howe Elementary School ("Howe") in Chicago, Illinois from 1990 until January 11, 1999. The Board is an Illinois municipal corporation, which operates the Chicago Public School system. Moore was the principal at Howe from the time Burke first became employed there until June 1998. Brown succeeded Moore as Howe's principal and held that position through January 1999. Monroe-Taylor served as assistant principal under Moore. Vallas is the Chief Executive Officer of the Board.

Beginning in September 1997 and continuing throughout her employment at Howe, Burke learned of sexual assaults and other sex crimes involving Howe students. Burke reported the sex crimes to Howe's administration, including Moore, Brown, and Monroe-Taylor. In September 1997 and November 1998, Burke contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services on behalf of foster children who were sexually assaulted on Howe's premises. In April or early May 1998, Burke sought the assistance of Vallas, who did not respond directly to Burke, but advised Moore of Burke's contact with his office. Generally, Defendants did not report or respond to the incidents of sex crimes Burke brought to their attention. In some instances, Defendants covered up reported incidents of sex crimes or accused Burke of fabricating or causing them.

Burke's requests for a transfer from Howe in or after February 1998 were denied. On June 4, 1998, Burke was battered by a student and her requests for assistance were not promptly responded to. On that same day, she was served with a notice to appear before the Board's Character Integrity Committee. Burke was accused of, inter alia, insubordination, job abandonment, attendance book fraud and stealing her grade book. Burke was threatened with discipline, including termination.

On January 11, 1999, Burke came to believe that her work environment was so intolerable that she had no choice but to resign from her teaching position. Upon her resignation, the Board delayed Burke's final paycheck for four months and delayed release of her pension based on a "do not hire code" purportedly attached to her pension account. (R. 22, Second Am Compl. ¶ 18.) In addition, Brown gave a negative reference to at least one of Burke's prospective employers.

Presently before this Court is the Board's motion to dismiss Counts I, II, III, and V of Burke's second amended complaint. The Board argues that Burke has not established municipal liability in order to maintain a § 1983 or § 1981 suit against the Board and that Burke has not sufficiently established a liberty interest to support a due process claim. Defendants also argue that the suits against Vallas, Moore, Monroe-Taylor, and Brown in their official capacities should be dismissed as repetitive. Finally, Defendants move to strike: (1) all events occurring before May 24, 1998 as outside the statute of limitations; and (2) the events alleged in Paragraph 17 of the complaint because that paragraph recites only generalized, vague and undated events. In the alternative, Defendants move for a more definite statement as to Paragraph 17.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint, not the merits of the suit. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court views all facts alleged in the complaint, as well as any inferences reasonably drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Doherty, 75 F.3d at 322. This Court will grant a motion to dismiss only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling her to relief. Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 432 (7th Cir. 1993). See also Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984); Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-56 (1957).

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), the court may strike "from any pleading any insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." "Immaterial matter is defined as that which has no relationship to the cause of action pled." VPHI v. National Educ. Training Group, No. 94 C 5559, 1995 WL 51405, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 20, 1995). Motions to strike are generally not favored, and the court will not strike matter from a complaint "unless it is clear that it can have no possible bearing on the subject matter of the litigation." Patel v. Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities, No. 92 C 8300, 1995 WL 573418, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 22, 1995). See also Tektel, Inc. v. Maier, 813 F. Supp. 1331, 1334 (N.D. Ill. 1992). "Furthermore, pleadings are generally not stricken unless the moving party will be prejudiced otherwise." Patel, 1995 WL 573418, at *3. "Prejudice results when the matter complained of has the effect of confusing the issue or where it is so lengthy and complex that it places an undue burden on the responding party." 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1382.

ANALYSIS

I. Counts I and III - Municipal Liability under ยง 1983 ...


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